SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2002        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Monica Meridith

Boys and Girls Are Different

 All girls have a moment in their lives when they realize they are a girl.  For me, this realization came on a hot summer day when I was seven years old.  It was the day I decided I wanted to play football without a T-shirt.  My brother was nine years old at the time and we decided to start a football game.  There were twelve children playing; however, I was the only girl.  Prior to this incident, I never felt different from my brother or his friends, I always felt like his equal.  After this incident, I would never again feel like his equal.

 My sister and I were best friends growing up, we were like brothers.  We did everything together and shared everything including friends, clothes and toys.  However, there was an incident that altered our closeness and we were never the same afterward.  It was the day we played football without our shirts.
 It was the middle of a hot Arizona summer and we were playing football in the front yard.  As the game progressed, the temperature began to rise and some the players began taking off their shirts.  I too began to feel hot and decided to take my T-shirt off as well.  None of my playmates seemed to notice that I had removed my shirt and we continued to play the game.  After a while, we went indoors to get a drink and cool off.

 When I walked in the house, my mother asked me where my T-shirt was.  She seemed startled that I did not have it one and I did not understand why it was such a big deal.  I told her I left it outside beside my botherís T-shirt.  She told me I needed to put it on right away.  I responded that I would do it after I finished my drink but she told me I needed to do it right now.  I became frustrated and asked her why did I have to put my shirt on when no one else had their shirts on.  Her strong response made me feel different from my brother for the first time, yet I was unable to understand what that difference was.  She told me that I had to wear my T-shirt because I was a girl and girls could not walk around without a shirt on.  I asked her why my brother and his friends did not have to wear a shirt and she responded by saying because they are boys.  I remember feeling very confused and not understanding why this was true.  She explained that it was not proper for girls to show their upper bodies in public.  I remembered being confused because at seven years old, my and my brotherís upper bodies looked the same.  I could not understand why one of us had to keep their upper body covered and the other did not.  It was my motherís explanation that one day my body would look like herís and my brotherís would look like my fatherís, which made me realize that my brother and I were different.  I also realized that I would never have the joy of playing without my T-shirt on and I felt jealous of my brother.  I felt that I was denied a privilege because I was a girl.

 I remember the day my mother told my sister to wear her shirt and she refused.  The incident was confusing and frustrating.  I did not understand why it was such a big deal for her to wear her T-shirt.  The rules were never a problem for me, she seemed to struggle with them more than I did.
 I walked outside to put my T-shirt on and I felt angry that I was a ìgirl.î  I felt that the term was being used as a negative term.  I felt that my motherís response, ìbecause youíre a girl,î was her way of telling me that I was something strange, something different.  Ever time she used the word that day, I would feel a sting because that word separated me from everyone.

 After the conversation I had with my mother, I did not want to continue with our game.  As my mother explained, I could not play football without a T-shirt and it was too hot to play with one on, so I felt I had no choice in the matter.  I told the boys I did not want to play anymore.  They asked me to stay and play with my shirt on; however, I felt resentful that if I chose to play, I had to be uncomfortable and hot, whereas they were free to play as they were most comfortable.

 My sisterís refusal to wear her shirt that day was confusing and frustrating because I felt that if my sister would just wear her shirt, our relationship would not have changed.  I did not understand why it was such a big deal and I asked her several times to just put her shirt on.  I felt like she just needed to follow the rules and everything would be just fine.

 I would never again view that T-shirt in the same way.  Prior to this incident, that shirt was important to me because it used to be my brotherís.  Whenever I wore it, I felt a connection between the two of us.  The fact that it was my brotherís added to my feeling that we were equals because I was wearing something of his.  After this incident, I hid the shirt and never wore it again because it served as a reminder for me that no matter how I felt, my brother and I were not equal.  The fact that he was a boy allowed him to do things I could not.

 After this day, I was reluctant to ask my sister to join in our games.  I worried that she would refuse to abide by the rules my mother had imposed.  After this incident, she also seemed more sensitive to anything I said to her.  I tried talking to her about the incident but she just responded that I would not understand.  She also began acting angry toward me and I knew there was something more to her anger.  This incident would change the way my sister and I related to each other for the rest of our lives and I would never again feel the same closeness we once shared.  I would always recognize that we were different and that our parents highlighted those differences.
 This incident was an awaking for me, it was the first time gender lines were clearly drawn for me and I was forced to recognize them.  Although I was angry with my brother and parents, I can appreciate the knowledge they provided me.  I was comfortable being blind to our gender difference; it allowed me to maintain a sense of innocence about gender.  To maintain that innocence could have put me in a very difficult position as I interacted with the world.  It is a fact that society treats girls and boys differently.  I doubt my parents and my brother knew that they had provided me with a cause.  After this incident, I became determined to show everyone what a girl could do.

 Wearing my shirt that day may have prevented me from playing football that day, but it also taught me the rules of the game; boys and girls are treated differently.  This understanding also taught me the rules of the game; boys and girls are treated differently.  This understanding gave me a sense of determination to show everyone that even if boys and girls are in fact different, I could still do the same things that boys did and some things even better.  Even if I was ìjustî as girl, I could be equal to if not better than boys in many ways.  It also provided me with the power to choose either to follow rules or go against them.  This ìgirlî knew how to play the game and that knowledge allowed me to pick and choose which rules I wanted to follow and which one I wanted to question.

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