As March is Women’s History Month, Jessica Yin gives us the run down on the negative impact of gender stereotyping and the harmful effect of strict binary opposition.



Creative Commons License by Chrish Dunne

I’ve always been considered one of the guys – a no-fuss, uncomplicated kind of friend that you forget has boobs and a vagina because hey, I’m not bothered if you make crude jokes or fart. I’ve always whole-heartedly accepted that tomboy label, but recently it’s made me consider why exactly it is that I’ve been designated such a description. What about me makes me such a boy? Is it because I’m quick-tempered, fast to anger, and prone to hit first, clarify later? Or perhaps it’s because I’m a nature-lover, an avid hiker, and have been playing in the dirt and splashing through puddles since I could walk. Moreover, I’m a runner, a weight lifter, a softball player, and a martial artist; I’ve got more bruises than dresses and will jump right into a bar fight with glee because I love a good brawl. My father thinks I’m unladylike because I have the foul mouth of a sailor, a sarcastic, confrontational attitude, and I am about as dominant a personality as they come. When it comes to relationships, I’m ‘such a boy’ with my flings and things without strings and my stance that commitment, marriage and kids sound about as pleasant as being hit in the face repeatedly with a baseball bat. But, why are all these traits considered masculine? Why are we putting labels on my actions when all I’m doing is being me – being human? 

Take a second and think about what it means to do something ‘like a girl.’ Keep your eyes closed and picture someone you would describe as girly or effeminate. The problem with whatever you’re imaging is that we shouldn’t categorise certain characteristics as masculine or feminine at all; by doing so, we agree with certain implications about what is acceptable for males, what is acceptable for females, and conversely, what each is socially unable to do or express.

An ad by the company Always demonstrated that young, prepubescent girls believe that doing something like a girl means giving it their all, doing the best that they can. Older girls, however, tended to follow stereotypical understandings of what being a girl meant: running with flailing arms and throwing with limp, weak motions. Always’ message is that society should empower our girls and teach them from a young age that their sex does not define them or make them weak. What they can achieve and who they can become is limitless, a decision shaped only by their interests and their preferences, not the expectations of others. I completely agree with the overall idea of the movement, but I caution that sometimes we define gender roles in our attempts to break them. Yes, a girl should be able to be a fast runner, an Olympic weight-lifter, and a senator; alternatively, a girl should also be able to be a fashionista or a professional ballerina without having her accomplishments relegated to the category of stereotypically girly. Whatever your passion, whatever your love, you shouldn’t have to feel that any choice is more or less legitimate because of the implications it has and the gender stereotypes it fulfills or defies. I for one was so determined to be an exception, to prove that I was not a regular girl, that I almost didn’t realise my defiance was supporting the very gendered constructs I was trying to fight. I shouldn’t have to be afraid that when I express an emotion or make an objection about feeling hurt I’ll be patted on the head and told to stop ‘being such a girl’. I should be able to unabashedly admit I love my fair share of romantic comedies and that yes, even I sometimes adore dressing up, doing my nails, and dancing the night away in a pair of ridiculous sky-high heels. Creating a dichotomy between masculine and feminine makes it seem as though there is an either/or situation when in reality, there is just one category: human.



Creative Commons License by Transguyjay

I’m not ignorant enough to claim that girls are the only ones affected by societal expectations. Boys should also be included in this campaign to erase gendered expectations about behaviour. Boys should not be bullied for being quiet and soft-spoken; they should not be pushed and beaten for loving the feel of charcoal on paper more than the scrape of knuckles against knuckles. Loving poetry and feeling vulnerable should not be taboo, because everyone gets lonely sometimes, and a broken heart sucks equally – no matter who you are or what gender you identify with. Being cautious and taking a chance to evaluate all the possibilities doesn’t make you a pussy – it makes you who you are, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Maybe we would put ourselves out there more, love more fearlessly and leap with more faith if we weren’t so afraid of being called crazy, overly attached, or hysterical. Why is it seen as a sign of weakness to be the first to admit you’re in love? Why is it so much better to seem impenetrable, with walls of steel, than to confess that you’ve been broken but had the strength to stand back up again? At the end of the day, the world is tough enough without worrying about how our actions will be construed. There shouldn’t be the pressure that what I do will be extrapolated to represent my entire sex, because I’ll be the first to admit I shouldn’t be anybody’s role model. We make decisions based off the unique set of experiences we’ve had and the beliefs we’ve formed in our lives. Do what makes you happy and reach out when you’re sad. Watch the movies that make you laugh or even the ones that make you cry. Pursue the passion that makes your heart race, whether it’s law, design, or hairdressing. Express your love to whomever in whatever way you feel is right. Don’t pigeonhole others and don’t pigeonhole yourself because at the end of the day, you are just being you. Not ‘such a dude’, not ‘such a girl’. Just such a you.  



 Jessica Yin


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