For International Women’s Day, I want to write something not for the women, but for the girls. The experiences we have as girls, during the time when we come to develop an understanding about the world and our place in it, can shape who we become as women. We never stop learning and we never stop growing. We are constantly on a journey to discover who we are. But sometimes, that journey involves un-learning the assumptions we formed when we were too young to question it.
A recent study in the US showed that girls as young as six believe that brilliance is a male trait. When shown pictures of men and women, children were asked to say which person they thought was smart or brilliant. Girls aged 5 were more likely to associate these traits with their own gender, but by the time they reach age 6 or 7, they are more likely to associate these traits with boys. As they get older, they have less confidence in themselves and start to see things that are meant for ‘smart’ people as not really for them.
Another example that comes to mind is the Always ‘Like A Girl’ campaign. Always asked teenagers and young adults, both men and women, what it means to do something ‘Like A Girl’. Running like a girl mean throwing your hands around and worrying about your hair. Fighting like a girl meant flailing your arms about. Throwing like a girl meant dropping the ball. When they asked young girls the same question they had different ideas. Running like a girl means “running as fast as you can”. Being asked to do something like a girl doesn’t mean changing they way you do something to fit in with a learned gender stereotype – it means doing it they way you always do it, and giving it 100%. So when is it that we learn these stereotypes? Why is it that one young girl said that the phrase ‘like a girl’ sounds like you’re trying to humiliate someone?
I was once watching a football match on the tv with my mother and sister when I was younger, and when one of the players started being dramatic, as football players sometimes do, rolling around on the ground holding what was supposed to be his injured leg, I said “God, stop being such a girl”. Straight away, my mother corrected me and I changed my remark to “stop being such a baby”. I realised something in that moment – I called him a girl because that’s what you say when you’re putting someone down, but really, I don’t believe that being a girl is a bad thing. It’s just what happened to come out of my mouth in that moment, and I started to look at myself and the reasons why I would say something like that. I think about that day a lot. I never said that again.
So what can we do? How can we make it so that the younger generation of girls and boys don’t grow up with these negative associations attached to being a girl? First we have to look at ourselves. We need to look at what kind of assumptions have crept their way in and shaped how we view the world and how we view others. If we think these assumptions are wrong, we need to challenge them.
This year for International Women’s Day, I pledged to celebrate women’s achievement. This isn’t something we should do just for one day though. Young girls need role models who they can look up to and who can show them that being a girl is nothing to be ashamed of – it’s actually pretty cool.
Take a lead from these badass girls: