One Thanksgiving when I was around 6 or 7, one of the adults in my family observed that the “boys”––my male cousins, father and uncles––were outside playing catch. My mom then asked me if I wanted to help in the kitchen. I considered it, and knew there was nothing wrong with it, but I found playing outside to be more interesting at the time. I felt a sudden urge to join the boys, so I could prove my strength and ability, despite being a girl.
I know I’m not the only girl who has rejected societal gender implications, and I always thought it was very sad that women have to go out of their way to push for equality, to break stereotypes and show their true selves. But even though many people embrace equality, gender expectations still remain. Part of feminism is the aspect of free will to express oneself as they choose.
Think of the organization of clothes in the children’s section of a department store. In the boys’ section, one can find t-shirts with cars, superheroes, and dark colors; the girls’ section is characterized by pink, sparkles, and princesses. It is completely natural for girls to reject societal expectations, just as it is for boys, yet stores are still organized this way.
A few years later, my parents went shopping in Home Depot and since I was still a little kid, I had to go with them. My mom was searching for light bulbs, and I was getting bored. My dad pointed at a pink, floral ceiling fan hanging above us. I hated pink. “We should get that,” he joked. “Why?” I asked. “Because it’s girly,” was his response. I was very offended.
I knew it was an expectation to like pink, frills, and flowers. But when I was a kid, I didn’t. Although I rejected traditionally “girly” clothing and activities, I knew there was nothing wrong with liking those things, either. I was surrounded by girly girls in school, but I didn’t change myself––it just wasn’t who I was at the time.
I felt good wearing neutral-colored clothes and playing outside. I was lucky enough to have grown up on a four-acre property with a creek and access to woods, and my parents often had to peel me away from the bank of the creek.
My mother bought me Barbies and American Girl dolls. I read most of the American Girl books, but I hardly ever played with the dolls––it simply wasn’t part of my personality. I didn’t like having “girliness” forced on me, because at the time, it wasn’t natural. Like anyone, girls have free will to choose what interests them. Even though some girls were interested, I was not one of them.
In my sophomore year of high school, I became quite interested in fashion, accessories, and makeup––things I never thought I would like before, things many people would consider to be “girly.” I wore floral dresses and frilly skirts more often than ever. However, I still liked wearing jeans and a sweatshirt every so often, just because I found them comfortable.
Even though my style changed, my personality stayed the same. I realized there was a stigma against the style I now embraced. Many people associated a “girly” style with weakness and lack of intelligence. These ideas are not at all true; the way people choose to dress does not determine strength or intelligence––it is simply the way they want to present themselves.
During my junior year, I embraced feminism while still maintaining my more feminine style. I began to pick up on the gender inequality that exists in our society, and I resented the idea of a woman being subordinate to a man. But I chose to wear these clothes––just like the neutral clothes of my childhood––because I felt good in them. That in itself gave me confidence and strength. These traits are exactly what we should strive for.
I don’t tell my younger cousins how to dress, or what their interests should be. I want them to feel free to be themselves, instead of having something forced on them. Feeling pressured to conform often limits children from finding an authentic sense of self, and I do not wish that on anyone.
The best way to solve the problem of forced gender roles is to raise kids without them. Parents and older relatives should allow children to choose whichever toys and clothes they like. If people force kids to wear clothes they don’t like, they will be uncomfortable. If people force kids to play with toys that do not interest them, they will not be happy. Why would we want to let gender roles limit the happiness of children? And why should we let it limit anyone’s happiness?