Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Day 187- Man hands

Dear Mr. President,

In high school, they called me man hands. It sounds cruel, but it was sort of an endearment. I do have big hands. The people who love me best still call me this, occasionally, and I love them for it. But it started earlier than that. It started when I was 4 years old and saw The Neverending Story. I promptly convinced my mother to cut off my long golden curls so that I could look like Atreyu. When my older sister told me Atreyu was a boy, I was pretty skeptical; I identified with the character enough to believe that he must be female, like me. After that, it was being the only girl on the soccer field at recess, or picked first for kickball because, as a 5th grader, my 5'+ frame and size 9 shoes made me awkward and strange, but damn good at kicking a ball. These days, I work in a physical, occasionally dangerous and adrenaline-filled job. While my supervisor is female, she acknowledged to me that I'm the first woman to apply in a long time. So, I suppose, she and I work what some would call a man's job. I don't want to be a mother and I don't want to be some one's wife, but I like romantic movies and make-up and Jane Austen novels as much as the next girl. What does this make me?

Abnormally masculine, according to Pediatric endocrinologist Maria New, of Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Florida International University. That my aspirations for a life outside of motherhood, marriage and so-called feminine traditions are traits some (ironically, female) doctors would attempt to prevent in utero is kind of horrifying. Considering my upbringing, watching my parents come home from the same work, with the same weapons and tools, knowing that my mother worked just as hard as my father, had more education, made more money than him, outranked him and still had to come home and be responsible for the domestic chores while he relaxed in front of the TV, maybe my abnormality isn't genetic so much as experience? Of course, my father and stepmother tried hard to break me out of my tomboyish tendencies, forbidding certain masculine clothing, encouraging and even emphasizing the importance of cosmetic beauty. But I never outgrew it. I'm not dainty or delicate. I don't aspire to be. I can't change this, any more than I could change the size of my hands. Even my handwriting (as the unfortunate readers of your mail must surely be aware) is undeniably masculine.

If my parents had been given the choice, if they had been offered a pill to take with prenatal vitamins that ensured them a "normal" daughter, would they have taken it? How does a parent justify making decisions about a person's disposition, their preferences and temperament, the things that make up their personality, all without their consent? I think that science is pretty awesome, that genetics and the prenatal prevention of disease are important and fascinating fields. But reading about this research and the reasoning used to justify it, I can't help but wonder who gets to decide what is a problem, an abnormality that needs correction or prevention, and where the checks on that kind of power could possibly come from. What's feminine today is different than 24 years ago, and by the time children receiving this treatment reach their own adulthood, I'm sure it will be even more so. That 4 year old girl who looked back at me from the mirror as our mother cut our hair and turned us into a warrior, she could have grown up to be anything, a mother, a Supreme Court nominee, even a pediatric endocrinologist. So far, all she's become is a loss prevent agent and blogger, a chronically opinionated and ambitious young adult with giant hands. But I'd hate to think that, even before she was born, there could have been a medically sanctioned definition of what the correct choice would be.

Girls of all ages have a role model in Elena Kagan, so thank you for nominating her to the bench. I believe that her life's work is no less valuable than any children she might have born, instead. I am grateful for her and for all of the other abnormal women who have come before me. They have made the world safer for women like me, and improved it for all of us- even Dr. New. I'm not promising that I'll cut my hair to look more like her, but, if she gets a luckdragon name Falkor, it may be cause to reconsider.

Respectfully yours,


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