Our house was huge, and the task was daunting. While my male counterpart was jumping around the house, making wild plans for what to do, I was in a subdued mood. I vacillated before the task, feeling like I did not know even where to begin.
However, when we actually started barricading the very first part, a back door, I quickly realized that this guy had never before actually barricaded even a single window, or as much as even wielded a welding machine.
That was when I realized that what I needed most of all was a boost of confidence.
Without wanting to make a gross, immediate generalization, what is true is that this image of the hesitant, insecure woman corresponds to a type of stereotype. Coming to think of it, I witnessed hesitation like this in myself many times; with time, paying close attention I could identify it in females surrounding me all too often. Some might think that this propensity for hesitation and self-doubt is innate in women. I, on the other hand, began thinking about the way I grew up, and what installed this hesitation in me.
Fact is men and women are socialized differently from each other, and even though I had a mother who blessed me with an upbringing that instilled me with a self-worth which layed no value on gender differences, other societal forces would leave their imprint on me, and there was absolutely no way to protect me from it.
After having read many articles I gleaned variously from magazines or off the internet, I can attempt a summary of some of the things I learnt, which are not all that obvious, really.
Whereas parents may have the best intentions of erasing gender-specific treatment, they may commit mistakes despite themselves, because of the subliminal barriers erected within themselves by their own socialisation: In an article by the German centre-right political magazine Emma, the author commented on raising her two children, a boy and a girl with an age difference of two years. She remarked that, subconsciously, her husband and her treated the two children differently : Whereas the boy was allowed to start the campfire with matches in hand already at the age of four, the girl was allowed to do it only at the age of six. (This can also just be a question of character and personal development of the child, but I guess if the author went to the lengths of mentionning it, it is that she noticed an unjustified subconscious bias in her different treatment of her own children.)
When I heard a female friend of mine say "I decided that I was bad at English (a foreign language for her) when I was in school, so I will never learn" that sounded familiar to me:
In another Emma article I read about a study conducted in the US about how teachers praised or scolded school children. If a girl got a maths problem wrong, the teacher would react with an indulgent "oh well, you are not good at maths". If a boy got a maths problem wrong, the teacher would scold him, "you really should work more!".
The implicit conclusion of the article, although it remained unstated, was that girls end up thinking that skills are innate, while boys realize that work is everything.
A different article explicitly formulates exactly this, citing a study which gave 5-graders tasks to solve which were challenging for their age - the straight-A grade girls gave up first! Boys, also those with mediocre grades, kept on trying to find a solution.
For an explanation, the articles proposes an analysis of how parents scold or praise their children : Girls, who tend to be calmer, receive praise like "you are such a good student", "you are so smart", or "you are so clever", which all imply that "cleverness" or "smartness" is a trait you either have or haven't. With boys, it is often already an effort just "trying to get them to sit still". In consequence they receive comments like, "if you just tried a little harder, you could get it right".
As an early teenager I remember going around for months (years?), hesitating about starting to learn something new (playing guitar), wondering whether "I could do it", without realizing that anyone can do it, if only you put a moderate amount of work into it !
(Personally, I was rebellious from an early age on. Maybe I should have benefitted from being an atypical, turbulent girl more? In practice however, double standards for boys and girls made it so that I was always severely put down by my teachers, a lot more than a rebellious boy would have been, which led to even less self-confidence later.)
Apart from parents and teachers, there is another major force which shapes us : The stories we consume in form of books, movies, different kinds of television programmes and in various other forms in media.
I am not even going to talk about the spiteful sexism which editors of children's books purposefully inflict on children, or the glorification of sexist violence in modern advertisements of luxury fashion designers. Even putting aside completely shameful examples like these (even though it is easy to do so, I do not want to dwell on them for too long, otherwise it just gets too depressing), the differences imposed on the genders are all the more insiduous as more often than not they are subconscious.
A Guardian article citing a study about the persisting huge gender gap in children's literature talks about the "symbolic annihilation of women", calling the low ratio of female characters in relation to male ones the "Smurfette principle".
Some of you may have heard before of the fact about Hollywood films, that you will never see two female characters talk to each other, except if they talk about men.
In role plays, "woman" is a character trait to choose.
|The poster of Shrek III shows two female characters out of eight- in the roles of mother or lover|
The other difference between male and female characters is that women are always sexy.
|The one token female|
Now more than twice that age, not long ago I had a conversation about this with a transgender woman my age ("transgender woman" meaning she was "classified male" at birth): "For a girl to decide not to play the game of fashion may surprise people around her, but it will be much easierly accepted than for a boy wanting to put on make-up and putting on skirts. At least for my family, even that was just unthinkeable. That is why I started living my personality only decades later." Maybe if society's rules about what kind of behaviours and adornments are proper for the male sex were not as stringent, some people would not feel the need to go as far as proclaim the need to go so far as to switch genders, which seems a somewhat radical thing to do.
In any case, this is one of many examples to show that both men and women are oppressed by patriarchy.