I grew up in a world without gender roles.
As a child, I was never told that there were things I could not do because I was a female.
I was not told that I had to keep my clothes neat at recess, or that I could not play tag or cops and robbers with the boys.
I was not told that I could not swing on the monkey bars or climb the rock wall because it was not “ladylike” or something of the sort.
There were countless days that I came home from school with scraped knees and muddy feet, and I was not once told that what I was doing was not proper for a young girl.
Let me be clear. I’m not shaming the mentalities deemed typical for a young girl. I owned countless Barbies and dolls. I adored wearing my dresses and patent leather shoes to church. Once church was over, however, I immediately donned my Browns jersey and ran outside for a game of football with my family.
And if you think it was touch football, you’re clearly mistaken.
My life has been blessed with a 5-year-old sister, and I find myself trying to provide her with an environment similar to the one I was raised in.
Let me tell you, it is ridiculously difficult.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not trying to raise her to reject femininity. I am more than happy to join her in holding tea parties with her Disney princess dolls.
However, the fact is that we live in a society that still tells girls and grown women alike that there are things they cannot do purely because of their gender.
I have been told multiple times that I am not fit to be a journalist because I am not a man. According to a Media Matters study done in 2013, only approximately 38 percent of jobs in print journalism are occupied by women. Also, a study done by the National Science Foundation showed that less than 12 percent of engineers in the country are female.
Additionally, in July, a woman live-tweeted a conversation she overheard among IBM executives where someone said, “We’re not hiring any young women because they just get pregnant again and again.”
Seriously now, it’s 2014, and this convoluted notion of gender-based segregation needs to end.
Fortunately, there are companies that are trying to push back against this phenomenon. In June, Verizon released a commercial depicting a girl’s interest in science being discouraged throughout her youth. At the end, a voiceover tells viewers that girls’ interest in science and technology should be encouraged.
Additionally, GoldieBlox, a relatively new toy company aiming to teach girls science and engineering skills, soared into national attention with its 2013 Super Bowl ad showing young girls using dolls, toy kitchens and a plethora of pink toys to build a massive rocket. Set to the Beastie Boys’ anthem “Girls,” the song included lyrics such as “come on, bring your toys/girls build like all the boys.”
The company also released a new commercial last week to advertise for their new action figure targeted toward girls. It shows a line of girls dressed in identical pink outfits walking in a line while the image of a woman above—cleverly called Big Sister in an Orwellian manner—repeatedly tells them that “beauty is perfection.” That is, until a girl in overalls and sneakers breaks free and destroys the machine.
As I’ve tried to make clear, there is absolutely nothing wrong with young girls embodying the typical idea of femininity. However, people need to stop encouraging girls to think one way or another and let them decide on their own. If my sister doesn’t inherit my wild ways and chooses to own all of the pink toys, dresses and shoes she sees, that’s perfectly fine.
What matters most here is the freedom to choose.