A girl stands, ready to pounce on the monkey bars. Body about to go into full swing, she wipes the sweat off her palms and looks ahead at the eight or so bars in front of her. She’s relatively small for her age, but the drop wouldn’t be that far down – a couple of feet or so.
As she reaches for the first bar, a voice stops her. “You’re not strong enough!” A boy and his friends laugh at her, as they not so patiently wait in line behind her.
“Yes I am.” She proceeds to swing herself, bar to bar, and lands with a thud on the platform on the other side.
As a child, I was being told that I could not do something on the basis that I was a girl. I wasn’t strong enough to climb the monkey bars. When I was 7, a boy in my class told me that I couldn’t possibly finish a Big Mac because girls “don’t do that”. For some reason, I began to ignore them, and the comments slowly withered away. I was merely a middle-schooler, but I had discovered a single way to surpass this sexist culture: I put myself on equal ground.
The freshman class have had the amazing opportunity to meet Professor Catharine MacKinnon – a leader in terms of law reform surrounding the issue of women’s rights. In our Global Perspectives on Society Lecture, we were asked collectively if we think gender inequality is an issue of men forcing women to be inferior, or if it’s because men have an inherent superiority complex. In the former, man places himself on a pedestal and exerts dominance directly over the female. However, it is arguable that man inherently possesses a sense of power and superiority, but does not necessarily exert. In other words, men automatically deem themselves ‘better’.
What if it’s something else altogether? What if, while men put themselves on a superior pedestal (that, in turn, suppresses the female), the female also prevents herself from being on equal footing? What if it is then an issue of female confidence, rather than societal suppression?
This is not supposed to be a clichéd article about feminism. I’m not here to convince you that gender inequality exists, or that we should be fighting for the rights of women. Those things are inherently prevalent – we should all know that by now. I’m here to talk about a mindset: a mindset that is often overlooked, or not recognized at all.
Consider this example. A woman and a man work together. Both are equally deserving of a promotion, and under the law, both are equally entitled to that promotion. The man is much more likely to ask for and push for the promotion while the woman is more inclined to wait for that promotion. If she does ask for it, she could be labelled as ‘demanding’ – ‘bossy’ even. While the man who asks, is ‘taking initiative’. Although this rhetoric could bring on a whole different argument, do not be led astray. Why don’t women ask for that promotion? They’re afraid.
The second example. As a general rule of thumb, girls do not ask boys out for lunch. Or out on a date. Otherwise, we get more labels. Clingy, attached, dependent. I’m sorry that I merely want to have a meal with somebody and not have to wait for them to ‘make a move’. But why don’t we do it? Because that’s just not how girls act.
On a larger scale, there are only 24 female CEOs in the Fortune 500. In percentage form, that is 4.8 percent. Harvard’s acceptance rate is 5.9%, as of 2014. From this, it can be inferred that graduating seniors have a better chance of getting accepted into Harvard, than women do of being a CEO in the Fortune 500. But, it’s not because the Fortune 500 is specifically not letting women in. It’s the fact that women are not going to fight for that CEO spot. In their minds, the spot has already been taken by a man.
Well, I think that it’s about time things change. I know that people say that all the time – that we need change and that we need to ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. I guess it’s a little easier said than done. But it’s true. There needs to be a change in mindset; a change in women’s mindset. It is no longer the problem of the lack of opportunity. We have the means: I can go to college, and I can vote in my country. The problem is that women do not seize these opportunities or do not make the most out of them. Yes, maybe some women don’t want that – but I’m not addressing those women. Frankly, in this case, those women are irrelevant. I’m talking to the woman who wants that promotion but will not ask for it. I’m talking to the girl who won’t talk to a boy, because he has to talk to her first.
For me, this is what feminism is: the equality of men and women. No woman is better than any man, and no man is better than any woman. The idea that a job should be going to someone who deserves it, not because one person stands and pees, and the other sits. However, if I said, right now, that I was a feminist, I am almost a thousand percent sure that a certain image would develop in your mind. A woman, wearing a sign saying “I hate men! Free the nipple!” and hasn’t shaved her legs in months. That was never the point of feminism. Feminism is gender equality, yet for some reason, if I said that I believed in gender equality, you would think that that was completely acceptable. Even though, the ideas are inherently the same.
Until a few years ago, I thought that most people possessed a similar mindset: that there is absolutely no difference between the sexes. I believed, with confidence, that I was just as likely to win an arm wrestle, or be on the same level intellectually, or handle a few cuts and scrapes, just as a man was. But I began to meet people that would say that men are stronger than women, that men are better at handling careers in business, or that women always choose their family over careers. These comments go both ways as well. In some cases, men experience the same stereotypical gender roles: women are naturally better at raising children, or all men like fishing and hiking, or men don’t cook. None of these comments are facts. My dad is one of the best cooks I know, he’s great at raising children and my mom has had a career that I’m sure most men would dream of having.
For most, these comments would not be rushing out of their mouths. In behavioural economist Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink, he describes the phenomenon of instinct: thinking without thinking. If you asked individuals if they believed in these gender roles, a high percentage of them would say no. They would argue that gender roles are not fixed and are, in fact, malleable. However, the issue then becomes that those gender roles are inherently ingrained in their minds – from a young age. In Gladwell’s perspective, intuitive judgment develops as a result of experience. Girls get told that they have to have Barbie dolls, and boys get told that they have to join the football team. From this, we form our own intuitive judgment on gender roles.
But this does not necessarily have to be the case. I loved Barbie, but I also played sports my entire life. I know girls who live for sports, and I know boys who live for musical theatre. We should not be groomed towards one gender stereotype – and we don’t have to be.
Maybe I grew up in a different environment, where my mum would buy me video games and Barbie dolls. But she did the right thing. I grew up to realize that I could be one of the guys and one of the girls. And that’s okay. Because, now, I’m just one of the people.
On a little side note, check this Buzzfeed article out as well.
This article was written by Isabella Farr. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Poster For Tomorrow.org