Boy Meets Girl: An Institutionalized Divide

By: Venessa Lopez

A sexist mentality is standard issue to the adolescent. We learn at a very young age that the knight always saves the princess. We then grow up to see this ancient concept of power and helplessness upheld by people around us. Whether knowingly or unknowingly, we expect that a man will hold the door for a woman, and, conversely, we do not question why she does not hold the door for him. Gender-specific behavior subtly dominates all of our interactions, but the millennial generation is not solely to blame for this social tension. The truth is that we are all spoon-fed this behavior at a young age, just as our parents were.

“My parents taught me to always respect women, hold the door, and push in the seat. It’s a sign of respect. If the guy wants to do it, the girl should just let the guy do it,” senior Kimbert Robinson said.

I will admit that as a woman, I have played this helpless, self-objectifying role. I have fluttered my eyelashes at a police officer to get out of a speeding ticket, and might I add that I myself am a feminist.

Even if you do not actively perpetuate the divide between genders, you are implicitly biased to be critical of people who act against their assigned gender role. Male chivalry is a perfect example of a socially validated maltreatment of people based on their gender. But are women really oppressing men with this underlying expectation of chivalry?

I will be frank in saying that although the oppression of men is systematic, women have felt sexism in a greater magnitude. Women have been, and continue to be, forced into marriage, deprived of domestic and political power, been subject to lower wages, and faced unruly sexual harassment. Even still, the answer is that yes, the social construct of male-chivalry certainly has deepened the divide and misunderstanding of what someone’s gender means. By mindlessly obeying gender-defined courtesies that male chivalry promotes, you stand against the progress that the gender equality movement has accomplished.

Sure, we have different parts and varying levels of hormones, but everything else, the normality of raising a boy to be dominant and tough, while raising a girl to be sweet and submissive is merely artificial role-play that we encourage at a young age. Male-chivalry is the glorified oppression of men. Aside from the obvious harm that this inequality has on men, the consequences of these gender-specific expectations can be just as harmful to women.

“Males tend to be dominant. You see that in the classroom a lot. Teachers will call on the guys that raise their hands or the guys won’t even raise their hands, they’ll just talk,” secretary of the Feminist Union and junior Zoe Pringle said. “It starts at birth. Ideas and behaviors are separated to the point where opposite genders don’t know how to interact. They’re taught to be one way.”

We raise our kids to be sexist. When we appreciate a young boy’s chivalrous actions, for example, we are ingraining a potentially dangerous idea in his head about the power he has over his female peers. We are teaching him that he is inherently more capable and powerful than a woman. With this misconception, boys will grow into men that excuse objectifying or sexist remarks that they make on account of nothing else but their manhood. Men are taught to believe that they are more capable than women, but let me assure you that degrading women says much more about your character than paying for a woman’s meal.

A gender-specific upbringing has profound impacts on the development of a person’s emotional stability and character. For example, when a boy is shamed for crying in public, as a girl might, but is appreciated for wrestling with his older brother, he may misunderstand violence as a healthy emotional outlet. Similarly, young girls who are encouraged to hide their bodies in modesty are less likely to pursue athletic or otherwise fulfilling behaviors. So here we are, at the brink of adulthood, with a largely corrupt idea of self-identity.

The severity of this issue can only be fully expressed with recognition of a larger, institutionalized evil. This year, I mindlessly enjoyed the milestone that was my 18th birthday. My older brother faced a harsher reality upon relinquishing his own adolescence: registering for the Selective Service System. I do not believe in war, and I certainly do not support the military draft, but I find myself questioning why my name is not beside his. Any male between the age of 18-26, who refuses to register for this contemporary war draft plan, may face five years in federal prison and/or a fine of $250,000. I will never be asked to fight. So there are parts of this issue that are literally life or death, yet we do not bat an eye at the severity of this social indignity.

To be a feminist is to fight one of the most historically profound examples of systematic oppression of people, the oppression of women. Still, there is a harsh stigma around the word “feminist”.

“Everyone thinks I’m just a crazy woman. Guys think it’s just a women’s issue and that it doesn’t affect them,” Pringle said.

And so, young women on streets are harassed for wearing anything but trash bags over their hypersexualized bodies. With the perpetuation of “locker room talk” (the outrageously accepted objectification of people behind closed doors) we are apparently expected to accept the trash bag, as if it was the new black.

To be a humanitarian is to celebrate and advocate for a positive human experience. Even if you do not identify as a feminist, I want to believe that at your core you are a humanitarian. We are better than the unjust treatment of people that we see on the news everyday; at least we have the potential to be. The Human race to which we belong is inclusive of all genders, religions, sexualities, races, ethnicities, socioeconomic statuses, and political views, and it is time we started acting like it.

We must begin acknowledging gender in a way that empowers youth, rather than dehumanizing them. Young girls should not be expected to wear patronizing phrases across their t-shirts like “Too cute,” while young boys are encouraged to sport boastful slogans like “Boys will be boys.” We cannot lose sight of our ultimate goal, and that is equality for all people.

Especially now as we are seeing increased representation of the transgendered community, we must question the imposed necessity of gender roles. In short, gender roles are blurring, and this is a good thing. With a basic understanding of human diversity and by accepting your personal responsibility to live conscientiously, no matter what walk of life you come from, there is hope for social progress on the frontier of gender-inequality in our lifetimes.

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