A Recalibration of Self


I am not a girly girl. Never have been. Never will be. And I’m fine with that. Well, I was…

I don’t like to wear dresses or skirts. Family legend has it that when I was a small child, another small child told me they could see my underpants when I was playing on the monkey bars. Apparently, I thereafter refused to wear a dress. Sticks and stones may break your bones but they heal pretty fast. Words last forever.

I don’t even remember the incident but it has formed who I am. My clothing modus operandi is jeans, sneakers and a geeky t-shirt.

It’s not that I have a pathological fear of wearing a dress. My parents didn’t have to drag me screaming from the house every day because my high school uniform was a dress or kilt. And I did wear one at my wedding. It’s just not my comfort zone.

Occasionally, I turn up to significant birthday parties or weddings not only in a dress but also the accompanying accoutrements of makeup, jewellery, high heels and (shudder) pantyhose. I don’t do it because convention states that I probably should. I do it to mess with people. Because that’s also who I am.

I have a theatre director who thinks I should wear dresses more often and so takes every opportunity when I am in a play to put me in one.

I’ve just finished a production in which I played a Police Inspector. Yes, I could have worn a skirt but this time I got my way and wore a pants suit. I also wore earrings, a silk scarf knotted at my neck and high heeled shoes.

Chatting with audience members after the show one night, someone asked if I was meant to be a man or a woman. “I thought you were a man but then I spotted the earrings so I was confused.”

Why, thank you so much.

I shrugged it off as tactless ignorance.

Until the same thing happened again on another night. This time they were confused because the Police Constable kept calling me “ma’am”.

Now, admittedly, I was playing a Police Inspector in a murder mystery ostensibly set in the 1950s, when female inspectors were rare. Admittedly, it was a part originally written for a man (when you can’t get enough male actors, you have to do what you have to do). Admittedly, I did stride onto the stage with all the authority of the Force. Admittedly, I was dressed in a suit.

But in 2014 are we really still stuck in such outdated gender perceptions? Do our minds, confronted with the image of someone in authority wearing trousers, still automatically assume the person must be a man?

It doesn’t help, of course, that men still dominate positions of authority in much of society and the media seem to represent women as either the sexy, buxom wench or the soft, pastel pink mother. I am neither so perhaps I confuse people.

Someone once even suggested that I try hypnotherapy to get over my fear of wearing dresses. As if a woman not wanting to wear a dress has some kind of mental illness.

But I did have to ask myself, if I can be mistaken for a man when wearing makeup, earrings and high heels, is this happening every day in my plain-faced, jeans-wearing life and I just didn’t know about it? Is it just me and not the role?

Isn’t it funny (or really not) how a casual comment can cause you to lose sight of yourself? To find yourself out of balance with who you thought you were?

So I’ve had to recalibrate. I’ve had to decide (again) who I am and who I am comfortable being.

And I’ve decided that no, I will not be buying a new wardrobe of filmy dresses and pink high heels. No, I will not be growing my hair long or putting on makeup every day. If for no other reason than I refuse to pander to outdated gender stereotypes.

I am not a girly girl. Never have been. Never will be. And I’m fine with that.

Postscript: I’d like to sincerely thank my fellow cast members who helped me see the ridiculousness of the situation and made me laugh every night with suggestions that I speak in a high-pitched voice, or say that I have to wrap up the case quickly because I have to get back to my knitting. It’s so much easier to find yourself again when you have friends to show you the way.



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3 thoughts on “A Recalibration of Self

  1. It’s not about the dress. In this case I think it’s largely about the convention in this theatrical genre that the police inspector character be male, and the broader social convention that authority figures are male.

    Nope. In your regular life people do not ‘read’ you as male. (But you do remind me that when I worked in retail and had very short hair, I borrowed a small diamond ring from my mother to wear on left hand, fourth finger, because it bothered me my boss assumed I was gay. And it bothered me that it bothered me.)


  2. The role was a police inspector – who cares whether the inspector is female, male, gay, straight…(well obviously some audience members do!!). You played it beautifully before and after the addition of lipstick 🙂


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