The Problem With “Boy” Things and “Girl” Things
By Haley Friedmann
This spawned from a conversation with some friends about a commercial that offended me because I found it sexist in a way that I could not forgive. As my friends and I talked about it, one of my friends expressed concern that I was taking the commercial too seriously and he was worried that seriousness might keep me from enjoying life.
I really appreciate where you’re coming from in trying to help me enjoy life. For the most part I do, and try not to let too many things ruffle my feathers 🙂
But the chord this commercial struck with me has been a rather slow ruffling over years of my life. It’s coming from a very personal place and I don’t pretend that it applies to anyone other than myself, which is why I don’t mind if anyone else chooses to keep enjoying that brand. But I want to explain, because maybe that will ease your mind in the fact I actually have a point, and am not getting riled up over nothing.
Most of my tastes fall under what are considered “boys clubs.” Power Rangers is the first clear example I can remember. When I was 5, I had a rough time relating to other girls who wanted to play with Barbies and dress them up, when I wanted to build the Megazord and knock down block cities. It kind of sucked, because although this was still the age when cooties weren’t yet rampant, it was still an age where kids are divided up along the lines of gender, mainly by adults. Remember girl and boy Happy Meals? I always had to ask my mom to get me the boys Happy Meals, because those had the awesome Hot Wheels cars or transformer robots, rather than the lame baby dolls. And back then, it made me wonder what was wrong with me. My interests were so clearly “boy,” so why wasn’t I a boy?
Flash forward a bit to second grade. My favorite stuffed animal I slept with was the dragon from Sleeping Beauty. I named him Scorch, and he was my bedtime guardian and best friend. I couldn’t relate at all to the princess in that movie, but the dragon Maleficent transformed into I always thought was badass. I’m with two of my friends at a sleepover, and as it’s time for bed so we all pull out our sleeping buddies. They both have some cutesy thing or another, I can’t remember, and I pull out Scorch. They actually teased me to tears about it. It was a long time ago and I can’t remember the exact words, but you know how ruthless 8 year olds can be—they haven’t developed empathy yet. All I remember is crying in the closet with Scorch and hating them for being mean and myself for having Scorch. Why couldn’t I just like teddy bears and dolls so I wouldn’t have to go through this?
5th and 6th grade got easier, more unisex fads got introduced like Pokémon, and I fit in with girls by liking Beanie Babies. I still went for yo-yos over gel pens, but whatever, things were pretty cool. Whenever there were the elementary school boys vs girls wars, it took 3 or 4 boys to bring me down. I was proud of this. I also discovered Starcraft in 6th grade.
Come 7th grade, though, I had my first online experience in Starcraft. I wandered on to one of the bnet chats and mentioned I was a girl. The entire chat turned and called me a liar, an idiot, and a fag. There are no girls in Starcraft! Lying dick cheese pretending to be a girl hahahahahahaha—You get the idea. Sure, it was the usual immaturity of the internet, but here I was, a young kid again being turned away from what I loved because of my gender. I was being told I was wrong, a liar, and didn’t exist. Like those 8-year-olds, the chat had no empathy. Empathy was not something promoted in those channels. It was totally cool to promote this stereotype that there were no women who played Starcraft, even though I existed, and played Starcraft. Already at the age of 12, it had become a running theme in my life that people like me don’t exist. I obviously didn’t think I didn’t exist, but the loneliness it stressed was crushing. I had nobody to relate to. My male friends didn’t experience the same exclusion. Sure, they may have felt exclusion in being accused of being weak, but none were excluded to the level that I was, to the level of their physical being. I was being excluded because of something I was born with and could not change, which is therefore a core part of who I am.
As I got older, I had to accept my being female along with my interests, which seemed to be two separate things. I assure you this was something I had to work through during my development as a human being. When I went through puberty, I didn’t relate at all to my boobs and vagina and wondered why I couldn’t just have a penis. This level of disassociation is painful to remember. The genderization in our culture, this division between “boy” things and “girl” things, did affect my psychological development in a very real way.
I wouldn’t be so angry about things like this if I didn’t see it affecting other women. Ever since I got the haircut I’ve always wanted, I’ve had so many women come up to me and say they wish they could have the courage to get this haircut, too. “Just go do it!” I tell them, perplexed, “It’s hair, it grows back. Worst case scenario, you wear a hat for a week or two.” “Yeah, maybe…” they almost always reply. Yes, everyone can be timid, but it’s the number of women who want my “boyish” haircut that alarm me, that wish they could have the courage to get it. Women get crazy haircuts all the time, probably a lot more than men do, so why am I so “courageous” for getting this one? It might have something to do with the fact that I’m used to not giving a shit whether something is for boys or for girls, that if I like it then I like it. And it pisses me off that something like that is “courageous.” This improper, traditional genderization of things is making people unhappy, and we don’t have to perpetuate it. Yes, men and women are different. We have different genitals and different strength averages and slightly different brains. That’s where it stops. The rest is culture and I think it’s good to call out the BS from the truth. I wish I didn’t have to go through the pain of growing up thinking that I should have been a boy. I wish that BS had been called out to me that girls can like Godzilla and boys can like baking. I feel it’s a lot better these days, and it seems our culture is constantly improving about unnecessary sexism. But it still exists, and I’m going to call it out when I feel it’s too much. I want things to keep improving. I don’t want any other girl to grow up ashamed of being a girl, or ashamed of growing up to be a woman. I felt that, it was real, and you can’t sit there and tell me it didn’t happen or doesn’t happen.
Haley is a concept artist/illustrator living in the Bay Area. Her dream is to design awesome beasties and bad guys for video games and watch them come to life with their own AI. Originally from LA, she has a healthy appreciation for sun and surf, the rich and the famous, but she’s enjoyed the friendly atmosphere of Norcal and plans to stay there for years to come. When she’s not drawing monsters or playing video games, she’s looking for animal shelters to volunteer at to help out the real life creatures she loves.
Her fear is that for some strange reason everyone she knows would suddenly not like her anymore and abandon her. That’s pretty much the saddest thing she can think of.