One of my first memories is being three or four and carelessly running across the street without looking. When my dad tells me off I explain to him from across the road: “But Daddy, I’m a boy!” Aside from this being one of my first memories, it is also my first memory of hating my gender. Still a toddler, I am well aware of what it means to be a boy and what it means to be a girl. Boys jaywalk. Girls are scaredy cats.
At nursery during free play I become Jack the lad again. Other girls pretend to be ponies and princesses. I’m happy being a boy. Not a knight or a brave prince. Not a fireman or soldier. Just a boy. Because any boy is better than a princess or queen or even Goddess. Boys do cool things like crossing the road without giving a damn if they get hit by a lorry. Boys are tough and courageous and go on one adventure after another. Everywhere I turn I see male characters representing anything that is fun with life. Super Mario Bros, The Goonies, Our Gang, The Lost boys, Spiderman, the Loony Toons, Karate Kid, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the crew in Stand by Me, Huey, Dewey and Louie, the kids at Pleasure Island; all are boys. All having fun without bothering with marriage plans or looking tidy.
Five years on I have somewhat learned to distinguish gender from gender roles. I have gone from jaywalking adventurer to classroom dreamer, traded football practice for Tuesday night acting classes. In the middle of a tedious maths lecture a woman knocks on the door and interrupts class. They’re filming the next big kid feature and need students for audition. The classroom goes mad, everyone wants the chance to become the next James Dean. But the film is about a group of boys, thus, only boys may audition. I’m left sat in my chair as the excited boys line up for what must be the most thrilling event of the year. I pop my head under the desk and curse what is in my knickers. And on Tuesday night drama club is as empty of boys as ever.
At 17 I am fun and fearless. I drink, I smoke, I stay out late. Still more a lad than lady, neither confrontation nor adventure scare me. It is five am on a Saturday and the city is too quiet for my liking. I’m loitering outside the hamburger bar together with a couple of girlfriends when a car filled with three 20-something boys drives up nearby. I jump off the stone fence and approach the car, knock on the window and ask if they know a party we can go to. “Sure girls, jump in!” they say and take us to a flat in a segregated area of Stockholm, far away. The morning is spent talking childhood memories on their balcony as the sun rises over the council flat blocks.
A few weeks later my best friend L tells me she’s met a cool guy who wants to invite us over for drinks in his flat. We are taken there in his car and get to meet his cute friend. He promises to drive us home when it gets late, but suddenly changes his mind. “It’s time for bed,” he declares and takes L into one bedroom while his friend ushers me into another. L and I spend the whole night trying to fight them off. When they finally get the message they decide to ‘swap’ and I’m suddenly sharing a bed with the other man, who is just as persistent as his friend. In the morning they wake us up with an aggressive shake to the shoulder, throw us out and tell us to find our own way home. After that night I stop being adventurous.
These stories may not be of epic importance, but they are some of the instances that shaped my perception of gender and what it means to be a girl in a patriarchal society. Maybe you can relate to it, maybe it has opened your eyes. Maybe your experiences, whether you’re a man or a woman or define as neither, are completely different and in need of being told. And that is why the Stockholm Review of Literature today launches its second feminist non-fiction series. Experiences are personal, or universal, and they are undoubtedly different from each other. During the next 10 weeks we aim to publish stories, thoughts and opinions told by a diversity of women and men.
Ted and I hope you’ll enjoy reading the series.