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Our first introduction into the rules of societal engagement is usually communicated through criticism of something that feels natural to us. As children the things we do are interrupted by a “no”. “Don’t do that! Don’t say that!” “You are a girl! Girls must…” All this coaching and coaxing happens in service to moulding the model citizen according to different criteria. For those considered destined for manhood, the coaching aims for the creation of a person of importance and grandeur. 

For those destined for womanhood and elsewhere, coaching aims to create a shrunken, self-contained, dependent person whose survival depends on mercy. To be a girl or a “lady” means to be the least of everything while, ironically, taking on the most responsibility. We tell these paper-thin lies to justify it, such as “girls mature faster than boys”, but it is all in service to creating these model citizens burdened by expectation. Girls are also a placeholder for those considered to be weaker and at its core, social conditioning is geared towards reducing femininity to service or entertainment.

When we grow up, women and femmes, look back on a lifetime of negative feedback urging us to shrink and conceal ourselves. Whatever it is that we are bringing to the proverbial table, must be minimised to be appropriate. Speak softer, think less, don’t listen too much, cross your legs, wait outside, ask for permission, be useful, cover your body. Between ourselves and these endless instructions, who we truly are gets lost. It is full time job to observe these unnatural rules, leaving little time for self-discovery. For some of us, our graves meet us as those perfectly conditioned subjects of patriarchal domination, while others raise objections along the way. What then are the consequences for relationships when we start being reintroduced to ourselves, while others are still stuck with a previous version of us?

It is not a betrayal to change and introduce new aspects of yourself to those around you, but the vice grip of expectation and consistency placed on those who have always served the needs of those around them, makes it seem so. Let us firstly ask, is it realistic or fair to expect the people we love to meet our expectations before attending to their own needs? Is it possible for our relationships to create space for us to grow and change in them, when we are holding onto Hollywood fairy tales of what relationships are?

This conversation seems to make some obvious assertions, but the origins of these phenomena are less obvious because they are taken for granted. We don’t often see how the expectations we place on certain people in certain bodies are unfair because we don’t see early socialisation as problematic. We, in fact, must problematise and challenge the social conventions we take for granted. 

Women and feminine people are not inherently nurturing or inclined to servitude and we must create societies that are receptive to everyone’s self-expression and later evolution so that we meet people as their authentic selves sooner. We end up forming relationships with people who have not yet showed up to themselves and become shocked when people finally show up. It is not change that affects relationships, but our inability to grow and evolve, because change is scary. It can be, but it can also be wonderful and exciting.  

Perhaps, sometimes relationships are not meant to last and we can walk away from them, but we must start interrogating the expectations we have of people and start connecting the dots back to problematic patterns of socialisation that don’t serve us in any way. It is long overdue that we put more effort into new ways of being that allows everyone the freedom of full personhood, however unintelligible it is to us.