By Catherine Okafor
Catherine here! It seems like forever since I’ve last stepped foot at Community Well. Actually it has been awhile. I’ve recently transitioned from working full-time at a CBO in San Francisco to being a full-time graduate student. Has it been an adjustment? Yes, to say the least. I’ve literally went from reminding my students to study for upcoming exams to now reminding myself “how to study.” Luckily, I’m adjusting well. However, adjusting to my new space has taken some getting used to. Coming from San Francisco where there is a plethora of cultures and identities to now settling in central Pennsylvania and being in a space where I’ve become 10 times more aware of the many identities I hold.
Recently in a class discussion on feminist theory, I spoke about my tattoo. In our discussion, we spoke on different gender stereotypes and things you learned as a child growing up. For example, some classmates spoke of the idea of being thin is what was taught to them as young girls as acceptable. For me, I explained my family’s perception on tattoo’s.
Growing up, it was mostly viewed in a negative way especially with the thought of “presenting your best self” to potential employers. I was taught that with a large tattoo, some may instantly view you in a negative way. I’ve always looked at tattoos as art and a way of self-expression. However, not everyone would agree with me. Why? Because that’s what others have been taught by their family, mentors, the media, etc. To take it a step further, some have been told that tattoo’s are only acceptable for men and not women. Do you see where I’m going with this? To take it even further, a family member once said, “Why would you add another strike against you with that tattoo?” What they meant was that as a black woman, there are existing negative perceptions of me that may cause folx to discriminate against me.
Luckily, I’ve ignored the naysay and have learned to embrace my tattoo. It serves as a symbol of strength and ambition. But, given the topic in class today, it’s caused me to think deeper of the identities that I hold and gender stereotypes I’ve learned as a child that still play out in my life as an adult.