I was inspired to write this post after reading Laura Bates’ ‘Girl Up’. I happened to pick it up around the same time as I came to a few of my own realisations, and I just needed to make some sort of coherent sense out of it all. Hence, this blog post!
Girl up is the sort of book I wish was around when I was sixteen/seventeen years old. Around the time when I needed reminding that my body belonged to me, and nobody else. That what I did with my body, what I wore on it, what I put into it and how I presented it was entirely my own choice. That I could do absolutely anything I put my mind to, and nobody could stop me.
If you’re a woman yourself, read this book. Then lend it to your daughters, sisters, mothers. Have them pass it on to their brothers, fathers, boyfriends, husbands, so on. Laura covers it all: staying safe on social media, how to recognise when your relationship is unhealthy or abusive, getting to know your own anatomy and so on. There are also heaps of helpful resources at the back, if you’re affected by any of the issues discussed.
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They told you you need to be thin and beautiful.
They told you to wear longer skirts, avoid going out late at night and move in groups – never accept drinks from a stranger, and wear shoes you can run in more easily than heels.
They told you to wear just enough make-up to look presentable but not enough to be a slut; to dress to flatter your apple, pear, hourglass figure.
They warned you that if you try to be strong, or take control, you’ll be shrill, bossy. Of course it’s fine for the boys, but you should know your place.
They told you ‘that’s not for girls’ – ‘take it as a compliment’ – ‘don’t rock the boat’ – ‘that’ll go straight to your hips’.
They told you ‘beauty is on the inside’, but you knew they didn’t really mean it.
Well I’m here to tell you something different.
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What I don’t want to do is make out that gender inequality is an exclusively female issue. Or that boys and men cannot be brave, powerful, intelligent or dependable. What I do want to do is contribute my voice to the discussion of gender, using my own experiences (as a girl). This is something I could chat for a long time about, but I’ll keep it as short as possible and save the rest for future blog posts.
The thing is, until very recent months, I wouldn’t have considered myself effected by sexism. My society is a progressive one, for the most part open, vibrant and accepting. My opportunities are vast, my lifestyle comfortable and my future bright. I am lucky. I am grateful for my freedom, but this will not make me complacent. Just because I live in a more liberal era than those before me, doesn’t mean I can’t strive for improvement. It is so important that we maintain an open dialogue about the issue of gender equality. Anyway, here are a few of the things I’ve been thinking about lately.
- My ultimate dream, besides writing books, is to go into the police force. I want to be a detective. Yet until this summer, I didn’t breathe a word of it to anyone (besides you, Mum). And now when I do, it’s preceeded by hesitation, and followed by blushing and laughter. As if to say “yeah, I know, it’s silly.” “It’s a man’s job, I know”. “I’m not big enough, strong enough, capable anough for such an ambition”. Why am I doing this? I’m doubting my abilities as a girl, without even realising it.
- I live in a house with young children, and observing how they behave and interract has taught me a lot of things about gender. For instance, the boys do not consider Primrose weaker or less capable because she is a girl. Heck, she puts up a good fight of her own, and they know it. Ted frequently goes about with painted nails, purely because blue toes are much cooler than bare ones, right? What I’m trying to say is that children are not born questioning themselves, doubting their abilities and desperately trying to fit social moulds. This is something that ‘happens’ to them, if you will.
- I am surrounded by some of the strongest, fiercest and bravest girls and women out there. Ladies who battle hard every day, and who do so despite the odds. Likewise, I know boys and men who are sensitive, gentle, creative and, I’ll say it, in possession of a better sense of fashion than I’ll ever have.
- I am an entire person, just the way I am. The notion that I need a man to complete me, or children to have fulfilled my purpose, just doesn’t sit well with me. Mere tolerance of women in traditionally male roles is not enough. It needs to become the norm, and vice versa.
So, why does ‘man up’ mean “be braver, stronger, better”? As though girls and women cannot be every bit as brave as men? And as though to be frightened, cautious or hesitant is a weakness? What if ‘girl up’ could mean “be more resilient, determined, headstrong in the face of adversity?” Just something to think about.
Finally, a list of things that are not privelages, but human rights:
- freedom to express oneself (in a harmless way)
- freedom from fear
- freedom from prejudice
- freedom from abuse
One thing I do know, is that we are going to face a string of prejudices, hurdles and setbacks as we grow. Let’s fight to knock gender off that list by being exactly whoever the heck we want to be.
Girl Up is available from Amazon and all major book stores, so go grab yourself a copy.
So much love,