Dread is bubblegum and hot pink. It spews from big lips and big eyes and big breasts. It cinches like an impossibly narrow waist. It smells like fake tans and cosmetic. It’s heavy on shoulders I can’t bare because it will be a distraction to the boys in school, because men will use my bare shoulders as an excuse to touch and to catcall and to chase and to capture and to smother and to crush and to tear. These are facts I’ve understood if I haven’t been able to vocalize them since I was old enough to have these blonde haired models splay their legs to sit horseback bare-butted because tight dresses wouldn’t let them ride. Their legs don’t spread wide enough and they never came with pants; they were meant to stand tall and straight and pretty on feet bent unnaturally by high heels that I’ve lost in corners and under the bed. These dolls were never meant to act. They were never meant to do.
There’s the lesson. Stand straight, wear heels, wear lipstick and eye shadow and eyeliner and mascara. We’ll tell you that you can be anything, but you can do nothing, and you need to remember it.
To do anything is unnatural.
Know your limits.
Know your place.
Know your worth.
$9.99 the package says.
That price tag is like a ball and chain around legs that must sting from the bite of a razor because a manufacturer needs more money and they say that my natural hair is ugly, is unkempt, is unsanitary. It hobbles legs that shouldn’t touch one another at the thighs but do, that chafe beneath skirts that are mandatory for formal occasions.
There are no choices in this aisle. There are only limits and boundaries.
This, it says, is girl. This is feminine. The next aisle over—the aisle of blue and trucks and heroes and weapons and tool kits—is not for you. Those are what you cannot be. And here is what you are and what you cannot do.
Stand straight, wear heels, cover up your face, eat less, bend and break your bones, pinch your body till it fits in the plastic mold and you can stand with pride beside these dolls on the shelves, an example.
This week I challenged my friends to join me in the muddy, bloodied waters of gender conformity and nonconformity because it is a topic that’s been thrust into the limelight of late and it’s been on my mind. This was not really the piece I intended to write. I intended to explain how I think gender is a man-made problem and any adherence to a binary is foolish. Instead what you got was an imagined walk down a fictional but too realistic aisle in a toy store—you all know the one—and everything it makes me feel and says to me now. I didn’t want to write this piece because it’s been said before—again and again and again—but I’m still hearing that there are only two choices, defined by blue and pink, by male protagonist and female protagonist. I know things have improved and the aisle that I describe is largely that of my childhood in the 90s, but if people are still toting this binary defined by marketing, apparently, I still need to write and publish this piece.