Children growing up today live in a society that is becoming progressively more equal. Whilst women still have great lengths to go in order to achieve the complete equality of the sexes for which feminism strives, great advances have been made since women first achieved the vote in 1928.
In 2014, Emma Watson, the UN’s ambassador for women, detailed the #HeForShe campaign, a movement which aims to empower men to be advocates of feminism. The actress stated the movement has unfairly been labelled as ‘man-hating’ and used this as justification for why men are reluctant to give women the economic, political and social equality they want.
It is clear the perpetuation of the ‘stereotypical’ feminist as a bra-burning man-hating maniac is detrimental to achieving vital change. Yet the stereotype that ‘Men are From Mars and Women Are From Venus’ is equally damaging, as it suggests the two genders are too far apart for the space between them to be bridged. This disparity is introduced from the moment we learn the gender of our children via ultrasound.
From the moment a child is born, friends and families typically send a blue ‘It’s a boy!’ or pink ‘It’s a girl!’ card. The colours pink and blue carry stereotyped connotations of gender right into adulthood; female products are predominantly pink and ‘flowery’ while the masculine equivalent carry gendered nouns such as ‘strength’ ‘power’ and ‘resistance’ attached to an object as banal as toothpaste.
What is refreshing to see is that the world now questions the influence we allow stereotypes surrounding gender to have in our day to day lives. Recent campaigns have investigated the curious implications of gendered marketing (that sees Gillette charge men 30% more for the same razor blade). These campaigns shatter our perception of items we perceive as traditionally ‘female’ and ‘male’.
In Hanna Rosin’s The End of Men and the Rise of Women she states:
“The new standards for male waxing and trimming are as stringent as they are for women… men’s magazines crib directly from Cosmopolitan: What Sexy Women Love!”
Hannah Rosin suggests that modern men and women have the same concerns, body worries and relationship problems. We now have more in common that we ever have, therefore it’s no wonder that we are beginning to see the disintegration of stereotypes. Yet these stereotypes can be disintegrated faster, if parents help to make their children aware of the inaccuracies of sweeping statements about gender, race and sexuality.
The power for change is vested in language. Words are one of nature’s most powerful tools, and it is up to us to harness that power and utilise it for good, starting with the language our children use to talk about their peers.
Have you ever considered the significance of using ‘gay’ as an adjective to describe something you find distasteful, or odd? Have you ever thought about the implications of telling someone that their new trim looks like a ‘lesbian haircut’? Have you ever thought about what you are saying when you call someone a ‘cissy’ or a ‘pussy’? Do you bat an eyelid when you hear people use terms like ‘slut’ or ‘bender’?
It’s important to think about the weight of these words because we’re essentially hearing ourselves and others say “anyone different to myself doesn’t deserve to be treated with respect”. If we make a conscious effort to make sure we use language that does not demean certain genders, sexualities or races then we will instantly contribute to a fairer society. Not only this, but if we do away with stereotypes then everyone will have more freedom to express themselves.
Parents have a duty to correct their child if they use derogatory terms. In fact, they ought to do more to dispel gender roles by granting their child greater freedom of expression. Boys should be allowed to wear nail polish if they so wish, and be encouraged to attend dance classes. Girls should be allowed to buy clothes from the boys’ department and cut their hair short, if that is what they want. Parents shouldn’t laugh when their daughter says “I want to be an astronaut!” or their son expresses a desire to be a nurse.
It is interesting to observe that when a four year old called Chester attended a fancy dress party dressed as a princess, the only people to comment or see anything wrong with his attire were the adults at the party. This suggests that there is an age at which we become more susceptible to endorsing gender roles, and that children are not conditioned into believing girls and boys should behave or act in a certain way.
The counter argument many parents put forward is that their child automatically reached for Barbies, or went to the Nerf gun section of the supermarket without any encouragement. There is certainly nothing wrong with Sally wanting to dress up as a ballerina, provided that she also knows she can be a swashbuckling pirate or a doctor – if she wants to. Similarly, whilst Tommy may automatically choose to play violent video games, he ought to be told he can also bake – if he wants to.
Stereotypes are restrictive for both genders and it is this which makes them so damaging. Whilst it is important to acknowledge that men and women are biologically different, they still need to be viewed as having equal value. Focus needs to be attributed to how our differences are complementary to one another, and how our skills can be used in conjunction to create a fairer society.
Perhaps then, little Tommy will one day proudly declare himself as a feminist.