I think it was my 12th or 13th birthday, and just like most kids and teenagers, I was quite excited about it. As a kid, I used to count down the days leading to my birthday, filled with anticipation of the attention, the cake, the gifts…
But it was around this age that birthdays changed for me, and for a while, they became a traumatic experience, a synonym for a colossal disappointment.
On that day, all the family gathered for my birthday lunch – grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins. Back then everyone lived nearby, so we totaled around 12 people. We finished eating lunch and then came the most anticipated part – the gifts. Excitedly I started to unravel the suspiciously small packages and one by one, the horrors they came.
Jewelry. More jewelry. Old jewelry. New jewelry. Gold jewelry. Silver jewelry.
You get the point.
I sucked on my nausea and tears and politely said again and again, “thanks, this is beautiful! Exactly what I wanted!”
You see, I didn’t like fine jewelry back then, and I still don’t.
In contrast, I remember my trips to the mall accompanying my mom to buy gifts for the other cousins, who were all male. For each one of them, we had clear instructions as to what that specific cousin liked. We got for them super cool things like board games, hiking gear, computer games, fitness equipment, even musical instruments. Not boring, small, often old, jewelry, that didn’t even glitter. Who cared if it was expensive? As a little girl, that didn’t matter to me.
“You will see that by the time you are 18, you will love fine jewelry.” My mom told me as I cried after everybody left. Even if that were true, why should a little girl have to wait six years to enjoy her birthday gifts?
Then I turned 18, and I still hated fine jewelry. “By the time you will be 20, you will love fine jewelry,” my mom said. And with the years it turned to “someday you will mature and will love fine jewelry,” and lately, “someday this jewelry will remind you of the family.”
I never started loving fine jewelry. Maybe it was just to be a contrarian, but I highly doubt it. I’m a practical gal – I don’t wear stuff that I fear losing or ruining. I don’t wear expensive stuff and I don’t own expensive gadgets. I don’t want to be a target for thieves or to make my place interesting for burglars. And above all, it simply isn’t my style – in fact, you will most often find me wearing black comfy clothes that can conceal remains of coffee, food, and bicycle grease.
Why am I telling you all this? Because of the dissonance I felt between how gifts were bought for me, and how they were bought for my male cousins.
My male cousins had different hobbies and preferences, which were taken into account when buying things for them. But I was a girl, hence my hobbies and interests were supposed to be those of a girl (… and stereotypically all girls like clothes and jewelry, so why bother trying to figure out what a particular one likes?). It’s like in the old cartoon The Smurfs (please don’t let your daughters watch it), in which there are different Smurf characters: one is clumsy, one is grumpy, one plays pranks all the time, one is wise, one is handy, one is greedy, and one of the characters is… a female, Smurfette. She is the only female in the group, and that is her whole purpose, to be a female, it seems that the creators of the show thought that being female is a character trait. She possesses stereotypical female traits: she puts a lot of attention into her looks, she is helpless at the smallest sign of distress, and is an object of desire for the other Smurfs. My birthdays reminded me that I was living in the world of the smurfs, in which no one saw me as more than a girl.
I remember one time we bought a bass guitar for one of my cousins, who was only one year older than I was. That was what he wanted back then, so that is what he got. A year later he stopped playing, but who cared? And I was supposed to wait six years to supposedly be able to appreciate and enjoy the jewelry I got.
Girls were not expected to pursue guy things like soccer and rock. That is one of the reasons why there are fewer women in rock. I was expected to wear jewelry and care a lot about my looks. Like Smurfette.
If I could meet Smurfette, I would take her by the hand and ask her what she wants for her birthday. I hope she would come up with something badass. I’m pretty sure she will. Maybe she would want the EX-Inferno Metal Distortion Pedal, designed for over-the-top metal mayhem. Then she would plug it into her amp and show the rest of the smurfs who’s boss.
(*I didn’t use this pedal. It just looks badass).
Featured photo by Nicole Michalou : https://www.pexels.com/photo/girl-opening-her-christmas-gift-5778900/