“…because you’re a girl!”
I remember back in the ’90s when the Spice Girls proudly cheered girl power to the world. It was a fun exhortation albeit a little cheesy.
By sheer coincidence, I was born in a country where I can wear what I want, study what I want, and become anything I want. As a child, I never had to risk my life, demanding a divorce from a man forty years my senior. I never had to worry about my genitals being mutilated. Being able to vote, to drive, and to read were never privileges in my mind, but just minor facets of a perfectly average life.
Thankfully the same is true in many nations around the world.
So why do we even need to promote that concept in modern, first world countries anymore?
Misogyny is still pervasive in the world today. Even girls growing up free of political or religious persecution face a barrage of sexist language and imagery every day. The sources are often quite innocuous: good friends and favorite TV shows.
Now, I KNOW that not all men are sexist. I don’t think women are better than men or that we don’t need them around.
(Quite the opposite… I like guys… a lot. I’m a big fan.)
Nor do I mean to imply that women are perfect beings. Many stereotypes of catty, competitive, cold-hearted girls are true. (Bottom line: people can be hurtful, no matter who they are.)
But misogyny has long been active throughout human history and it seems sexist language has embedded itself into social norms. Even the most loving husbands, brothers, and friends often unintentionally further derogatory sentiments about women.
“You’re only popular/successful/celebrated because you’re a girl.”
“It’s so much easier for you because you’re a girl.”
I hate hearing things like that.
I am NOT trying to purport that a woman’s rise in any particular area is wholly without a little padding (from an often salivating male audience). I’ve seen it happen and I’m not one to ignore facts.
But for women, it seems our personhood is still permanently attached to our sex. Our value is still attributed to physical appearance more than anything else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard men complain about a women’s success. They try either to undermine it or excuse it away entirely by claiming it originated from nothing more than sexual allure or pure, dumb luck.
The problem lies in the implications of the language. In such statements, there is a tone of accusation and blame and the women is the recipient. Attempting to illegitimize a woman’s achievements simply because she is a woman is absurd. Any way you look at it, it’s sexist. Saying such things proposes the notion that a woman can’t offer anything of interest or value other than her face, or breasts. No one can choose their genetic make-up. No one can choose to be born a girl. It is entirely unreasonable to lay blame upon someone for their sex.
Furthermore, it suggests that even if a woman does (miraculously) have something of value to contribute, no one will actually take it into account because they will be too focused on her appearance. Sadly, I think we can all agree that this does happen far too often. But again, how is it right to blame the woman? That problem lies with the men who make this situation a reality with their puerile behavior, which entirely lacks self-control and dignity.
I understand that sex sells. Indeed, many times women have chosen to market their appearance and sexuality. People should be free to do as they please. Men and women alike play into these roles and willingly objectify themselves. But how often do you hear men complaining that another man is successful only because of his looks? I’m sure it does happen, but the fact that it is so much more rare is very telling.
These kind of comments are hurtful and incredibly backwards. Not only do they offend the woman in question, who is made to feel guilty about her own appearance, but it affects other women in the process. It implies that any woman who encounters setbacks and failures, or simply has a slower time achieving her goals, is not womanly enough to attract a group of admiring supporters. This does nothing but create dissention and rivalry between women.
We should be building up a generation of girls to be confident and intelligent and creative.