Did you watch the great campaign #LikeAGirl from Always? If not, I highly suggest you watch it:
Regardless of how much happiness this video brought me, it disappeared right away as I started to read the comments on YouTube. I feel like the same reaction is constantly happening over and over again. For each diversity question that gets attention in the media, there is this enormous crowd that gets offended, saying that diversity has gone to far.
Once again. No. It has not gone to far. In so many ways, it has not gone to far. This instance of subconsciously pairing words associated with the female gender with something bad or weak is only one among several problems. The worst thing is that everyone, men and women alike, make these associations.
My first experience with this was in early elementary school, maybe the second grade. I started playing handball at an early age so my motor skills were quite good early on. One would think that it might have made me popular in gym class, but what it actually did was to turn my male classmates against me. In games like killerball and king where it really is all against all, my male classmates cooperated to just to get me out of the game, inciting each other on not losing against a girl (where did that view come from?!). I can still remember how upset I got by being treated that unfair, why could they not just accept me?
Some years later the situation changed. I was now accepted by male friends on the premise that I was not like a girl. And I took pride in this. I was agreeing to the picture of girls being inferior, I saw myself as an exception, as one of the guys. When I started high school I was the only female in my class, with no people I knew from before. Here comes what I think is one of the most devious things with this story. Me joining in on mocking females and female “traits” was so positively met by my new classmates to the point where that behaviour got reinforced in me. It was an easy way of being accepted, and it continued to be for several years.
It’s not until recently that I’ve actually started to really reflect on these problems and how hard it can be to notice the invisible norms and barriers. I feel somewhat desensitized from have spending so much time in an all-male environment. Even though I nowadays see myself as highly aware of diversity and gender issues, I got proven wrong just the other day.
I was at the pub with the other interns (we are three females among the interns, and we were pretty much the only females at the pub) when we started chatting with a group of guys (not interns) we hadn’t talked to before. Pretty quickly they started making jokes with pretty explicit sexual content. At this point, one of the other females left the conversation without me really noticing, as I thought she just turned to speak to someone else for a while. Sometime later my male friend turned to me and told me why my female friend had left the conversation. She had gotten really offended by these guys, which is a totally reasonable reaction. I had fallen into my easy way of handling an awkward situation by laughing it off, which I have done so many times before. Then my friend jokingly said:
“She should be more like you”
That struck me hard. Her reaction was more reasonable than mine really, these guys should not have created that situation from the beginning. Sure if you know someone well, but these were people we just had met. It was inappropriate and disrespectful.
It’s hard. We must continue to question this behaviour and raise awareness if we want to make a difference. Even though it might feel like an impossible fight to win sometimes, I’m happy to see more and more people fighting for equality. You don’t always have to pick fights, but just saying “come on, not cool” can be enough to remind someone. Next time I’m saying no.