Like a girl, like a boy

When I was a kid, my Christmas presents were wrapped in blue wrapping paper. My sister’s, on the other hand, were wrapped in pink. I would receive the latest Max Steel action figure while my sister was granted a toy stove. Sometimes, I was rewarded with a toy gun, and other times, she was rewarded with a baby doll. At the end of the day, my parents would pick me up from swimming and then pick her up from ballet.

In September at the United Nations, the actress Emma Watson presented a beautiful and powerful speech on gender inequality. As Julia Lee explained in her recent Talon article, Watson launched the HeForShe campaign to unite men and women for change, calling for an end to sexism. She stated that feminism is not about man-hating or female supremacy, but the opposite: feminism is the belief in the social, political and economical equality of the sexes. In our day, people are sometimes uncomfortable in acknowledging the existence of gender inequality. “Why has the word [feminism] become such an uncomfortable one?” Watson asks.

How we speak about gender is part of the problem. Using words like “manly” and “girly” on a daily basis makes people subject to gender stereotypes. Besides those words, we often make statements that, directly or indirectly, belittle women: “You punch like a girl,” “You run like a girl,” and “You throw like a girl.” The phrase “like a girl,” sounds as if the speaker is  trying to humiliate someone, when—of course—being a girl is nothing to cause shame.

Gender stereotypes have become a part of our language and behavior, and viewing women in a different light than men has become a part of our daily routine. Kids play with different toys based on gender, we play various sports based on gender, and many of us choose what we wear based on gender. Let’s remember that the singer Usher has been known to throw himself at his fans in the same way Miley Cyrus threw herself on Robin Thicke during the 2013 MTV Video Music Awards. She was called a “slut” for “twerking” against his pelvis, while Usher’s “humping” is seen as somehow acceptable—maybe some people just call him a “ladies’ man.” Her erotic dancing tainted her reputation, whereas his was deemed normal.

The explicit or implicit perception that girls aren’t as valued as boys is a reality society has imposed upon us, one that must change. Besides how we use language and respond to media images, the opportunity for equality starts in our homes. In the future, if I have a daughter, I won’t deny her a toy car; if I have a son, I won’t deny him ballet lessons. They’ll watch me change their diapers, do the dishes, and clean the house. If we impose stereotypical gender roles on our children, they won’t grow up to be half the human beings they could be. We must not let gender define us now, and we certainly must not allow the next generation to perpetuate them.