“You Can’t Do This Because You’re A Girl”: Women Reveal The First Time They Faced Gender Bias
My best friend got married into a wonderful family and we realised that most things that she worries about are just a projection of her own insecurities. She is so conditioned to see things in a certain way that even though her family isn’t thinking like that, it makes her assume that they are. We grow up listening to gender scripts that define a good woman’s characteristics at every stage in her life. And we tend to have these at the back of our minds.
I grew up in a family with all daughters. We are three sisters, who went to a convent all-girls school. For the most part, I didn’t have anything to compare with. Whatever my parents told me, I just assumed it applied to all kids – boys and girls. Thankfully, my parents weren’t the ones to tell me I can’t do something because I am a girl.
My school encouraged sports and I was allowed to pick the so-called boys’ toys. But I never did those things. I played with my dolls and hated sports. However, my sisters played with cars and spent hours on video games and they were not told to stick to dolls. It only started when I became a teen. As a kid, I only wore short shorts and dresses. But when I turned 13, my parents were worried about my hemlines and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. What changed? I had been wearing these for 13 years! By the time I was 15, I was told that I must get home before eight because I am a girl.
Eventually, as I got older, I saw how unfair things are for women. Oh, I must not go out in the sun or I will get tanned. How does it feel when all the men in the family are drinking but you can’t because you’re a woman? So many double standards, so many people reminding you of your gender as if you wake and forget you have a vagina. It’s exhausting!
So today when I was chilling in the AskWomen subreddit, just reading up what women are talking about, I found this thread that discusses our very firsts of gender stereotypes. Someone asked: “What’s the first thing you remember being told you weren’t allowed to do because of your gender?” Comments started pouring in and women shared the things they were told to not do for being a girl.
“Sit with open legs,” a woman wrote. We used to get that a lot in school. I even took The Princess Diaries way too seriously and started sitting with my ankles crossed, because the queen said that’s how propah ladies sat. I mean, if I am wearing pants, why should I not take advantage of that?
Another user wrote how she was asked to not play sports with the boys. “Play football with the guys. I played anyway,” she said. Meanwhile, a girl was asked to not play sports at all. “Yep. I am not allowed to play football because I am a girl? Why not? So confused. I think we were like 7 or 8, I was bigger than most of the boys my age at the time,” she wrote. Well, if you think girls can’t play sports then what are all these female athletes doing?
Have you ever been expected to dress up in everything pink and purple because you’re a girl? Well, a girl learnt that her gender will decide what colours she must like early on. “I remember not being allowed the blue framed spectacles when I was 3 because I was a girl. They made me have pink ones. They looked dreadful,” a woman wrote. Give the gal her blue specs!
A woman wrote how her boss wouldn’t move her to the kitchen because you know girls distract the boys. “When I was 18 working at McDonald’s I asked my boss if I could move from cash to kitchen because customers were always so rude and it really took a toll on me. I was told “no that will never happen, you’ll distract the boys in the kitchen,” she wrote. Also, another user shared how she was told to sit at the counter because that’s the only way she could make herself useful – charm customers with her pretty face. It’s funny how people expect women to cook at home but when it comes to being paid for it, the men hijack the professional kitchen!
A woman wrote how she was taught that guys have a monopoly over swearing. “Use bad words. I know most parents would not let boys swear either, but mine always told me not to be like boys and that girls don’t swear. I’ve never really been the type of person who swears like a sailor, but it just irks me that “only boys can do it”. I hope you know what I mean and no offense to anyone,” she explained.
Another girl described how they were not included in the archery lessons because girls are not strong! “The girls in my boy/girl gym class in grade 8 had to sit out the archery lesson as us girls ‘weren’t strong enough.’ Sat there and watched the boys,” she wrote. Well, if you don’t allow girls to develop physical strength, how will they get strong?
A young girl was told she can’t become a pilot because of her gender and that’s by law. She explained, “I was about to turn 15 years old and I went to the military base in my town to ask for information. I wanted to know what classes to take in high-school or if I should enroll in a military academy instead.” She went on to describe how she was mocked, “I approached the front desk and politely asked for information. The soldier blinked emphatically and asked again what I wanted, but louder. Then he looked around. The room had gotten so quiet suddenly, and after I finished my request the burst of laughter. All of those soldiers, all of those boots, all of those uniforms. Some did roll on the floor with laughter, some were bouncing their boots on the ground.” After they were done laughing, they told her she could be a nurse if she has the prerequisites but she can’t be a pilot or a doctor in the defense forces. It’s sick how these gender stereotypes are facilitated by the government.
“When I was in elementary school, we always had pool parties at the end of the school year. I would always wear bikinis because that’s just what I wore and what I liked to wear. But I remember in fourth grade for the first time my teacher had to check my bikini to make sure it was appropriate. She didn’t actually tell me not to wear it but it was the first time I was introduced to the sexualization of women’s bodies. I was so confused as to why I was called out and what was wrong with something I had been wearing all of my life,” a woman explained. I think this is something all of us went through. It’s like a rite of passage. You hit puberty and you realised that your body will be sexualised from now on. And the onus will be on you!