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It's Time to Say "No"

These girls and women were not transgender. They were smart.

Despite having my gender identity issues mostly resolved by the time I was in eighth grade, I was still hopelessly gender non-conforming. Not only did I look different from the other girls but I had very different interests, one of which was reading science fiction.

One of my favorite books was Robert Heinlein’s Tunnel in the Sky.

I think back one of the exchanges between two characters who were stranded along with other classmates on an unexplored planet as their final exam for Advanced Survival--an elective course designed for seniors interested in interplanetary exploration or settlement. The course was elective because it wasn’t unusual for students to die during the final exam.

Rod, the main character, had just been told by his friend Jimmy, “Jack is a girl.”

The three had partnered up after it became clear that something had gone terribly wrong with what was supposed to be a 48-hour survival test when the retrieval alarm was never sounded.

Rod responded to Jimmy, who has been recovering from a serious illness, “Jimmy, you’re still out of your head.”

When Jack returned to the cave where the two boys had been talking, Rod confronted Jack.

“What is your name?”

A confused Jack responded “Huh? Jack Daudet. I told you that.”

Rod pushed “No, no! What’s your full name, your legal name?”

Jack responded “My full name is Jacqueline Marie Daudet. If it’s any business of yours.”

She then twisted her shoulders and removed the body armor she’d been waring. Rod noted

that without it “her shoulders seemed narrower and she herself was slender now and pleasantly curved.”

When Rod asked her why she was wearing it she responded, “Suppose I hadn’t? Would you

have teamed with me?”

Rod squirmed, realizing he would not have.

Something that girls like me reading this book immediately knew, something Rod would never have thought of, is that in addition to not being seen as a suitable person to team with, girls and young women are vulnerable to sexual assault. Posing as a man protected Jack from being raped as well as opened up opportunities.

Another story that illustrates how girls and women have, at times, impersonated men is Mulan.

In this Chinese folk-tale a girl disguises herself as a man in order to fight in the army.

There are other instances both real life and fiction where girls and women have dressed up as men in order to protect themselves and access opportunities that would otherwise not be available to females.

These girls and women were not transgender. They were smart.

Girls and women today are also recognizing what Jack did in Tunnel in the Sky and what Mulan knew. Being perceived as male can be safer and provided them with experiences they would not be able to access as females.

Unfortunately, since the 1980’s when I read Tunnel in the Sky over and over again, it seems that the cultural stereotypes for girls and women have gotten more restrictive rather than less. Female bodies are objectified and sexualized like never before. Everywhere a girl turns, including in her classroom at school, she is given the message that her job is to look pretty and be receptive to sexual advances.

In fact, girls who want to dress modestly are shamed for being prudes and girls who refrain from sex are referred to as whorephobes. Any girl or woman who suggests that early sexualization of girls is damaging is derisively called a “slutshamer.”

Is it any wonder that more and more and more girls are following in Jack and Mulan’s footsteps and rejecting themselves as females?

As a society, we have turned our backs on girls and women. Rather than insisting on changing society to make it safe for girls and women make it so they have opportunities afforded to males, we have instead encouraged girls and women to reject themselves and impersonate males. Not just wearing body armor and dressing as males as did Jack and Mulan, but actually damaging their bodies in an effort to more closely match male bodies.

Girls and women are taking large quantities of testosterone in an attempt to harden those soft curves Rod saw when Jack removed her body armor. They are chopping off their breasts to completely remove those problematic curves that so often betray their bodies as female.

It is time that we stand up against influences making girls that they will be safer and happier if they reject themselves.

Doing this means saying “no” to advertisers who market female bodies to sell products, “no” to comprehensive sexuality education that suggests girls should enjoy oral, vaginal, and anal sex well before their bodies are mature enough to be intimate with a penis, “no” to messages that there is something wrong with them if they are gender non-conforming, and “no” to encouraging girls to medicalize the hatred they have for their beautiful, vulnerable female bodies by providing them a pathway to self-harming behaviors.

It’s simply time to say, “No.”


Erin Brewer is a partner with Partners for Ethical Care. Contact Dr. Brewer via

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