S

“I wanted to be a machine.”

Where did you grow up?

In the suburbs of Mississauga.

Were you brought up religiously/secularly/other?

I was raised in a Hindu household, but we didn’t follow very strict rules. We prayed everyday before dinner but I still ate beef!

Was there turbulence throughout your childhood/adolescence?

Yes. I battled with depression and family issues for a long time.

Were you ever embarrassed about your development/puberty? If so why?

Yes. I was an awkward-looking kid with crooked teeth, giant eyebrows and a lot of facial hair. Puberty only led to more hairiness, which I wasn’t allowed to remove, so I felt puberty just made me even uglier. I didn’t even get big breasts to offset that. I felt like I was developing from a cute child into some beast.

Can you remember any key moments in your formative years that shaped you?

I don’t recall any key moments during my younger years. It was a very fluid learning experience. The key moment for me came later on when I moved out of the house at 17 to go to university. This newfound independence, and all the issues and consequences of finally taking control of my life, really shaped me as a person.

Any that shaped your perspective of women?

Middle school seemed to be the time when I began to realize the idea of the ‘preferred perfect woman’ but it really hit me in high school: the blonde, skinny, big-breasted woman we should all strive to be (or feel bad about not being).

Of sexuality?

I was aware of sexuality for a long time, but my self-esteem made sexuality seem like something unattainable, or something I did not deserve to experience because I was lacking in some way.

When did you become aware of your gender?

I was aware of my gender in elementary school. I remember Grade 4 vividly, when the teacher asked us if we would rather be boys or girls. I was the only girl who put up my hand to be a boy instead. It was around then that I was learning the difference between boys and girls, and the way they are treated and allowed to act.

When did you become aware of your own sexuality, were there any key moments?

I was a boy-crazy girl for a long time, starting in middle school. At the same time, I wasn’t allowed to date and I wasn’t considered a dateable person (I was the ugly girl), so as much as I was aware of my own growing sexuality, it didn’t seem real. I didn’t think anything would ever come of it. To be honest, I went through high school thinking that no male would ever see me naked.

"I felt like I did not deserve anything good, and it took me a long time to come to terms with myself instead of striving for some impossible perfection." -S Photo by Jennifer Toole

“I felt like I did not deserve anything good, and it took me a long time to come to terms with myself instead of striving for some impossible perfection.” -S
Photo by Jennifer Toole

What, if any, are the obstacles you’ve overcome on your path to womanhood?

Low self-esteem and insecurity plagued me for a long time (a product of my upbringing and the unrealistic expectations I had placed on myself or learned from the world). I intensely hated myself for such a long time. I couldn’t look in the mirror, leave the house, and I blamed myself for everything in the world. I felt like I did not deserve anything good, and it took me a long time to come to terms with myself instead of striving for some impossible perfection. It was a very unhealthy, turbulent time for me but as I’ve improved, I’ve become more comfortable with myself as a woman and a human being.

Have you ever struggled with your sexuality?

I struggled with believing it was real and that it was mine, and that I deserved to have it.

Have you ever been embarrassed, burdened or ashamed of your sexuality? If so why?

Yes. I am open with my sexuality and consider myself a free person. The problem with that is the ‘slut-shaming’ and judgments that come from any decisions you make. I am constantly burdened with judgments from others about what I wear, what I do. Sometimes I feel like I am less of a person because of how others make me feel about my decisions. One brief example is when I was roofied at a party and ended up in a horrible public situation that I DON’T EVEN REMEMBER. It made me feel guilty, embarrassed and ashamed, even though I wasn’t even to blame. I feel like women are often made to be embarrassed by their sexuality, and put down for owning it.

What is the image you think you project every day?

This is a tough question. Apparently I was very good at putting on a front for a long time, even during my dangerous struggles with self-esteem. I have been told that I project the image of a confident, content person, but it’s only within the past year that I have come to believe it and put an effort into actually being that person.

How would you describe your personal experience, existing in the way you do, each day?

I am a person constantly trying to improve myself, not escape my past but learn from it and move forward in a positive way. My existence everyday is a learning experience.

What is the image you would like to project?

I wanted to be a machine, a bulletproof entity. Now I know that is not the best way to be, so I want to project the image of a strong, determined and confident women. There is a difference between being strong and a cold robot. I think I just want to be seen as a person very happy with herself.

What do you think the image other people perceive is?

I’ve been described as a “neuro-geek with cool tattoos.” That’s my favourite description. Or a weird, nice person. Positive but not perfect images, which is what I have become comfortable with as I have learned self-love.

What is your political stance on women’s reproductive rights?

I believe it is the woman who should be in charge of all of her reproductive choices. Every woman can have her own opinion, but don’t push your own beliefs on others.

Are you pro-life or pro-choice?

Pro-choice.

What are your feelings about contraceptives and their availability, cost, stigma, usage?

I’ve been lucky with how open my friends, school and community have been about contraceptives, their availability and the education provided. (I also paid a lot of attention in my high school health classes!) Unfortunately, there are still cultural differences. My mother, for example, was very against my going on the pill because she thought it would promote sexual activity (I have very overprotective, strict parents). I feel like this stigma exists not only in different ethnic cultures, but all over the continent. Think of the strict southern Christians who promote abstinence above all else and still end up with pregnant teenaged parents! Sexual education is so important, and I believe every person should be informed about their options, and have contraceptives available at a low cost.

What are your feelings on casual sex?

To each their own. I do not judge people for their own wants and needs. As long as no one is being hurt, who cares what you do!

Are you in a relationship(s)?

Yes.

“’You have to be skinny and white to be beautiful.’ That is what the media taught me and I used that knowledge to punish myself over and over again.” -S
Photo by Jennifer Toole

What are your feelings on marriage?

I used to be very anti-marriage, being exposed to many unhealthy relationships. My views have changed since I have become less cynical about the world. It’s a choice like any other, and if you want to do it, and have the right reasons, why not get married? Or don’t! Do whatever you want! Just don’t push it on others.

What are your most positive relationships with other women?

I have a great relationship with my sisters and my female friends.

What are your negative?

Jealousy. I have let jealousy and insecurity affect some possible relationships with other women, through no fault of their own. Just my own cognitive distortions.

What does the word ‘woman’ mean to you?

A worthy person.

What are your feelings on monogamy?

It’s a choice, like any other. If it’s what you think you need or want, and it makes you happy, then monogamy is a good thing for you.

On polyamory?

To each their own! I have found it works for some people and makes them happy, just like monogamy makes others very happy.

Do you feel your choice to participate or not participate in consensual sex is at all affected by societal influence?

In society, it’s always been the battle between being a ‘prude’ or a ‘slut’ no matter what you do. Society has an opinion of you either way!

How do you feel about products marketed to women?

Now I do like some products targeted to women, but some of them are just ridiculous. Pink razor blades? Sparkly pantiliners? Are we viewed as that dumb, fickle and impressionable? It’s similar on the other end with men though. Men cannot buy moisturizer. They have to buy ‘face protector’. Give me a break.

Pink razor blades? Sparkly pantiliners? Are we viewed as that dumb, fickle and impressionable?

How do you feel about feminine hygiene products’ portrayal in the media?

I’m sure the “Being a girl rocks!” message is in the right place – all those happy girls running around with their fancy tampons in. It’s a bit unnecessary though. Feminine hygiene products are a staple in our society. Do we have the same super-positive, encouraging messages about other gender-irrelevant products like toilet paper? Toothbrushes?

Were you always aware of what your body could do sexually & mechanically?

Yes. I did not get any talk from my parents, but I paid attention in school.

Do you feel your sexual education was sufficient?

I actually do, but evidence from my friends made it clear to me that it was very easy to not pay attention and still pass the classes, leaving the school with none of the knowledge they tried to teach us. I had to teach my university dorm-mate about contraception, STIs and sex, even though we had been in the same high school health class. So I guess the sexual education was sufficient if you actually paid attention.

If not, what would you have done to make it so?

I started sex-ed quite young in Grade 5, but even in Grade 4, we had a few discussions about ‘bad touch’ and body parts to ease us into it. I think every school, regardless of the religious leanings or location, should have the same comprehensive education about sex. Education that is not biased towards one belief or another, but lays everything out so that students can be informed.

Where do you feel unsafe as a woman?

On the streets. At school. In the media. At parties. Whether it is physically unsafe or emotionally, we live in a society where this unsafe environment is considered normal. Instead of focusing on making a safer world, we focus more on how women can avoid it. (For example, we focus more on teaching our women to watch their drinks – not that people shouldn’t drug them.)

Where is somewhere you can exist without fear?

In my home with my closest friends. People who know me fully and do not judge me.

Do women treat you differently than men?

Sometimes yes. There is often the initial judgment there, whether it is based on my appearance or reputation. I often feel the need to have to prove myself and disprove any prejudgments they may have. It’s like I do not start with a blank slate.

In what ways does being a woman make you vulnerable or exposed?

Women are seen as less capable, more emotional, more vulnerable and weak. I constantly struggle in the world with misconception and the need to battle it to get anywhere.

Would you consider yourself a feminist?

Yes.

How do you define feminism?

A belief that women are equal to men, deserve all the same things, and should not be seen as any less in our society.

What do you think are positive ways the world views women?

We are viewed as caring, nurturing, maternal figures (though this can be bad for those women who are judged for not following a certain ‘maternal’ path).

What are negative?

Women are considered things, objects, in many places. Think of all the violence against women for instance. We are still not considered equal to men, or even actually human beings in some places.

Do you think the world’s perception of women limits or benefits them?

Overall, limits. Even though views are changing, they are not changing fast enough.

What is your relationship to sex?

It’s cool. I like it.

How do you define sex?

Intercourse between two (or more) people, regardless of gender.

What does a sexual relationship mean to you?

It’s consensual and beneficial for both parties.

Do you feel comfortable communicating your sexual needs to a partner?

Yes. I started out shy and very willing to please at my own expense, but now I’m very open.

Have you found a balance of fulfillment with your partners?

It’s give or take in many situations.

Do you feel that your desires are marginalized in the bedroom or are less important, if so why do you think that is?

Sometimes. I think it’s a mix of the way we are raised, lack of education and the fact that we do not stand up for ourselves and demand it in some circumstances.

Are you fearful of being openly sexual for fear of judgement?

Yes. How many times do you want to be called a slut and be given the evil eye for your choices? People are very mean, and as much as I try to be strong and not give a damn, sometimes my feelings are hurt. I do not like being made to feel guilty for something natural that does not harm anyone.

Have you ever been in a position where your sexuality was used against you?

Yes. I have been a target.

Have you ever been physically or verbally threatened because of your appearance?

Yes. There is a certain TTC station in Toronto where I have been followed and called ‘swine’ or ‘pig’ several times by ‘religious people’ when I’ve been wearing shorts or skirts.

When you imagine sex, what is the visual/feeling you associate with it?

Satisfaction.

Is sex empowering for you?

Yes.

Is sex embarrassing for you to discuss?

Well it isn’t something I would discuss with my strict parents, but no. I do not find sex embarrassing at all. It is a part of life.

Is there anyone in your world you undermine your principles for?

I put up a front in certain situations. Dumb things down, hide things, etc.

In which situations do you feel safe to speak your mind/stand up for yourself?

I try to do this in most situations, but I find it easiest in situations with people closer in age to me.

What do you seek through sex?

Fun.

“'You have to be skinny and white to be beautiful.' That is what the media taught me and I used that knowledge to punish myself over and over again." -S Photo by Jennifer Toole

“Think about Photoshop, which we apparently all know is used frequently. Even knowing that we are looking at fake, unrealistic images of someone, we are still taught that this is who we should ‘all strive to be.’ It’s dangerous. It really messes with little girls’ heads and it has a severely negative effect on youth.” -S
Photo by Jennifer Toole

How do you feel about the media’s portrayal of women?

Unrealistic and horrible. ‘You have to be skinny and white to be beautiful’. That is what the media taught me and I used that knowledge to punish myself over and over again. Also, according to the media, if you are funny and witty, you are probably not attractive and have to work harder (while poking fun at yourself).

Are you satisfied with the women you see depicted in film, television & advertising?

Not at all, like I mentioned in my previous answer. Think about Photoshop, which we apparently all know is used frequently. Even knowing that we are looking at fake, unrealistic images of someone, we are still taught that this is who we should ‘all strive to be’. It’s dangerous. It really messes with little girls’ heads and it has a severely negative effect on youth.

How do you think the world at large views women?

As inferior.

How do you maintain a sense of self?

I look in the mirror everyday, recognize my past, realize that my automatic negative thoughts are just that: THOUGHTS, and reassure myself that I am a worthy person.

What is something you deeply love about yourself?

My unwavering determination to never quit.

Who are/what are your biggest motivators?

Children. I work with children with Autism and they are by far, my biggest passion in life and my biggest motivation to move forward and improve myself.

Do you have people you look up to?

Yes. I have a great family of strong women.

Do you ever feel overlooked in the workplace because of your gender?

I have been. I was viewed as all looks and no brain without even having a chance to speak, and treated accordingly.

Do you find entering the work force as a woman has any bearing on how people will treat you?

I have been lucky to be in a place supportive of me working and having a career.

Have you ever experienced sexism or sexual harassment within a workplace?

I used to work in a bar. Drunk guys are ridiculous.

How have you dealt with conflict?

Sometimes denial, unfortunately. Sometimes the exact opposite: ferocious anger. Now I try to find a balance of communicating clearly and calmly…sometimes.

“Do whatever you want! Just don’t push it on others.” -S Photo by Jennifer Toole

Have you ever been verbally abused or threatened because of your gender?

Yes. Very often.

If so, how did those in your life respond when you told them about it?

Anger, resentment, and concern. There is often the sentence ‘Learn from it’, which kind of annoys me, but it’s much better than the unfortunate response ‘Maybe you shouldn’t have done ______’ which is ridiculous and unnecessary victim-blaming. Luckily, I have only faced the latter response a few times many years ago. Now that I am a more self-loving person, I will not stand for that kind of perspective on the situation.

What are you feelings on motherhood?

I can’t wait (okay, I can definitely wait, but when it’s time, I will embrace it very willingly). I know it’s not for everyone, and it should not be pushed on everyone.

What are you biggest fears?

Being unhappy.

Your biggest regrets?

Not loving myself sooner, but hey. It isn’t all bad. It was a horrible experience, but it has really solidified the person I am today.

Your greatest accomplishments?

Finding my passion in life, planning an amazing future where I will be able to do something I love, and being comfortable with myself while I do it. ~