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This story was written by Ashley Dye from the USA.

If I had a dollar for the innumerable times I have been called or referred to as ‘he’, ‘him’, or ‘sir’, I would be a millionaire. Seriously, it happens so often to me that I’ve actually become accustomed to the shaming and offensive masculine pronouns.

It has been happening to me since I was a kid. I grew up a tomboy, playing basketball, football, soccer and many other sports. Most of my friends were guys and the role models I related to the most were the men in my family. I am not trying to infer that I did not have female role models, I have just always been an adventurous and active kind of person. The men in my life afforded me the opportunity to live that lifestyle.

I have never wanted to be anything other than myself. I never thought that people would challenge my gender simply because I wear men’s clothing. My choice of clothing has always ventured toward an androgynous or tomboyish style. Yes, I am very aware of my both my masculine figure and my masculine personality. However, regardless, of my attire I’ve always identified as a woman. I happen to shop in both the men’s and women’s department, but does that make me any less of a woman. It completely baffles me that some people can be so narrow minded and not realize the diversity in womanhood.

As I got older, I began to realize that I was fighting for my right to be called a woman simply because of the clothing I chose to wear, my hair and my masculine facial figures. Clothing, hair and physical figures should not be the only thing included when determining whether someone is a woman. We women are phenomenal in every aspect because we have the power to be anything we want to be. There is no one type of woman. We are not all straight haired, makeup wearing, dress shopping and heel wearing. Some of us like to switch it up. For example, my attire depends on my mood. One day I may be in a dress with heels, and the next day I maybe in a polo shirt with men’s jeans and sneakers. Regardless, I still proudly profess and embrace my womanhood.

We women are phenomenal in every aspect because we have the power to be anything we want to be. There is no one type of woman.

About three years ago, I began working as a cashier at a local gas station where I live. I had just cut off my hair so that I could embark on a healthier and more natural look. The goal was to start growing dreadlocks. From the first day that I began working there I would get mistaken for a man. I would get called sir, man, and dude. At first it did not bother me because I thought maybe people were not use to seeing a woman with natural hair. However, it began to bother me after I would correct customers and they would continue to refer to as man.

For example, I was assisting a regular customer one day with lottery tickets and he insisted on calling me sir after I had corrected him. Now keep in mind that this particular customer often visit the store and was very aware of my gender. After getting annoyed with the constant masculine pronouns, I finally told him sir, “I am a woman” and his response was “Well! I can’t tell.” It was right then and there that I realize that our society has a distorted picture of what a woman should look like. It really got me thinking: was my masculinity overshadowing my femininity? Should I begin to wear makeup? Or perhaps I should just attach a sticker to my uniform that reads “I am a woman.”

Chaka khan once sang “I’m every woman it’s all in me” because being a woman is not simply based on personality, the way she dresses or the way she wears her hair. We women shouldn’t be placed in a box because we are the very definition of diversity. Women come in all different shapes, sizes, races and cultures with diverse educational backgrounds. One of the most common misconceptions is that women should act and look like women. But what exactly does that mean? Who came with this act like a woman notion? Why are we women constantly being placed in a box?

When I think of the diversity in womanhood I think of women like First Lady Michelle Obama, Erkyah Badu, Pink, Serena Williams and Janelle Monae. These are all beautiful women who have been shamed, demeaned and even dehumanized because of the way they have dressed, their body type, and the way they have worn their makeup and hair. Serena Williams has been subjected to some harsh and cruel criticism throughout her career as a professional tennis player. It is no secret that being a professional athlete puts you in the front row seat of critics. However, I feel some critics go too far. In life, we are all going to be subjected to some kind of criticism, and in many ways it’s good for our growth into adulthood. I feel that some of the things the media has said about Serena Williams have crossed the line.

The biggest issue for me is the constant body shaming of Serena Williams. Instead of recognizing her for her accomplishments as an athlete, critics tend to focus on the fact that her body type doesn’t fit society’s idea of femininity and beauty. Over the years I’ve read countless articles and have seen horrible tweets about her physique and how she is apparently “built like a man.” Our society seems to be intimidated by women that do not fit into the norm. Serena Williams is an incredible athlete and one of the most beautiful women in sports today, yet so many critics go out their way to try and demean, degrade, and dehumanize her simply because of her unique physique. I can relate to Serena Williams because I know what it is like to be shamed because of the way you look.

I can relate to Serena Williams because I know what it is like to be shamed because of the way you look.

“Ain’t I a woman?” I mean, at the end of the day “Ain’t I a woman?” Sure I do not look like the traditional idea of a woman. I do not always dress in feminine attire. I have masculine attributes both physically and emotionally. However, does that make me less than a woman or unworthy to be called a woman?

Society teaches us that femininity means looking, acting, and having particular body and facial figures. Society has inadvertently (or perhaps purposely) poisoned our minds with what it means to be a woman. It tells us that femininity and masculinity pertain to your gender when, in fact, they do not. Masculinity and femininity have nothing to do with gender and I believe because of this misconception I have experienced misidentification.

I think that young women everywhere should embrace who they are and not become accustomed to society’s social norms. Every little girl should be encouraged to be themselves and not base themselves on what others think. Your clothing, hair, personality, and lifestyle choices don’t define your gender, or your womanhood. We women are diverse, strong and passionate and come in all different types of packages. Not all women have the Hollywood look or meet social norms. Be you, be brave, love yourself and realize that not all women have to look like the women on television or in the magazines. It is okay to prefer jeans over dresses. You do not have to wear makeup to be considered feminine. For all the little girls that feel challenged with gender identity, know that you are phenomenal, beautiful, and the very definition of strength. Never let anyone make you feel unworthy or less than a woman simply because you do not fit their definition of femininity and beauty.

This story was part of Safety First for Girls (SAFIGIs) #SharingNotShaming campaign.

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