At 13 years old, I didn’t identify with being a girl; in fact if there was a questionnaire to fill out which demanded to know gender, I would write ‘tomboy’ firmly in bold letters, as though it were a sex in itself. The very thought of being consigned to the insipid club of girlishness filled me with horror.
I identified girls with being weak, because of the messages I was receiving from all around me –peers, schoolmates, family, and society as a whole. It was the 80’s, and if you re-watch one of the popular movies of the day, the way women were portrayed then was notably different to now – always screaming, laying on their back or being pulled by the hand from some disaster or another. It seemed to me that girls were seen as less important and less worthy of attention or being taken seriously. At times I was actually angry I was one…
“You’re not…well you know…’funny’ are you?” questioned one woman. What I think she meant was ‘Are you gay?’ or maybe she meant transgender or transsexual… Either way, the fact is, I wasn’t. I was just sick of being told what girls were like, and what they should do and couldn’t do. I was however incapable of expressing my yearning for equality or a decent conversation on the subject in any other way than frustration and anger.
Girls can’t run as fast
Girls aren’t as good at sport as boys
Blue for boys and pink for girls
A woman’s biological clock will stop her career
That’s no career for a woman
That’s not very feminine
Why don’t you dress more feminine?
What’s the matter? Time of the month?
Women are so emotional
All these assertions used to make me seethe; it felt like I was being ganged up on and burdened with enforced limitation. So many of the things I felt were cool, I was being told I couldn’t ever have, or do as well as a boy – it was like I was being told I’d never be a hero (something I desperately wanted to be).
As far as I could see, there was nothing my brother could do that I could not, so why were there so many different rules? Why was his bike so cool, with its bold colours, while the offering to me had a low cross bar and came in pastel hues? (I insisted on a boys bike, in my favourite colours of black and red, which happily my parents were happy to furnish me with, and on which I would tear around on at the same pace as any boy).
“You’re such a tomboy!” people would say – a statement which made me so pleased. I cropped my hair short and was often mistaken for a boy – something which made me immensely happy – much like my favourite literary character, George from The Famous Five (in the books by Enid Blyton).
In fact the other day I stumbled across an article on George, in which the author claimed her as a gay icon. I can see why; she was written by Blyton in a time when gender inequality was far more oppressive than when I was growing up. She was the most determined ‘tomboy’, with her short hair, masculine attire and feisty attitude. Blyton apparently said she identified with George. I suspect she too was frustrated. Come to think of it, many of my friends tell me George was their favourite character too…Do I just have like-minded friends, or was it a trend that all girls loved George for her adamant self-expression? Perhaps a significant portion of the female population was frustrated, for a long time…
How about the word, ‘tomboy’? This too is a projection of society’s feelings on gender and what girls and women should be like. In hindsight, I feel ‘tomboy’ was a label
used thoughtlessly, slapped on any girl who enjoyed what were perceived to be masculine pursuits, or whose looks or clothing preference did not align with what was the norm for girls. Who says what a person should be interested in or enjoy doing? And why label them for it? (The same goes for ‘sissy’ or its variants, for boys).
When I became aware of it, feminism was something I began to buy into, but I was shy to admit it as it seemed to be treated with a weariness which implied it was a bunch of overly militant, tiresome ‘bra burners’. What a pain they were with their strong opinions, upsetting the status quo, and making an argument of everything…
I recall liking Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s Prime Minister at the time, because she was so strong. From my young impression, she seemed to just get on with her job without whinging or having anyone get in her way. To me, she wasn’t scared of anyone and didn’t even seem to acknowledge a difference between herself and all the grey suits sitting to her left and right in parliament.
I have since read opinion that Margaret Thatcher was a pioneering woman who had little time for feminists – which regardless of what you make of that, could have meant she was simply getting on with things, assuming her role and assuming success, without picking a fight on the subject of gender. If true, this is an approach which side-steps the fight, and works on the assumption of making things happen regardless of attitudes or limiting beliefs.
In the absence of an actual gender equality issue, moving forward with a positive expectation (and no anticipation of blocks) follows the mindset of focusing and pressing your attention into what you want, while giving no airtime or opportunity for negativity.
As far as children growing up are concerned (in general, in the West), the attitude has swung around so far now that thankfully feminism doesn’t really need to be ‘a thing’; it’s no longer a fight to get basic rights and equal treatment, just an expectation. Where I live I am very happy that my daughter is growing up in a time and place where ‘women’s rights’ are more ‘human rights’, rather than being specific to women. Those rights are expected, and when not found, they are raised, debated, and brought to the forefront for resolution.
Accepted that this is not the case the world over. Living in the culture I do, I can barely imagine a place where I could not speak my mind, demand my rights, or wear shorts and flip flops if I want to – let alone lose my liberty or life for doing so.
Of course, western society is far from perfect of the subject of gender equality, where for example, career equality between the sexes often rears its head in debate – Try searching the internet for gender pay gap stories; there are plenty to keep you reading. I recall uproar last year within the BBC as a significant pay gap was revealed between the top earning men and women. The encouraging thing is that there was uproar; meaning that society found it to be unfair, forcing investigation (rather than accepting the inequality and justifying it).
I am ever hopeful that (along with the efforts to change old habits and opinions) these issues will become less and less as the attitudes of the younger generations roll through. I noticed a marked difference while working on construction sites (surely one of the strong male bastions) in the attitudes and interactions with women, between the older men Vs the young – ‘twenty something’ - men who were beginning their careers.
In the efforts to improve equality, it’s important to not over-ride the fact there are differences between the sexes, and in the education and upbringing of children, accepting these differences is important in servicing both properly; both have (generally, with some exceptions) different ways of expressing themselves, playing and learning. For the last two summers my daughter attended a week long camp, run by Girls Inc, a group operating out of Brockville, (Ontario, Canada, for anyone not from the local area), who run services for girls, and whose strap line is ‘Inspiring all girls to be strong, smart and bold’. They are committed to supporting all girls to be confident, express themselves, realize their potential and exercise their rights.
I was surprised how keen my daughter was to join the camp. She was thrilled at the opportunity to be away from what she calls ‘the noise of boys’, and certainly seemed to find it easier to be relaxed, confident and to express herself in a girls-only setting. I would encourage anyone to offer a girls-only environment to their daughter as an activity, as I saw her thrive.
The more girls are taught to expect success and to lead an interesting life without limitations connected to their gender, positive expectation will be met with affirmative answers and fulfillment of those expectations.
I love to see that the younger generation are dropping the fight and stepping out with expectation; an attitude we can all use to achieve what we want in life.
Success and happiness is everyone’s birthright.