Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Woman First

In my women’s studies classes, I often found myself having to answer the question “do you define yourself by your gender first or your culture?” The answer to this has always been easy for me – I’m a woman who happens to be Latina.

Now, you all know I don’t much like labels, but if I have to choose, I’ve always seen myself as a woman first.

At first, this just came as a gut reaction, but after being asked that question for the third or fourth time, I realized my reasoning: most of the struggles I’ve had were because of my status as a woman, not as a Latina.

I couldn’t go anywhere alone because I was a girl, I couldn’t date or wear make-up or any of that because I was a girl, I put up with catcalls and harassment because I’m a woman, I worry about going out after dark because I’m a woman… the list goes on and on. I can probably count on one hand (okay, probably two) the number of times I’ve been called a spic, but I won’t even bother trying to count the number of times I’ve been called bitch, slut, whore, etc.

And, sure, I struggled to learn English as a 5-year-old immigrant, and having to be my parents’ translator was not only embarrassing but unbelievably difficult (there’s a reason you need to be 18 to sign legal documents—elementary school education just isn’t enough to understand any of that). But those memories pale in comparison to the ones I have of thinking I couldn’t do something because I was a girl.

In my women’s studies classes, and when I’ve asked the question to others, I seem to be in the minority in feeling this way. How do you define yourselves if you’re forced to choose? Can you choose? Does anybody else choose based on a similar reasoning?


Kekla Magoon said...

I define myself as a woman first - in fact, since I'm biracial, defining my "culture" at all is sometimes a bit of a challenge for me.

But if I think about struggles I faced growing up (in white, suburban Indiana), I can easily say race was the bigger issue in my life. That was what made me different, what made me less able to do things like go out at night alone, or made me have to deal with comments and perceptions based on appearance.

Since moving to NYC, which is much more diverse, I feel my female identity much more than my racial one. I deal with comments from men on the street, which stresses me out, I worry in job interviews if I'm being offered the same rate of pay, etc.

I can more easily think of myself as a woman without qualifying it with race, than vice versa. Overall though, if the experience of one or the other has shaped me more, I think it is race.

Anonymous said...

I patently refuse to choose between my race and gender. I think the question is unfair to WOC as either way we are privileging a part of our identity of another. Both my race and my sex equally impact my life. In fact the lines are often so blurred that I am not sure which part of my identity is being discriminated against.

sally said...

Fair point, Renee. I do think the lines become very blurred, but I also know that there are many times when I've known exactly why I was being discriminated against. I have found that this is more common with Latinas than other WOC I have interacted with. Not sure what makes us so different...

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