Friday, 20 November 2015

Discovering Womanhood

Recently, a thought has dominated my mind; about puberty, sexuality and womanhood. For a long time, it occurred to me how easy it seems for a boy to turn into a man, as opposed to a girl turning into a woman. For boys, there is no in-between; a boy turns directly into a man. Girls, however, turn first into young ladies and then full-fledged women - in Indonesian, we call this transition between perempuan (little girl), gadis (young lady) and wanita (woman). Sure, you can call a man, "young man" but it doesn't have nearly the same effect. This could all be my own misguided perception, of course, but the way I see it, boys cope better than girls with the changes going on in their bodies and, eventually, their environment.

Let me tell you a little story: when I started to approach the age of puberty, I got excited about finally having my period. However, the first time around, it turned out to be false alarm. I wouldn't've known if my mother hadn't inspected my body to see if the blood really was coming from the right hole - it didn't, it was a mild case of haemorrhoid. At the time, I didn't know how she could tell it was false, but the blood came out only once. I'm embarrassed to say, that I didn't know my own reproductive organs well until the end of high school, when I accidentally touched it. This could be due to the lack of sex education in schools in Indonesia - outside of biology class, of course - but it could also be because "the talk" is barely a tradition in our culture.

Unlike boys, who seem to mature overnight, girls do it gradually. They aren't eager to reach their grown-up phase, where sex is part of their daily lives - if not in practice, then in thoughts. Partly, I believe, is due to the sudden change in their environment as well as their bodies. Boys, who they used to trust and treat as friends, suddenly become someone they need to be wary of as well as suspect. The body they once knew as being just a physique, suddenly turns into something of a sexual object. The other reason is probably more political and societal. When a girl turns into a woman, they are expected to do certain things; marry, get pregnant, take care of the children and husband, which are not easy tasks to handle. No matter what their goals in life are, girls might feel pressured to achieve all that society expects of them.

Women are also expected to embrace less of their sexuality than men do. It is somehow perfectly normal for a man to watch porn, demand sex and be forward in a relationship. But, when women do the same, especially out in the open, they will most likely be judged and frowned upon. Yet, at the same time, they are expected to know how to bring pleasure to their men and bear children. How can one be good at something they've never been supported to learn about before? It is not uncommon for women to know very little about their own productive systems, let alone men's. Men talk about penises all the time, even inappropriately, and yet women cannot seem to talk about their vaginas, even innocently. Of course, the kind of men who talk like that might not be decent men to begin with, but it still shows how patriarchal our society still is.

Luckily, there have been several support groups, websites and apps as of recently, which connect women around the world with one another to share their experiences on puberty, sexuality and other gender-based topics. These platforms are perfect for people who feel uncomfortable about opening up to the older women in their lives. They help you learn from real experiences and talk to real people, without having to feel awkward about exposing yourself in mature subject matter. Men don't seem to have the same system - although I'm not sure if it's because they don't need them or they haven't got an outlet - and sometimes look down on ours. Why would you need a group to tell you how to breastfeed? Don't you already know how to take care of your vagina? Little do they know, it has always been about housewife tales and mixed signals.

Lastly, I want to say: I haven't got my womanhood figured out yet. What does womanhood even mean? Exploiting your physical features to feel good about yourself? Knowing exactly how to become a tremendous homemaker and satisfy a husband? Owning your dreams and see to it that they come true? I'm not sure, exactly. To me, though, it means to own myself physically, mentally and emotionally without having to apologise for being a girl, for appreciating who I am and for taking care of myself. It means to be able to seek knowledge on my lady parts without judgmental eyes following me. It also means to know that men have their own issues and not have it easier than us - just different. It's not always easy being a girl, turning into a young lady and slowly becoming a woman; but I can finally say I am glad to have been born a female, which hasn't always been the case throughout my teens.

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