We are all familiar with the sayings “boy’s don’t cry,” “man up,” and “she’s too girly.” Sure, these can be thrown around as playful ways to tease someone for the way that they are acting, but actually, we internalize them more than most people know.
It’s called gender normativity, and it compartmentalizes and limits us as beings.
And it starts early on.
Let’s take Grayson as our first example. Grayson, a 9 year-old North Carolina schoolboy has recently been in the news for being bullied. New York Daily News states that he was sporting his favorite “My Little Pony” bag, typically an item found in the “girls section” of the toy aisle, and was being bullied by others at school for it. Sadly, this story isn’t only about the bullying. It gets even worse.
The children that were teasing Grayson were not punished. Instead, the faculty at the elementary school told Grayson to put the bag away so that the other children would stop bullying him. Teachers and adults are meant to be role models that empower kids to show their own individuality. Instead, these teachers essentially became bullies themselves because they were encouraging Grayson to abide by gender normativity standards.
So why do children’s toys have to be gendered? Wise 7-year-old Charlotte was wondering the same thing, and decided to ask Lego about it. According to USA today, she sent a letter to the company stating:
“There are more Lego boy people and barely any Lego girls. Today I went to a store and saw Legos in two sections the girls pink and the boys blue. All the girls did was sit at home, go to the beach, and shop, and they had no jobs but the boys went on adventures, worked, saved people, and had jobs, even swam with sharks.”
Charlotte hits the nail on the head here. Whether it be implicitly or explicitly, children grow up being shown that what they are “supposed” to like and be, is determined by their gender. The truth is that not all children are as wise as Grayson and Charlotte, and are consequently tainted by the gender normativity mindset.
Here’s the big picture: maintaining these gender normativity standards hinders individuals from venturing outside of those standards. Young girls feel less compelled to become doctors or lawyers or politicians, because those are “man’s professions.” Young boys feel less compelled to become nurses, or beauticians, or even stay-at-home dads, because that’s “what girls do.” Charles M. Blow, an op-ed columnist of The New York Times says it best:
“We have to see our girls and boys as more than skirts and pants, damsels and squires, child-bearers and breadwinners. We must see them as — and encourage them to express themselves as — fully realized beings. Girls must be given safe space to be assertive and boys to be vulnerable without feeling that they have failed a test of gender normativity. […] We must allow girls and boys, men and women, to be fully free.”
Now that we have recognized that a problem exists with gender normativity in society today, it is valid to begin speculating upon what can we do to change the one-track mindset that is so engrained into our society.
And here’s the answer.
Gender normativity can be eliminated, and in all honestly, it starts with you. You can spark something.
Turn on your television or walk in a children’s toy aisle at a store near you. Analyze the messages that are being produced by these companies that are trying to convince you to buy their products. If you detect messages that you do not agree with, stand up like 7-year-old Charlotte did, and send the company a letter. And then tell your friends to do the same.
Ultimately, gender normativity limits. Limits set bars. Let’s not raise the bar; let’s instead work to eliminate the bar completely. Then, we can open ourselves up to a world of possibilities.