Seriously hilary

Don’t believe everything you think – what we think about gender.

In general I strive to treat people like people and to not treat anyone differently because of their appearance, gender, race, background, etc, etc. This sounds logical and straight-forward but I know that not everyone feels the same as me, even good, loving people sometimes believe wrong things just because they grew up being told that was the truth. I was so proud when hip and trendy grandmother announced that gay people were the same as everyone else and that she enjoyed getting to know the gay couple in her building. The proudness was swiftly followed by sinking feeling as the words “As long as none of you become gay” escaped from the newly modernised grandmother! I am sure that the loud and instant protest from the whole family around the table made her re-think her stance on the issue. I appreciate that it is difficult to shake of ideas you have grown up and she’s getting there! We all need to do this, challenge ideas that we grew up with, gather information and choose our own path.

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Historically, people were put in all kind of boxes and had to suffer the rules imposed on their given roles, black people were not allowed to ride on busses, women had to quit working when they got married, homosexuality was considered a mental illness, the list goes on and on. Now we know that these ideas are wrong and we don’t tolerate them but back then they were generally accepted and this is why I believe we need to be aware of the stereotypes we are led to believe.

I know that it’s not always easy to re-think the values that society teaches us, but I think it is important to challenge everything and figure out for ourselves what we feel is the right path.

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It is much better now, right? We all realise that people are people, right? That everyone is free to work where ever, love who ever and ride whatever bus they want, right? Somebody please tell me we have learned from our mistakes!? If I think about Ferguson and “I Can’t Breathe”, it makes me feel heartbroken, naive and stupid but at the same time I am proud of the people who are standing up in peaceful protest to try and make the world a better place. It just makes me feel sad that this is still needed but it does motivate me to do as much as I can in my surrounding to make the world around me as tolerant and understanding as possible. It’s a roller-coaster of emotions here!

A topic that has crawled under my skin over the last few years is the genderising of products to identify what females/males “should” buy. Are you female? Then you may only use the pink one!

How about this mind-blowing advertisement from 2011? If you are interested, I have always used mens razors simply because they are cheaper and they work just as good as ladies razors! May I remind you, we are talking about removing hair from skin. Which makes me think of another level of gender role oppression: “Why do I hate the hair on my body?” but that is a discussion for another day. If you want to categorise your razors to have more selling angles and variations, may I suggest something along the lines of the following:

  • Sensitive skin
  • Facial
  • Large areas (legs/back?)
  • Design (narrow for shaving cute or groovy shapes)

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Why does the pink plague personally bother me so much? First of all, I don’t like being told what to do! Secondly, this wave of pink products, especially for young girls, is accompanied by an ‘ideal’ an ‘image’ of dainty and delicate, soft and sweet, that does not match my personality. I have always known that I am not elegant or ‘lady-like’, I often have the feeling that I am not behaving in the way I ‘should’. That how I see myself, the person I know to be me, is not acceptable, I am not a proper lady! I love wearing dresses and red lipstick but high-heels are a wobbly step too far for me. I love getting dolled up and feeling pretty but I draw the line at beauty norms that cause physical pain. I want next generation to grow up believing in themselves and not torturing themselves trying to fit into boxes. I am not saying that girls may not wear or love pink, I am saying they should wear whatever they would like. Then I hear the voices in my head in chorus “But hilary, girls really like pink things!”. I recently went shopping for a birthday present for my 8 year old niece who loves reading, and if I avoided the books with “FOR BOYS” printed on them I was left with 3 options:

  • Princesses
  • Ponies
  • Beauty and fashion

Then I begin to wonder, do they really like these pink topics better than everything else or is it because it’s the only thing they see? I wanted to find an interesting book for an 8 year old child that was not gender tainted and I did not succeed. I was in a hurry so in the end I bought a book from her favorite tv show and when I got home and read the description on the back of the book I felt sorry I hadn’t searched further: “Full of tips about fashion, beauty, friendship and love”… are those the four topics you want the women of tomorrow to prioritise? Look pretty, have lots of friends and find a man. The saddest thing is that we have taken a giant step backwards, marketing in the 80s was not so gender orientated. My favorite toys growing up were a weather station and a microscope. I was never much into Lego, but if I had been, it would have been red, yellow, blue and green and not pink as it is now!

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If you look at the advertisements below, why do we think one is old fashioned and wrong and think the other is perfectly acceptable?

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What is to be gained by genderising products? Does it really lead to higher sales? Does excluding half of your audience really work out better in the long run? Ok maybe I am being a bit naive here, I guess companies wouldn’t do it unless it was profitable.They will only change if we put our money where our mouth is. We are the customers and we need to send a message that we will not buy their “Beautiful colouring book for Girls” and “Brilliant colouring book for Boys”. Your kids will thank you for it in the long run. Choosing where you spend your money is a good step in the right direction, if you are feeling particularly impassioned you can write letter like this fantastic 7 year old girl did.
Genderising products is not only ridiculous (as Ellen points out below) but is also damaging to the futures of these young children who are pushed into roles that they don’t necessarily agree with. In an experiment, girls who played with Mrs. Potato Head thought they could achieve more careers than girls who played with Barbie. Yes, even Doctor Barbie.

I realise this next video is made by a company who is trying to make girls buy their products by picking up a subject close to our hearts and making us think “They understand me, they want to be my friend and stick up for me”. I know that all they really want is money in their pockets, but they highlight an important point: society sees femininity as a lesser, sillier, weaker, and we learn to believe that as we grow up. One of the first quotes I ever saw on pinterest was this one and it hasn’t left my mind ever since:

“Girls don’t simply decide to hate their bodies, we teach them to”

I know I have been mostly focusing on the female side of the discussion but gender roles imposed on boys and men are equally as damaging and also need your attention. However it is more accepted for a woman to show masculine characteristics than the other way around. Yes women have the same legal rights as men (at least in my country) but men and women are certainly not treated, or paid, equally in very many situations.

Girls can wear jeans
And cut their hair short
Wear shirts and boots
‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy
But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading

Madonna

It is damaging to everyone to be put in boxes in the first place, and it is simply not fair or correct to say that one box is deserving of more respect than another. This is maybe the reason why Feminism is needed, and while I agree with certain definitions of Feminism I would prefer to stand behind a cause with a more gender neutral name!

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Gender roles impose control and deceive progressive time
Welcome to the land of the broken mind
Hush boy, oh hush boy, don’t say a word
Throw on a jersey and no one gets hurt
Hush girl, oh hush girl, just bat your eyes
Play our little game, play our little game

“Compared to girls, research shows that boys in the U.S. are more likely to be diagnosed with a behavior disorder, prescribed stimulant medications, fail out of school, binge drink, commit a violent crime, and/or take their own lives. The Mask You Live In asks: As a society, how are we failing our boys?”

“A culture that doesn’t value what we have feminised.” Niobe Way

I am against telling a child that they should be a certain way because they are female, male, black, white or whatever physical attributes they happened to be born with.
We should use this chance to rid the next generation of the constraints of our past. Don’t teach intolerance or predejuce to our children. Be aware of the old fsshioned ideas you grew up with, fight them, Don’t Believe Everything You Think. Chose to make a positive change in the world, and start with yourself.

My mister asked me what would I think if I had a daughter and she wanted to be in a beauty pageant, my gut feeling was “no daughter of mine would want to do that because I would educate her to the fact that women are not just items of decoration”. But I guess if I follow my own argument, then I would have to support her in anything she wants to achieve. I too am still learning!

After all, growing up I loved my Barbie with her groovy 80’s leg-warmers and it didn’t damage me! My crippling body-image issues probably came from somewhere else right? I’m going to err on the side of caution here, my 2 year old son got a Lammily doll for Christmas!

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So next time you’re heading out to buy gifts kids, remember this guide to what you can or cannot buy for girls/boys:

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