“You’re not a sorority girl. You belong in a frat.”
Long ago, my mother sat me down and told me a story. Years before I was born, my aunt and uncle had aborted their baby daughter because they and my grandparents had not wanted another girl in the family. I don’t remember what made her tell me that. All I remember is that my innocent love for that family vanished as soon as she told me. More importantly, my innocent identity vanished; every manifestation of my being from then on was very, very calculated.
That family was going to regret the day that they, dissatisfied with the female, only child that I was, asked my parents to have another child. I would always love my parents for refusing. And I would be better than any of the males in that family. I would take back the agency they took from my cousin when they killed her. My life, from that point on, was going to be one big middle finger pointed in their direction.
I’d become a boy. I’d do nothing that tradition or society expected of a girl. I hated being a girl. The world saw limitation that came of being a girl, but to me, there would be none.
“Wear a dress,” they said. No. Dresses took away my freedom. They took away the possibility of carrying everything in pockets, and the possibility of sitting wherever I wanted, in whatever position I wanted. There’s a rule about how wide your legs can be spread, you know. For many years, my wardrobe contained no dresses whatsoever.
“Eat a little less,” they said. No. There may be research-based disputes about the physical strength, power and ability of each gender, but hell, there would be no disputes about how much I’d take into my body whether it went to my muscles or not. Forget the gendered science of metabolism. I’m five-feet-two-inches tall, and I usually matched, if not beat, the amount of food my male peers consumed even if I had to force myself.
“Hang out with the girls more,” they said. No. Girls came home too early at night. They had to remember they were targets for rape late at night. They were burdened with fear, with risk. But I would not be afraid just because I had an extra hole in my body. I’d stay out with the guys all night, the only girl, hanging out, drinking and doing whatever I wanted, really. The mothers thought I was a slut.
Once, in the girls’ bathroom, I narrated a tale of conquest loudly, abrasively peppering it with unspeakable expletives. Shocked, my friends said, “Pi, calm down. You sound like a guy in a locker room.” In my high school, the guys were given the top leadership positions and the freedom to run wild. I responded by speaking, acting and walking around like I owned the school, so much so that most of the guys began to view me as an equal. They began to call me “bro.”
Although this is who I am today and even possibly for the rest of my life, I regret it sometimes. I regret that I felt that the person I was wasn’t good enough, that I let the whims of others dictate the person I should be. Yes, I challenged what was thought to be the status quo, but I did not do it for myself. By god, did I break my in-born shackles.
Everyone told me a sorority was not for me. I belonged in a frat, they said. But in the weeks that have passed since I joined a sorority here at Duke, I’ve found that it is just what I need. Not only do I need to learn to feel the great pride that should come from being a woman, but I also need a family that loves me for who I am—even if I resemble a “frat bro” more than I do a “sorority sister.” Bros have, inversely, always loved me for what I am not. That is, a girl.
This is the next step. I will always believe that my cousin’s vengeance was in part fulfilled by me transcending a woman’s limitations, the same limitations that were the cause of her abortion. But her vengeance will not be complete unless I also worship our very identity as women, an identity that is not solely characterized by its limitations. I will not hate and reject my gender like many others do. I will appreciate and love my sisters and myself.
Pi Praveen is a Trinity freshman. Her column runs every other Friday.