When I was in kindergarten, my mom got mad at me because I told her my favorite color was pink. "Nimesh", she said, "Pink is a girl color." I was only five years old and I didn't really care about what color was associated with what gender. I didn't care about society's dumb rules. I just knew I liked pink.
But over the years, I stopped telling people I liked pink and adopted blue as my new favorite color. As I grew older, I began to internalize society's rigid ideas about gender. The problem was from a young age, I had never been traditionally masculine. I had always enjoyed feminine things, like playing with Barbie dolls. On the playground, I would pretend to be a Disney princess. One time I even tried on my mom's high heels and ended up falling down after two steps. So I grew up knowing I didn't fit the mold of a "normal" boy. I grew up feeling different, feeling like an outcast.
I felt like I had to pretend to be someone I was not in order to please others. I had to hide parts of myself away and put on a show in order to fit someone else's definition of masculinity. I was shackled by the chains of traditional gender roles; I wasn't free to be my authentic self. And that is a horrible way to live your life.
The critically acclaimed Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie brilliantly notes that "The problem with gender is that it prescribes how we should be rather than recognizing how we are. Societal norms around gender force boys and girls to contort their personalities in order to fit traditional definitions of masculine and feminine. Gender rebels, people who are gender non-conforming, or people who challenge traditional gender roles are marginalized and often violently harmed. I'm writing this article on Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to remember those who have been killed because of transphobia. In 2017, at least 29 transgender people were murdered. Nonbinary and genderqueer people are harassed on a daily basis. Clearly, our rigid ideas about gender are harming those who dare to exist outside the box.
Sexism, homophobia, and transphobia are interrelated problems with a common origin- traditional gender roles. Societal gender roles have, for centuries, been used to oppress women. Gays and lesbians have been marginalized because heteronormativity implies that boys are supposed to be attracted to girls and vice versa. By being attracted to men, gay men are going against a gender norm and for that, they have been punished. Transgender people by their very existence challenge traditional ideas about gender- the foundational idea that gender is determined at birth by genitalia and is a fixed, immutable characteristic when in reality gender is a social construct.
Decades ago, women were not supposed to be doctors or lawyers. But now women are the majority of law students and medical students. Gender roles are not fixed; they can adapt and evolve. Gender roles are not passed down to us from some higher power; they are created by people. And I think we could all benefit from a society in which gender roles are less narrow and less oppressive. Ruth Bader Ginsburg says it best in her discussion of feminism, which is worth quoting at length:
I think the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang "Free to Be You and Me" . Free to be, if you were a girl- doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you're a boy and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that's okay too. That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers-manmade barriers, certainly not heaven sent.
To me, wearing nail polish is a way for me to be myself and subvert traditional gender norms. After all, the personal is political. And I sincerely hope that together we can build a society where boys and girls are free to be themselves, free to be authors of their own lives without having to live according to someone else's rules, being able to live the way they please without being limited by their gender.