I remember the day my five-year-old sister and three-year-old me got our big dolls. With their dark brown curls and deep blue eyes they were gorgeous. Mine wore a neat white dress with tiny blue flowers. I can’t recall what dress my sister’s doll wore, but I do remember it was different from my doll’s dress.
My sister took to her doll immediately, but I didn’t like mine quite as much. In fact, I disliked her so much, I grabbed a pen and covered the poor doll’s face in a million blue pen stripes.
I’m not sure what would have happened, had I not looked up and seen the bewilderment on my sister’s face. However, the moment I noticed my sister’s astonishment, I understood I’d done something really bad.
Filled with shame and remorse, I took my doll to my mum and asked her to clean it up for me. When asked why I’d done that, I said I was angry at the doll for being so heavy, but I actually made that up on the spot.
In reality, I had no idea why I disliked the doll so much. Just that I did. I did not want that doll. I did not want any doll at all, but looking at my sister I knew that girls loved dolls, so I vowed to myself I’d never make that mistake again, and I’d be the best doll-mummy I could be.
Well, I wasn’t a very good doll-mummy. I really tried, but I was a wild thing and somehow my dolls got damaged far more often than my sister’s dolls. They lost arms, legs, eyes, hair… But really, was it my fault they fell off the boat (my bed) and into the foaming waters of the sea (the hard vinyl floor of our bedroom)? Was it my fault they kept having accidents?
I really, honestly tried to emulate my older sister, who was my role model back then, but cripes, she could be so boring! She liked nothing better than dressing up in our mum’s clothes and putting on make-up. Oh, and kissing her little boyfriend. Shouldn’t forget to mention that now, should we?
Kissing a boy. How gross was that? To me, boys were play mates. I’d beat them at climbing trees, because I was smaller and faster and nimbler than them. I’d play marbles with them. And, though it shames me to say so, I went insect hunting with them. No, you don’t want to know what happened to the insects we caught. It wasn’t nice.
I got told off for being a potty mouth numerous times. I wouldn’t even have minded so much, if it weren’t for my male friends getting away with this kind of behaviour much more easily than I did. Most of the reprimands went something like “nice girls don’t talk like that.” Right. And who ever said I was a nice girl? I don’t think I ever had any intention of being a “nice girl”. Not that kind of nice girl, anyway.
Oh, I did want to be a good girl. I tried to be one. I wanted to please my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, teachers, sisters, cousins… But I wasn’t going to wear dresses to please them, was I? Well, OK, I did wear dresses when I felt I really had no other choice. Like when going to church. That kind of thing. I hated it, but complied. I even tried to convince myself I felt pretty and enjoyed it.
I wasn’t easily convinced. I’d have worn boys clothes if I could, but with no brothers I never got that chance. Still, jeans were a pretty good alternative. In fact, they would have been perfect if only my mum would have allowed me to wear plain t-shirts and pullovers instead of the girly blouses she bought me.
On the surface, I was just like any other tomboy. But whereas tomboys are fine with their being a girl, I was not. Trying to be a girl was bloody hard work when deep down I just didn’t feel like I was a girl. But what was I to do? There was no way I was going to be able to explain to anyone how I really felt. I didn’t think anyone would have understood. Not back in those days, when religious dogmas seemed more important than compassion.