NYC250 cover image See all stories from issue #250, January/February 2016

Gender Self-Portraits
YCteen staff

Youth Communication’s last workshop focused on gender. Writers thought about their own gender expectations as well as pressures they encountered in their lives from family, cultures, peer group, and society at large. Here are excerpts of their gender self-portraits.

Dad’s in the Kitchen

youthcomm logo

Austin Kong, 16, Baruch College Campus HS:

Every day, my father makes delicious mouth-watering food for my family like juicy rosemary chicken, tender steak, or squid braised with his own special sauce. I’ve eaten at other people’s homes and in my opinion no one cooks as well as my dad. On special occasions, he makes a feast for relatives and friends. But sometimes friends tease me about his passion for cooking. “Your dad cooks? What is he, a housemaid?” They say I have two mothers or that my dad is the mother and my mom is the dad, switching my parents’ gender roles in an insulting way.

This used to bother me but not anymore. Words like “housemaid” and “wife” were said so often they lost their potency. I’m lucky to have a loving, caring dad who enjoys cooking and looks out for my well-being. I’m proud of my dad for who he is.

My Family’s Double Standard

Hande Cansel Erkan, 16, International HS at LaGuardia Community College:

I’ve been in a relationship with my boyfriend for two years. At first, it was hard for my parents to accept that I was growing up and starting to feel love for a boy. It’s different for my brother. When he announces that he has a new girlfriend, my parents ask, “Who is she?” in eager, excited voices. When I began talking to my parents about my boyfriend, they asked the same question, but with suspicion and concern, not enthusiasm.

It’s considered normal for my brother to have sexual experiences, and it’s easier for him to talk to my parents about sex in general. But when I asked my mom how she would feel if I had sex with my boyfriend, she said, “Don’t you dare do that! You are just 16, and not old enough to think logically. You’ll only follow your heart and make mistakes.”

That made sense to me, but then I wondered why they never said that to my brother. “He is a guy and will get over a heartbreak, but I know you won’t,” my mom said. “I don’t want your pure heart to be broken.” So when my brother has sex, no one worries about his fragile heart?

I Hit Home Runs Like a Girl

Grace Garcia, 17, Academy for Software Engineering:

One day in gym class we were separated into teams for baseball. I was one of only two girls on my team. I go to Academy for Software Engineering High School, where there are about 30 girls and 200 boys. I had played baseball for three years in grade school, but no one knew that. One kid was drawing up the lineup and almost all the guys were telling him to bat me first.

“No offense,” a boy said, “but we want the lineup to be from weakest to strongest.” That aggravated me. I’m a good hitter, but they were making an assumption about me based on my gender. Every time I went up to bat I’d get a hit, and in one inning I was the only one on my team to hit a home run. Not to sound cocky, but I played better than half the guys on my team. The kid who told me they wanted the lineup to be weakest to strongest only hit the ball once in the entire game.

Don’t Tell Me to Man Up

Lisuini Palacios, 16, Nazareth Regional HS:

I have played basketball almost all my life and everything about it was a breeze. But that changed when I was 13 and got into an after- school program with kids who were my age but a lot taller and tougher than me. I had always felt confident with a ball in my hands, but now there was one older kid in particular who tried to intimidate me.

He would try to foul me on purpose, bumping me super hard to get the ball from me. He was 6’ tall and muscular and, although I was athletic for my age and size, I was only 5’4”. Once I grabbed my rebound and zoomed for the basket to score, but I saw the older teen too late and our bodies collided. I fell on the floor in pain. When I got up he said, “Man up.”

His words didn’t make sense to me; how could this big guy who was bullying me, just a younger kid trying to fit in, tell me to man up? How was he being “manly”? I realized his words were pointless and I stopped letting him get inside my head. I showed courage and toughness by competing with the older kids, and that gave me more confidence in myself and in my game.

horizontal rule