I’m not sure at the start of writing this where I’m headed so bear with me!
This post is inspired by the exam I invigilated last week. As I wandered up and down the rows of students a few things leaped out at me, harking back to my uni days when I studied Women’s Studies.
It was a maths paper. One third of the girls had a pink calculator. Now normally I wold be celebrating that every student had remembered a calculator but the pinkness seemed forced and out of place. Every other calculator was black, no blue or any other colour. Is it a way of expressing femininity or has society controlled these girls to like pink? Would a boy have been ridiculed for having a pink calculator?
My sister was adamant when she had my niece that she would avoid pink. 4 years later and my niece is a pink fanatic. In contrast I dressed Anya in pink right from the beginning, worried she would be mistaken for a boy (seriously, would that have been so terrible? but a friend of mine had been upset by the same thing… 🙁 )
The toys Anya got for Christmas last year were all in pink packaging. She wants pink everything! But would I give her a pink calculator? No, I don’t think so. It is a functional piece of equipment not a statement of personality. Or is it?
Back to the exam: it seemed to be some sort of sports day and many students were in their PE kit. The boys all had loose baggy shorts and the girls had skin hugging leggings or shorts. Of those in uniform, only 1 girl had trousers, and I hate to make assumptions but judging by her surname I would guess that may be for religious or cultural reasons. At my own son’s school the PE kit is tracksuit bottoms or leggings, with the boys all having the former and the girls the latter. Am I being too fussy to think that 4 year olds are having fashion stereotypes reinforced (by parents or wider social influences)?
Regardless of whether they were in shorts, skirts or the one in trousers, all of the girls sat neatly with their legs together or crossed. The boys in contrast were sat with legs wide apart. As I sit here typing, my knees are together and my ankles crossed. It has been deeply entrenched in me not to spread my legs!
In the last week it has made the national news that boys have been allowed to wear skirts to a school in protest at being unable to wear shorts in the hot weather. Remember the outrage when David Beckham wore a sarong?! Both genders are confined by society’s norms. Girls/women seem to have more freedom in their choice of clothes but does fashion just find new ways to turn them into objects for the male gaze?
So are girls objectified? Are they expected to be sexy? Is fashion a performance? The clothes girls wear are close fitting yet they keep their legs together for fear of flashing pants. Every so often we hear of bras or other inappropriate clothing being released and marketed for young girls which causes outrages amongst parents.
I always sit with my legs crossed. I was sent to the Head Teacher at secondary school for the length of my skirt being too short (yet he enforced the hideous knicker shorts in PE that everyone hated) Anya drives me mad by flashing her pants as she messes around with her brothers whilst wearing a dress or skirt (which is her preference). But is that because I am worried about the opinion and censure of others? Is it so terrible to have pants on display? In another exam I saw a LOT of boys showing off the waistband of their designer pants, cleverly designed to be on display and advertise the brand. Seriously, does this appeal to girls?
I am guilty of judging others 🙁 One girl was wearing so much make up in the exam I had no idea what her actual face looked like. She was blank, a complete mask. Others I was desperate to tell them to make a little effort. Trapped by my own double standard 🙁
It is troubling to me as the mother of a daughter. I want Anya (and the boys!) to be confident in her appearance and develop her own style. Yet I want her to think about her choices: does it matter, who is she trying to impress, is she happy?
Being a teenager is difficult for most of us! And being comfortable in our own skin and clothes is a luxury I didn’t achieve for a long time. I have always been my harshest critic but now I realise it doesn’t matter what the world thinks of me, only my kids and partner. I want them to be proud to be seen with me but at the end of the day I have to be able to live with myself.
Have things really changed that much or am I just more conscious of it now I have a daughter? Do I want my boys to treat women as objects to look good? Do I want Anya to judge herself against impossible ideals? Yet equally first impressions are essential, we are judged on our appearance whether we’re dating, job hunting or just out and about in general. I am reminded of Judge Judy’s catchphrase ‘beauty fades, dumb is forever’ and that applies to boys AND girls.
So thank you for making your way through my musings. Is there such a huge gender divide? Are boys and girls equally affected by social norms? Or am I an old fuddy duddy?!