I came across this article in National Geographic about gender roles and the way 9 year olds from around the world see gender and the affects it has on their lives. When I was nine I don’t think I really thought about the question of my gender, I am a girl, and that was it. The first time I really even started talking about gender was in college during my freshman orientation when our orientation leaders asked us to introduce ourselves along with the pronouns we prefer to use. I was confused by the question, in all honesty, because it was something I had privilege of not thinking about. For some students in the group, it was first time they were asked to be openly themselves and have the space to identify who they are. This was powerful, and I did not see it at the time.
Gender has greatly affected me since that moment. Why was I given dolls instead of strategic puzzles? Why did people compliment my appearance instead of complimenting the way I spoke? Why was I treated differently and paid less than my male peers and co-workers? Because I am a woman.
“Past the age-10 mark, however, the closing gap is replaced by a wide gulf,” said Claudia Cappa from the National Geographic article, “”This is when you stop being a child,” she says. “You become a female or a male.”” And this is completely true, as seen from children’s perspectives in the article. They really do know who they are already at nine years old, in both the gender role as well as in their societal role, which for most girls means that they will be forced to marry and assume a role that their bodies are not even close to being ready for, and that you should not be ready for for at least another 10 to 15 years. Yet, this is the expectation and norm for girls in parts of the world. How do I as a cisgender, white female begin to advocate for young women and women alike? Start having a more serious conversation about it. We, and I include those who have this inherent privilege of identifying as I do, tend to stray away from these conversations because we want to keep things light and happy, yet the reality is that in the world it is not light and happy . It is okay to be uncomfortable with the fact that things are far from this idealist point of view.
I invite you to be uncomfortable with me. Some people need an invitation to do something, so here it is. Have the hard conversations. Do you have a relative or a friend who says degrading things towards women or other identities? Call them out, the conversation needs to be had and it also needs to keep going. You can talk to someone once about something, but ignoring it when they do it again makes it okay, again. Sometimes you may think that it isn’t worth it, but it always is. Even if the said person doesn’t change maybe, just maybe, the lightbulb in their head will turn on before they something again and then choose not to say it. That is progress; little by little goes a long way.
I think it is also important to acknowledge that it is okay to be wrong. The amount of times I have learned and corrected myself from the way I either phrased something or explained a particular event are many. However there is a simple, effective, and respectful way to learn from those situations: it is best to say, “I am sorry, I understand that “x” was incorrect, I will do better next time.” Conversations are also meant to be learning experiences and it is important to not shut down when you are wrong, it is okay, it is a way to show that your are growing and that you are trying.
As we endure through the times that have happened and that lie ahead, it is our job as women and men to come together and understand our gender. Help one another towards equality and equity. If children can talk about it and be boldly intelligent, wondrous, and inspirational, why can’t we?