I remember hosting my 10th birthday party for my classmates. It was a themed party, with a dress code and all, and I was really excited. The theme was pirates. In my mind, pirates were cool, fierce and dauntless. Everybody liked pirates, so it seemed like the perfect theme. I got an eye patch, a sword and a hat for the special day. And so the day came, as did my friends. We had a great time going for a treasure hunt, giving each other pirate names and dancing to pirate music. It really was a success. However, after the party people started asking questions. Yes, it was a great party, they said. But pirates? Can a girl really host a party with a pirate theme? All the other girls chose typical girly themes. So, why didn’t I?
Considering the success of the party, I did not reflect on these questions further at the time. Only recently have I started wondering why my fellow 10-year olds reacted so strongly when I broke the gender norm. Even so, I consider myself as someone who generally conforms to gender stereotypes. In other words, I am someone who society identifies as girly. Yet, I am left wondering: did I choose to act this way or was I just taught to conform? Is it in my genetics?
Researchers have long tried to map the differences between men and women. However, the more research that is done, the fewer differences we find. It is hard to tell if we are born with certain differences or if the differences only arise from stereotypes we are taught to satisfy. Although we might differ in many physical ways, I sincerely doubt that my interest for Barbie comes from my double X chromosomes. It seems a bit illogical to me that my clothing preferences are products of hormones. So what then makes us girls and boys in society today?
Girls can be stronger than boys. Girls can like girls. Boys can like boys. The characteristics that have always marked us seem insignificant today, as the differences many of us are programmed to point out fade. As long as our expectations for how girls and boys should act differ, opportunities will as well. If I am supposed to act a certain way because I was born in a female body, this will set the tone for my whole life. Some argue they like the differences, that it is interesting and sometimes even a necessity that girls and boys act differently. Of course, there is a certain beauty in embracing our gender, as long as this comes out of free will. The fact that I enjoy wearing a skirt and using makeup should not mean that I cannot be the CEO of a company. Just as one’s skin color doesn’t determine who we are and what we are capable of, our gender should not determine our potential either.
Let’s not be old-fashioned anymore. I believe that we are smarter than buying into the idea that shaving is essential to a woman’s survival. Don’t ever be afraid of acting in a way that isn’t considered “appropriate” for your sex. And, don’t ever question a person who chooses to disregard gender norms. In order to create an equal society, I feel we must break some rules. So, let’s not judge by gender, let’s get to know the whole person. And, always let a 10-year old girl dress up as a pirate. Pirates are pretty cool, as are girls. I don’t see the difference.