Growing up I never really questioned my gender or my gender expectations. I was not a “girly girl” but I was not a “tomboy” either. I was assigned girl at birth and I have always identified as such. However, in recent years have come to the realization that gender is not as clear as girl and boy despite society’s insistence that it is. I have also noticed the impact my culture and the women around me have had on my views on gender. I have gotten most, if not all, of my ideas regarding gender from my family and culture.
As a young Latina, I was surrounded by powerful women who helped shape my own view of women. My grandmothers and aunts have always been the ones in charge of the family. They are the go-to people for advice and help for major decisions; Any and all issues went through them first. Seeing this defiance of traditional gender roles embedded in me a reminder to boldly not take anything from anyone.
Yet they spent their days cleaning, cooking, and tending to the house. While these roles are essential to the maintenance of a quality home, they are not merely for women. At times this confused me as I often felt I could only be assertive within my household. What I also got from them was varying forms of gender expression and performance.
Clothing is perhaps the easiest and most prevalent way of performing gender. Either you wear girl clothes or boy clothes. I always wore “girl” clothes as I was dressed by parents but I saw very different forms of femininity and female expression in my youth. The singer Selena had died a couple of years before my birth but I grew up listening to her music. Apart from her music she is often known for her appearance. This beautiful, young, talented women was the epitome of Latin beauty in the 90’s. Yet at the same time I saw different looking women around me. My mother was quite young when I was born and she grew up expressing herself as a typical “chola”. Cholas, a staple of the 90s latinx world, were a beautiful blend of masculine gangster culture and classic Mexican femininity. She often dressed in baggy, masculine clothes and wore dramatic makeup.
With both these women there is an emphasis on makeup and dress. This also makes me realize that there are varying forms of femininity and all are equally valid. While gender is a social construct, it is, to many, an essential part of their identity. With my piece, I am attempting to display just some of the many types of women throughout Latina (specifically Mexican) culture. From famous artists Frida Kahlo and Selena to my own grandmother and aunts, this piece includes the iconic images of femininity that I grew up with. It also includes cultural symbols such as sugar skulls and the Virgin Mary. The Virgin Mary specifically evokes the role religion has on my culture’s view of gender. In Catholicism, the women of the bible are often seen as examples to follow. As a young girl, I would go to Virgin Mary’s basilica in Mexico and be reminded that this pious, devote women was to be emulated.
My culture is something I cannot shake, it is an inherent part of my identity, nor is it something I wish to change. Throughout my lifetime I have seen varying depictions of womanhood. Though confusing at times, I have now come to the realization that this means I can truly be whomever I wish to be.