Let’s start with a story, shall we?
Growing up, I went from being girly to being one of the boys. The whole way, I always kind of felt like I was uncool and the outsider. I didn’t really fit in with the girls, but I didn’t fit in with the guys either.
This went all the way back to elementary school.
I’d watch my closest friends play soccer with their boy crushes and actually get along with them well. I watched the popular girls laugh together and exclude the girls who didn’t fit in, including me.
My favourite colour was pink. I wished my parents would let me wear nail polish. I loved to read. I loved playing with Barbies and was scared of movies like The Pagemaster and Jurassic Park. When my sister and I played together, she had to be the boy characters and I was always (always!) the girl.
I was just so girly. And even though I didn’t really fit in, I was pretty happy at that age.
When I got to high school, I was still the weird girl.
I actually liked learning and liked school (gasp!). I was the one no one was interested in, right from the start.
But I had started leaning away from being girly, towards the in-between of being girly and not.
The “girly” girls were into makeup and rolling up their skirts, very focused on the boys’ attention, not wanting to get their hands dirty and not interested in trying in gym class or during our school camp trips. The other girls — the ones who weren’t girly but were still girls — were not cool, that’s for sure. They didn’t have many friends, and the boys paid no attention to them at all.
I was definitely one of the “other” girls at the start, because I wasn’t into what the girly girls were.
I didn’t like the idea of being the girly girl anymore.
I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously or even respect me. So I rejected the “culture” of being a girl.
I didn’t wear makeup (though that was very much because I just didn’t really like it) and I didn’t like wearing skirts or dresses. I didn’t care to follow trends or to date. I didn’t even think anyone would be interested in dating me until after high school. I hated everything floral, and listened to hard rock instead of pop.
I was openly not a girly girl, and I became much closer to the boys than I would have expected. I was still very close to my three girl friends, but I had a lot of great guy friends as well. Some of the guys even told me they liked how “real” I was compared to the other girls. I even tried once to straighten my hair and wear “cool” clothes, and was told it didn’t suit me — I wasn’t one of those girls, the boys would tell me.
Being one of the boys meant I was “respected,” but it turns out that wasn’t as great as it seemed.
I was a girl, but I wasn’t girly enough to “get the guys’ hormones going,” one of them told me.
In fact, the one guy who did want to date me while I was in high school wouldn’t even admit it to his friends.
By grade ten, I realized that no matter what, I couldn’t win. If I was “one of the boys” they respected my opinions and treated me equally as smart as they were, but then I wasn’t attractive. If I tried to be more attractive, I was being fake.
Why couldn’t I be respected if I was girly? Why did I need to be more masculine in order to have a voice?
Related: 5 Ways That Gender Roles Are Harmful
It wasn’t until grade twelve, when I was dating someone five years older than me, that anyone started seeing me as a girl to respect, take seriously, or even consider attractive.
I even learned only a year after I graduated from high school that some of the boys were interested in me romantically, but they didn’t say anything because I wasn’t one of the more popular girls, even if I’d become more well-liked.
Back then, I didn’t really see was happening.
Now I can see it clearly.
Girls are socialized to be “girly” — to like dresses, makeup, and to place their value in the hands of the boys and men in their lives.
Boys are socialized to place value in those girls who are “girly” — but for some reason, they don’t respect them because they’re all “looking for attention.”
Girls who reject girliness in favour of being one of the boys, in order to be “respected,” are still not seen as worthy.
So girls are taught to be “girly,” and that the ultimate success is to gain the attention of the boys and men in their life, but if they do, their voices are not respected or valued as much, not even taken as seriously.
And girls who respond to that confusion with rejecting “girliness” are then also not valued as much romantically.
How effed up is that?!
The girls who did exactly what they’re expected to were well-liked but somehow not respected, and while I tried to stay away from that, I was still at a loss. In fact, it wasn’t until an older guy saw some sort of romantic value in me that the younger boys and my fellow girls saw it too.
It really isn’t better to be one of the boys, despite what you would think.
If you are one of the boys, you are too masculine to date.
If you are a girly girl, you are too fake and attention-seeking to take seriously.
Even as one of the boys, I wasn’t good enough until another older guy thought so.
I can’t believe it took me this long to realize this.
I know that I’m not the only one to experience this. I can’t be.
You can thank society for that.
Everything is so bloody gendered from the very start, and double standards start right from kindergarten. WHY?!
Schools need to stop gendering everything and start having actual discussions with kids about these things instead of just seeing them as normal. As a substitute teacher myself — not even a full-time teacher — I’ve had many moments where I stopped kids and asked them to question what they were saying, opened it up to get them to think.
And the funny thing? It worked! They didn’t jump on it right away, but the gears in their brains were moving and they were able to look at their world critically.
People don’t need to wait until they’re 20 years old to start recognizing these things and thinking critically about it.
Kids are perfectly capable of it, and honestly, they need it more than anything!
We act like our society is so awful for perpetuating stereotypes and racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and yet we do NOTHING to fix the real problem — it all starts from the beginning, from pandering children and acting like they can’t handle it.
Well, they can. And it’s time that we do something about it.
Have you ever felt like the grass was greener on the other side? Let me know in a comment below!