I’ll admit it: I used to be sexist.
I used to categorize women into two groups: feminine or tomboy. In this black-and-white world, those who exhibited characteristics of both were girly girls in disguise, poseurs who recognized the superiority of tomboys and emulated them. They weren’t real tomboys, not like me: My hobbies were sports and video games, dirt bikes, and camping. My wardrobe consisted of oversize t-shirts, jeans, and athletic clothing. No pink, no sparkles, and certainly no dresses.
Attempts to communicate with feminine girls ended in choking silence, botched by my shyness and rapid-fire panic: What should I say? If I complimented her dress, would she look at my clothes and laugh? But we couldn’t talk about video games — girls in dresses hated those. She’d be bored!
Soon these girls avoided me (and my awkward silences). I was a traitor to girlhood; they probably looked down on me for choosing sports over nail polish. But how could they judge me so quickly? Why couldn’t they accept me even though I was different from them? In a mixture of hurt and confusion, I stuck my nose in the air. I was different from other girls, I told myself. Better.
I failed to see how gender stereotypes blinded me. My revelation came in the form of ballroom dance: A romantic interest encouraged me to learn, and I figured, why not? I liked trying new things (and it was a good excuse to hold hands!). When this romantic interest became my boyfriend, my adventures in dance continued and I noticed a shade of gray: Ballroom’s inherent male lead played into gender stereotypes, but the female dancers embodied traditional feminine characteristics as well as masculine ones, perseverance and strength mixing with gentle grace. They were both masculine and feminine.
Sound simple? It is.
Noticing this shade of gray was my first step in overcoming gender stereotypes. Other revelations followed. Wearing makeup didn’t make a girl shallow or mean she hated video games. And those peers I thought looked down on me — how could I be mad at them for judging me when I was just as quick to make assumptions about them?
The problem was me. No one taught me about gender in school. No one explained that there are girly girls, tomboys, and a whole spectrum in between. I learned for myself that feminine girls are equal to tomboys. Judging other girls for their femininity didn’t make me better than them — it made me a willing participant in the awful world of girl hate.
I wish schools spoke more openly about gender stereotypes. Maybe an in-class discussion could’ve helped me understand how sexist and unfair my thoughts were. Maybe I could’ve changed sooner. Or maybe something like this can’t be taught in a classroom; maybe we have to learn for ourselves.
As for me, I’m still a tomboy. I don’t wear makeup and I never carry a purse. That’s fine. Just as fine, in fact, as never leaving home without them.
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