• Ivy

I Am a Balkan Woman – Shame On Me!

Updated: Oct 28

I was born in Macedonia in 1986. I am only saying this so you don’t think I was born a hundred years ago in a place with no electricity or newspapers. 21st century arrived there too, even though this may seem like a story from the early 20th.

First I was born. To the pleasure of both of my parents, a girl. (They already had a boy.) I was only a few days old when the funniest among my parents' friends, traditionally congratulated them, asking “Is it a child or a girl?” Some would go even further adding “It doesn’t matter, as long as it pees standing”. This maybe might have been funny if they didn’t really mean it.

Four years before that, when my brother was born, my father’s friend was so jealous of him having a boy (he had a girl only two days before), that he congratulated my father with “Well, it’s better to have a whore of a daughter, then a gay son”. Those were his thoughts of his two days old daughter and my just born brother. It was wrong on so many levels. He didn’t know any better. He didn’t even think of this himself – he heard it somewhere before. Luckily for him, several years later he too had “a gay son”.

I am so happy that babies can’t understand these very unsophisticated jokes.

But what babies do understand are feelings and behaviors, especially when directed towards them. And what they learn in the first days of their lives is that, consciously or unconsciously, they are treated differently depending on their sex. Yes, babies are being treated differently*, right now, throughout the world. Pink dresses, ribbons, nail polish and shiny shoes are just a small part of a huge mistake. So much worse are the behaviors encouraged or discouraged in accordance with the social construct of what a girl or a boy should be. Boys are encouraged to pursue behaviors like like competitiveness, aggressiveness, ambition… Coincidentally, those behaviors are, at the moment, leading the world. On the other hand, girls are taught to be quiet, polite, cute, careful, non-confrontational. It’s a massive hypnosis built upon for so long that we lost track and have no idea that it is only that – a social construct. We still live by it!

Somewhere between birth and very early childhood the disadvantage starts. It only grows from there.

Growing up, as any child, I knew nothing about anything. Unfortunately, I got to learn from role models that knew everything wrong. What I learned affected me then and it still affects me now! What I learned back then modeled my perception of the world and my role in it. Almost everything I learned about myself throughout my childhood was wrong!

The first thing I learned was that I was “just a kid”. And it seemed that everyone can say anything to a kid. Even strangers on the street. A while later I started noticing a little tail on almost everything ever said to me. Whatever I did or didn’t do, I heard it over and over again: “You are a girl!” In “Clean up your room, you are a girl” In “Be quiet, you are a girl” In “You shouldn’t be running, climbing trees, fighting, racing…You are a girl” I didn’t know what it meant then, but I understand now what these words have done to me (and to the rest of us). The overemphasized “you are a girl”, heard so many times, drew a deep line in my mind. Made me silently accept – yes I am a girl, and every sentence that came with it. Made the social construct of what a “girl should be” a part of my belief system. Unconsciously, everything I did, I did it like a girl.

As much as I love(d) being a girl, a part of me always wanted to be a boy. I just thought it was so much better to be a boy. I thought you can do whatever you want if you are a boy. I didn’t like the feeling of being a half, an addition, a plus one… I wanted to do all the cool staff that only boys could do. I lived with it, not knowing that I could be equally good being a girl.

I just never thought I could do whatever I wanted while being a girl. OK, if we are being honest I did – it crossed my mind so many times! But because of the belief system learnt while I was very young, I also thought that something is wrong with me, whenever I thought or did something “wrong”. I thought I was crossing the line of normal and acceptable, not knowing that the line is wrong and not me. The whole world was wrong, not me! But I never heard anyone saying that before.. and who was I to ask questions. “Just a kid”, even worse, “a girl”, asking to swim against the stream, poking the bear. So I kept quiet (at least the times I could hold it), as a girl should.

Then we grew up a little. It started showing. It was easier being a girl before, I had only half the things to worry about. The hardest part of growing up a girl, was listening to every stereotype and objectification, and being able to do nothing (or very little) about it. Me and all my friends were verbally tortured and often physically advanced upon by boys our age and often boys older then us. In school, on the street, everywhere we went.

And this is not a coincidence. Young boys are encouraged to explore and show off their sexuality, as early as toddlers (while they are also taught aggressiveness and selfishness). Their first erection is a little celebration in the family and early masturbation (kids do not know what that is, they just touch their genitals and it feels good) is just so much fun. The little boy is happy about it. And that is ok. But when little girls come to that stage in their early development, they are immediately rebuked and made feel ashamed of their sexuality, and themselves. Then they never talk about it anymore. So that lesson is the first and the only lesson they learn on the topic. They know nothing except that sex, for them, is something disapproved and shameful. They are left to deal with the “shameful and immoral” needs as they know, all alone and in hiding…

I really hated being objectified and offended. My hormones were racing too, so whenever I felt attacked or helpless and alone, I would get into a fight. Luckily I was (still am by the way) very strong. But then the “you are a girl, you shouldn’t fight” talk would start over again. Our teachers, the school principal, any grown up that would see the scene… anyone barely said anything to the boys that what they were doing is wrong, but they never missed to teach us girls not to stand up to boys or we may get hurt. “But they started it” I would say in my defense, only to hear another “don’t talk back, you are a girl”, making me feel even more guilty and ashamed… couldn’t I just be born a boy?

At one point I started hiding what I could. Tried to be physically less appealing, wore big black clothes, hid in the corners of the room, took a faster pace on the way home. It was tiring being a girl. I just wanted to finish school and grow up and maybe then I will stop feeling like this and I can finally do whatever I want. Like work something great or go to the military or… Yes. Only military is for boys… “That and almost every other interesting and exciting job” – I thought once I grew up.

Growing up a girl in a society like that, all I learned was that I was somehow wrong, that I wanted what I wasn’t supposed to have, that I was for some reason supposed to be weak, act stupid and be useless, like I wasn’t able to do more. And it wasn’t just me. It was many of us that felt that way. We felt wrong. We couldn’t fit the social construct, no matter how hard we tried. Something always came out like dough squeezed through the fingers.

Then I became a woman (or so I thought), constantly pressured by the standards the modern (really?) society put on us. Standards very high. Growing up for a girl is hard, but being a woman – you have to do the impossible, and do it all at once! You have to look like a “million dollars” (whatever that means!), you have to have a career that never stops growing, while taking care of a household, possibly several kids and always have one on the way, and also a husband who is exhausted from the day at work. And yes, he still gets paid more than you do, his job is more “respected” and creates more power then whatever is you are doing. (And have you ever heard a man talking about balancing between family and career? Of course not. That’s only for girls.)

So that’s just being a woman. To be a respected woman you have to add to this at least as much time and effort, put some of the boys’ values (but not too much!) and never ever complain!

You should also somehow control the chemistry your body produces, and never feel down. You should be always smiling, keep all the friendships and your (and your husbands!) wider family relations.

You should also somehow control the chemistry your body produces, and never feel down. You should be always smiling, keep all the friendships and your (and your husbands!) wider family relations.

You should never ever talk about your period and just act like it doesn’t exist.

You should do all this and also “act like a lady”. Never lose it! Even when being objectified and harassed. Because, now when we are all grown up, it’s just a joke. Ha ha. Am I supposed to laugh? Well it is not funny to me! Swallow all that now, because saying something, saying no, saying anything at all, will just bring out that aggressive behavior again, and you don’t want to “bring it on yourself.” Because as he said, he was joking.

Yes, this still happens in many places in the world. There are societies that have overcome many of these issues, but most are still struggling to even start a discussion. I feel like an idiot living in a modern world that claims it does so much about women and human rights in general, when often it feels like only a bone is thrown to keep us busy and quiet, while men controlled governments, and economies decide on every suggestion we work hard to put on the table. Only they don’t understand the issues they are deciding on.

On the opposite, only recently a country wide radio network launched a campaign to remind “the over-emancipated women” as they called them, think about themselves and ask themselves where did their femininity go – clearly stating that what they see as femininity are all of the above stereotypes. The year 2017 is near it’s end, and they still have it all wrong. And they campaign it. And many men and women in my country agree… That’s what they know. That’s what they were taught. They haven’t progressed an inch from then.

This, my friends, is why we need a revolution. Thanks to many brave women in the world we came so far, but we are the ones to fight the last battle! This one is against our mentality! It’s a revolution against everything we were taught throughout our lives. Against “tradition”, against “religion”, against “well manners”, against everything that they (even we) believe is what “a girl should look like, do, or think”!

We need to change everything that holds any kind of the stereotype: children books (princess needing to be saved), history (where only male perspective is covered), politics (that is still considered a man’s world), games, clothes, songs, movies…. anything that affects how we, and more importantly our children look at themselves and the world. Everything that favors one sex over the other.

We need to watch how we speak and how we act! We need to watch what we joke about and how we joke about it. Then maybe start learning all over again. Teach our children, boys and girls different from what we were taught. (When I think about it, it may be the best not to teach them anything – they are born equal and they will never feel like they are not if we don’t teach them that!) Don’t ever tell our girls (and boys) what they can or cannot dream about. Don’t ever tell them what is for boys or girls. Just let them be equal.

There are many ways to do this revolution, many fields to fight at, many ways to make a change! One way is to speak up. We’ve been polite and quiet for a very long time – look how it worked out for us! Another way is to do whatever you wanted to do anyway. Go to the military, fly that plane, hit that runway. Do whatever the f*ck you want to do. And do it the way you want to do it, not the way they told you you “should”. And if they ask you if you are out of your mind, tell them yes, you finally are, way across that stupid line!

There are many ways, but the most important one is to support each other! There are still women that can’t see what is done to them. We need to help them learn, understand their potential, grow. And don’t let anyone offend us, attack us or underestimate us because of our sex – those are the only things that are “not for girls”!

*Elena Belotti in Little Girls: Social Conditioning and Its Effects on the Stereotyped Role of Women During Infancy


Stockholm, Sweden

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Thank you so much for everything 💙 Deko & Meri
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