When I was in primary school, there were twenty-five children in my class, comprising of fifteen girls and ten boys. I won’t waste time and words describing the features and peculiarities of us all, because what I want to underline is not the differences in ourselves as human beings, but the “differences” in our genders that were constantly made felt through the atmosphere of our institution.
“A boy who cries behaves like a girl.” “A girl who plays football behaves like a boy.”
These were just a few of the many statements we were taught to believe, and a boy or a girl who received one of these “accusations” immediately felt offended and embarrassed–especially the boys. I know what you’re all thinking. Kids don’t completely understand what they say or do; they just follow the ways of their parents or their communities.
Well, THIS is the true problem. Lifelong gender prejudice begins here.
Society teaches our kids that men are strong, while women are weak and sensitive. Society teaches our kids that men and women have different tastes and different interests. Society teaches our kids that being called “feminine” or “masculine” because of your different tastes is an insult if you’re the opposite gender. Because of these instructions, children can’t truly, freely be themselves – a result of their constant fear of not meeting these gender expectations. There’s no real freedom of expression for children.
For posterity, this problem manifests not only in freedom of expression, but also in opportunity. Stop for a moment and think: how many women plumbers do you know? How many women construction workers do you know? How many male secretaries do you know? How many men do you know who stay at home with their children while their partners go to work?
Theoretical physicist Albert Einstein once said, “It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom.” I’ve never heard a truer quote. Keeping Einstein’s statement in mind, it seems quite impossible to imagine a different future for our society: a bright future without prejudices, where anyone can exploit their qualities regardless of their gender. In fact, it kind of sounds like a fairytale.
I’m not expecting an immediate subversion of our society’s beliefs, even if I don’t share them. What I’m hoping for, and what I’m suggesting to you – if you’re a parent, a teacher, or simply if you have any kind of influence on a kid’s mind – is to stop explaining to them what their limits are as a boy or a girl. To stop guiding them down a rigid path riddled with bias, sexism, and insecurity. Let’s – together, as a society – start teaching kids that with dedication, constancy, sacrifice, and commitment they can reach, do, and be anything; they just have to believe in themselves.