Imagine you meet a new person – the first information you would share would probably be nationality, occupation, educational background, current living situation and interests or hobbies. Meanwhile, you will probably be silently judging their appearance (whether it is gender, skin color, age) and forming your own opinions. It would only take you a couple of questions to figure out their sexual orientation and religious beliefs.
Without being conscious about it, you categorise. You automatically will label this person and place them into pre-determined boxes that have been created from external societal norms and that, in turn, will judge the societal worth of this person. I believe that these unconscious boxes we put others and ourselves in, have deep roots in the cultural and social environment we have grown up in. Whilst this might have benefits for navigating in a social environment, this also limits our openness to look beyond the boxes and see the uniqueness of each and every person.
Putting people in boxes also has another limitation: what if you feel like you do not subscribe to any of these labels? What if you do not feel like a man even though your biological appearance has the characteristics of a man? What if your interests and passions fall more into the box categorised as ‘woman’? What are you then; undefined? And for who? Who is to decide which box you fit in, and what if you don’t even want to fit in it?
On International Women’s Day, this is more relevant than ever. We have to remember that ‘being a woman’ does not stem only from biological appearance. ‘Being a woman’ is fluid, and comes in countless versions and shapes. The ‘woman’ box also includes newly-become women, transgender, queers, and everyone else that feels they somehow fit into the ‘woman’ box.
Fortunately, in recent years there have been more cases that recognise this variety. Most of you will of course remember Vanity Fair’s “Call me Caitlyn” frontpage, with Caitlyn Jenner which led to public awareness on the topic of transgender rights.
This month’s Vogue Paris features Valentina Sampaio on the frontpage. This makes Vogue Paris the first magazine in France to use a transgender covermodel.
Recognition of transgender as women is a step towards an equal, non-discriminating, post-gender society that embraces diversity and fluidity. This is why I think it is very important to remember that when we celebrate International Women’s day, we are celebrating everyone who wants to define themselves as women.
People should not tell you who you are but rather you should tell them. As one of my good friends always says to me: You do you!