On Being a Girl

Preface:

Originally, I wasn’t going to write this post.

But, normally, I’m not the kind of person that stands on the brink of rage with any sort of consistency. I can’t recall the last time I truly wanted to punch someone… but dwelling on thoughts while listening to an anthem of Kendrick Lamar during an inspiring workout session can do that to you.

So here I am. Because I’m sick of the blatant sexism women still encounter in the work place. Because I’m tired of seeing women quit their jobs because a company’s HR turns silent under the gaze of their CEO. Because I want to help men who don’t understand why they offended the girl next to them.

It’s about meaning. Context. It’s about problems being embedded in history—and though they may not seem problematic in a single context they are, in actuality, a cultural problem.

I’ve been pretty lucky, especially considering that I’ve dealt with the video game and entertainment industry in the past, but this week I hit my boiling point.

Disclaimer: The experience written of here is not representative of my workplace, which has actually been an extremely fair environment to be a part of. Or really even Pete for that matter, because he has come around.

Because I’m a Girl

 My eyes glanced to the upload fail signal that flashed across the screen; whatever editing work I completed over the past two hours vanished into the depths of the internet. I took a sip of hot tea, embracing my optimism as the warmth passed from my throat to stomach. My work was going to come back. I knew it.

I clicked open once more. Nothing.

“Shit!” I pounded my keyboard.

“What did you say?” My new co-worker glanced over from his desktop, startled.

“Shi..”

“Oh I know,” he cut me off, “I just figured you wouldn’t say things like that.”

“Why?” I asked, generally curious.

“Well, because you’re girl.”

Strike one.

“You should hear me when I play Halo.” I replied, laughing it off. I’m an idealist after all.

After that moment, my co-worker (let’s call him Pete) didn’t see eye to eye on really much of anything we discussed. Almost everything became an argument, which is something that, as a rhetorician, can be exciting. But arguments are only stimulating if the other person actually acknowledges that other viewpoints have the possibility of existing outside of their own. We argued over the value of fiction and non-fiction, over religion and souls, over the use of dialect and words and the preservation of the environment and wildlife. All heated subjects. All things trapped and protected in his head, safe from facing the perception of others.

“Books in general are such an amazing medium for entertainment.” I said as I explained how forms of entertainment, like video games, can be used with an educational purpose—my defense against his viewpoint that video games are a waste of time.

“Yeah, well maybe the books you read are for entertainment,” he scoffed.

“What?”

“You read fiction, which is for entertainment. I read [non-fiction] for education.”

At that point I wanted to fall out of the non-existent chair of my standing desk. I will spare you the rest of the argument. Somehow, we eventually strayed into the topic of poetry.

“I don’t like Keats. The way he was portrayed in Bright Star… he just seems so puny and weak. He died so young. I didn’t even finish the movie.”

“He died from Tuberculous! Do you know how many authors died from that during his time period? I love how he wrote so much on mortality. In contrast to his life….”

“You would like Keats.”

Uh oh.

“Why would I like Keats?” I questioned sternly.

“Because you’re a girl.”

Strike Two. There I go. Out of my fictional chair.

“What does that have to do with it?”

“If you were to take a group of 1000 girls and 1000 boys and survey them, I think you’d find that the girls enjoyed poetry like Keats.”

“What have you read by Keats?”

“Not much, really.”

I immediately drilled Pete. What proof of there was this? What pool of people was he pulling from? I know plenty of women who despise poetry and, conversely, many men who love it. I was at the end of my wick, which happens to be absurdly long.

But there is only so much you can take when it is implied that your years studying fiction were a waste. That your hobbies are a waste. And let’s not forget that the only reason you enjoy specific things in your life is because you just so happen to be a woman. Did I mention that there was a third strike when he said he wasn’t surprised I like horses because I’m a girl?

Ah, sweet, sweet dear ignorant Pete.

I stopped talking after that, but not before warning him that he better be careful where he tread with that train of thought, lest he tread into the hornet’s nest. Close-mindedness is perhaps my largest pet peeve.

My lady parts aren’t the reason I love horses. I love horses because I grew up with them. Because they provided me with companionship and freedom. There is no better feeling in the world than knowing that an animal ten times your size trusts you enough to get on its back and share the sensation of running across an open field.

I love Keats because of the contrast of his short life and his focus on mortality. His life and prose are filled with so much tragic and beautiful truth.

The overall problem with Pete’s reasoning, and why I was so upset by it, wasn’t because he was implying that using profanity was bad or that I liked horses or Keats. I do, in fact, like those things and I don’t necessarily think profanity is bad depending on circumstance. Rather Pete’s rational was upsetting because it inferred that these things were gendered in a frivolous way. I was less of a woman because I said a cuss word. I liked Keats not because of his themes but because he was a silly romantic poet who was weak and died young—and that’s what girls like. I liked horses because I grew up as a little girl who wore pink dresses and wished for a pony—and that’s what girls like. In reasoning this way he is disseminating gender stereotypes that continue to paint women in a sensitive and simple light. And that if we don’t fall into these terms, then our femininity is sacrificed.

I’m done with that. I’m constantly surrounded amazing and empowering women in my life; neither they nor I deserve being pushed into these categories. We are complicated, intelligent, strong, competitive, diligent, and hardworking. I was lucky enough to grow up in an environment that perpetuated these strengths and avoided negative stereotypes entirely. My mom always worked, and still works, hard for our family. And even though she is absurdly close to my dad, she never backs off from her own opinions or wants or needs even when they contrast deeply from his. My dad encouraged, and still encourages, me to be myself—to go outside and play in the mud. To slide tackle in soccer. To play with the boys. To shoot compound bows in the backyard. To rescue snakes and other random creatures.

He was never worried these things would make me any less of a woman. He also never assumed I would love horses or Romantic British poets because I’m a woman. What a different life I would lead if he, or my entire family, did think that—I would be forced into an identity I didn’t want, which is something that still happens to women, and even men, today.

This isn’t to say that stereotypes are not prevalent in both genders—they absolutely are. But when we close ourselves off and believe that they hold true they can be harmful and even life-altering. That’s why I have a problem with you, Pete. Initially I thought my reaction to Pete’s statements were overkill, that what he said didn’t matter. But it does, and by participating in and therefore perpetuating these stereotypes, we enter a cycle we have been trying to escape for decades, if not centuries.

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6 thoughts on “On Being a Girl

  1. “If you were to take a group of 1000 girls and 1000 boys and survey them, I think you’d find that the girls enjoyed poetry like Keats.”

    This is my favorite part. Let’s assume Pete meant the surveyed individuals would all be Western-educated and could read/understand English. Otherwise, I imagine you’d have some serious issues getting an accurate reading.

    Let’s also assume that Pete is correct: an overwhelming number of females preferred Keats to their male counterparts.

    That would be an interesting finding, but surveys rarely conclude much; instead, they are meant to encourage further discussion/debate/research/inquiry.

    Pete, being a self-appointed czar of what is/ought/and forever shall be, might stop there. In so doing, he would allow a rather innocuous bit of research to be the tent-pole which supports his entire worldview on all things vaginas con Keats.

    But wait, weren’t we forced to assume Western-educated at the outset? What of the billions of females from other cultures who might never understand, care to understand, appreciate, or enjoy Keats? Surely in the grand scheme of things, that puts a hole in the “women like Keats” rule of the universe. What about outliers in the survey? I am sure we can find plenty who prefer Hank Williams to Keats or some other poet altogether. Even within our own cultural parameters, we’d never reach 100% approval.

    That also ignores entirely the affects of our culture on both women and men. Maybe the men are too afraid to admit their love of poetry, including Keats? They’ve been raised to be tough, strong, and immortal. Maybe the women have all been conditioned to agree that poetry and being in touch with one’s emotions is the highest honor of the mind. Where in that do we find a natural law that says, “it is the nature of the female that lends itself to a love of Keats”?

    Surely, it may be possible to establish a predilection toward such a thought, but what value does that have? At most, Pete can guess that some women may like Keats, but he’d have to agree that some men do as well. He’d also have to agree that billions more people, gender not mattering, will never give a fuck about Keats. In fact, when looking at it with the overall picture, Pete should find that it is best to allow an individual time to express themselves, their interests, and their passions before describing them internally with what are almost certainly stabs in the dark.

    When I was ten, if I met another kid who didn’t share my passion for Pokemon, I would’ve been amazed by their mere existence. Then I grew up and realized that each individual has a separate path. Their path may be shaped by many things – culture, family, tradition, chance,etc. – but it is always uniquely their own. In getting to know others, we allow ourselves the opportunity to glance at the paths of strangers, where they’ve been and where they will go; in such a simple observation, we begin to see the shape of our own path in a new light altogether. Fiction allows us a place to go to do much the same, but in a far more intimate way with people and places that may or may not have something important for us to discover for ourselves.

    Pete sounds like the type of idiot who sees the dots, but never the lines between them.

    The humanities above all other studies revels in this the most.

    1. Murphy, I so wish you were up here to speak with this fine gentleman in person. Especially on the fiction front.

      And with the childhood and Pokemon obsession–that’s so true. And that’s why it’s important to let children experience things outside of themselves, so that they may understand the nature of individuality. Like you said, fiction opens doors for us that would otherwise be closed. Raises questions that would otherwise be left unanswered or, even worse, unasked.

      1. The only bad questions are the unasked ones. The greatest answer of all is, “I don’t know”, if and only if it is proceeded by genuine inquiry and hunger. Someone who dismisses fiction outright will always miss these truths.

  2. It’s funny but during these conversations I always seem to come to the conclusion that it is because I, as a girl like these things but more that they, as a guy are too constrained by the stereotypical. They don’t try things or engage with subjects they deem feminine and that is their loss.

    1. I completely agree. Most of the men I know who ride horses grew up with them or use them for work (i.e., ranch work). Externally they always think it’s inherently feminine when it’s not at all. The same goes for poetry… most of the romantic poets of the time period were in fact, men and it was men who made up the vast majority of the literate population.

      1. It’s amazing the 180 we’ve done on writing in Western Civilization. Or, you know, being intelligent. Elitism now can be anyone who has an advanced degree or extended knowledge in any non-trade skill. It’s insane!

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