“Ada, where are your patented Nike shoes?”
“You read books by Arthur Conon Doyle? I thought those books are targeted towards a male audience…”
“Ew, you’re so gay.”
These are some of the comments my classmates directed to me during my junior year. They had certainly made up their minds that young women are supposed to dress up in mini floral skirts, slip their feet into gold studded heels, buy tremendous amounts of accessories, and, in general, engage in “girly” thinga-ma-bobs. Well, I had other thoughts.
I have a confession. I love to wear sports shoes, trousers, and shorts. I love to read books that interest me. I love to sit with my legs open (when nobody is around, of course!). I love the freedom to do whatever that makes me feel comfortable. And most importantly, I love being the person who I am.
In my eyes, I am just a teenage girl who happens to exhibit qualities that some people regard as, ahem, “unfeminine.” And no, I don’t believe this has anything to do with my sexual orientation. Nor do I think there is anything “abnormal” or “shameful” about staying true to myself – pursuing tastes and interests that defines me. To be frank, the more often people criticize or judge the clothes that I wear, the activism activities that I engage in, or the outspoken personality that I possess, the more determined I am to battle against social expectations – or shall we say more specifically, gender stereotypes.
You might be wondering, what are gender stereotypes? Gender stereotypes are wide generalizations and ideas about roles of gender, gender attributes, and gender differences. Ever heard of the kitchen “jokes” made by males towards females? (Get back into the kitchen! Go make me a sandwich!) These “jokes” all stem from the presence of gender stereotypes. There’s a really strong belief that women are supposed to conform to domestic roles: have children, raise them up, and then become an obedient housewife. These gender stereotypes are passed down from generation to generation, and as a consequence, ideas similar to the illustrated example are still embedded into our society today. On the other hand, the idea that males are supposed to become the financial support of the family, and that they should be responsible for a dinner date’s bill, still exists.
Don’t underestimate gender stereotype issues. While not all gender stereotypes are inherently negative (e.g. the assumption that most males are courageous and physically strong/most females are loving and compassionate), they could often wreck havoc with our emotions. Imagine that someone expects you to do something that you’re particularly good at, or become someone who you’re not – this could potentially harm our self-esteem, hinder our creativity, and inhibit our personal growth.
I, as a victim of gender stereotyping, am happy to share my part of the story. Eager to fit in with everybody, I tried to adhere to gender stereotypes; I was afraid to be different. Half a year ago, to prove that I could also be “feminine,” I slipped into a pair of silver laced flats, willingly surrendering my feet to 8 hours of nagging pain at school. A friend of mine noticed my change of appearance and commented, “Finally, you got rid of your Nikes! Flats look way better on you.” While the intention of wearing these flats was to receive positive feedback from my peers, this took a toll on my happiness, as well as my physical well-being.
My mind used to often wander to people who have the strength to go against the norms. Back in sophomore year, when we were all required to wear uniforms, there was a girl who often wore the male version of the uniform. “What kind of a guy in the right mind would like her? I mean, just look at her,” giggled a male classmate of mine as we both gazed at the girl’s khaki colored pants. But they look so comfortable, I remember thinking to myself. During that moment, my feelings were locked in an internal struggle: part of me blamed her for not noticing all the judgmental looks she received, but the other part of me despised myself, knowing very well that I wouldn’t have the courage to do the same.
Today, our world seems to be revolving around the expectations of how one should behave and act. Living in a time when everyone has different set of expectations, beliefs and opinions, it is often hard to find a place for yourself. That’s why it’s so important that we retrieve the joy of just pausing life for a second, and reflecting on being the person that you are. Perhaps people should slow down and take some time to explore different aspects of themselves. Nowadays, I feel no shame when I enter the school gate in sports shoes, white capris, and a simple green striped t-shirt. I realize the need to stay true to myself.