My parents always wanted a boy. I didn’t know it at first, of course, but even in the first two years of my life, when I was still an only child, the apple of their eye was elsewhere. Even once my brother was born, I had no feeling of anything untoward, and it is only now in later life that I am beginning to realise how my gender shaped my upbringing.
In literature, the female protagonist is often compelled to rail furiously against overwhelming obstacles. My own experiences have been different. They have been all together more subtle, but no less real for it. Often, I have only become aware of the different way in which I have been treated when seeing my brother go through the same experience. I have lost count of the number of times he has announced a desire to take part in a specific activity or made a comment about a particular problem which I have assumed my parents will take only perfunctory interest in (after all, that is their response to me), only to find that everything is dropped to accommodate his needs.

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I do not want to sound ungrateful. The love between my parents and me is reciprocal and strong, and I have had a happy and fulfilling upbringing. My education has been taken seriously, I have been made very comfortable, I have taken full part in family life. If I had no brother, I’m not sure I would think anything of it. At times, of course I am angry about being a second class citizen in my own home, but as I have become older I have started to see the role my gender has played in my life as neither a curse nor a blessing, but simply as one of many characteristics that define me and that have shaped my life. The fact that I happened to be born as a girl into a family with what I might best call traditional values affects me every day, but so does being Korean, or Christian, or straight.

These are just a few of the many, many characteristics that interact within me and with the outside world as I go about my daily life. I think that to ascribe bland, two-dimensional emotions to any of them is overly simplistic. It is possible, however, to accept them and their significance in making up an individual, and from that I have gained a feeling not necessarily of happiness but certainly of peace.

This was brought home to me in a recent conversation I had with my brother. We were talking about our times at school, and he said that he had found it very difficult to be just one of many pupils, and had felt compelled to seek attention in his actions. He also said that I had never seemed to have the same problem. I did not reply directly to this, but I smiled inside. Could this be an effect of our different treatments at home? After all, my brother and I are very similar in many ways, but at school he always has to be known for something, and preferably top of the class, whereas I have always been more easygoing and sociable.

I do not want to describe this anecdote as having a purely positive or negative impact. Nor do I want to definitively state that our differences in this regard arose from his preferential treatment by our parents. I think both issues are more complex. Perhaps I have been influenced by the third wave of feminism and its “celebration of ambiguity and refusal to think in terms of “us-them””(Rampton, 2015). I think that the value in reflecting on such issues is simply that, to reflect, and that sweeping conclusions are often unhelpful. I do not want to be the female protagonist railing against patriarchal obstacles. Instead, I want to see my gender as one of the many things that make me the woman I am.

  • Rampton, M. (2015, 25 October).