There was one day I was around some family and my cousin’s mom had told him to come put on some “lip-gloss” so that his lips they don’t dry out. This seemed normal, but there was kind of an uproar; “that’s for girls”, “that’s girly”, “boys don’t use lip-gloss” are just a few examples of some things said, and he was mocked. He is less than thirteen years old, and I could see him get visibly uncomfortable that all his older cousins were teasing him; he then started to reject using the lip-gloss, something that he usually did at home.
This incident made me start to think about the number of innocent things we gender and have not allowed both genders to explore without being mocked. Young girls are told that certain colours or toys are not ‘girly’, and they should not be wearing or playing with them, why boys are told the same, focusing on the idea that a man should have nothing to do with those things.
I believe that when children are not encouraged to do things that they have a genuine interest in and they are just being kept in a box, then they are limited in the way they are able to choose to express themselves.
The situation I mentioned above is especially particular because it was other people around his age that were making that comment and not his parents or the other adults present. This is because in one way or the other, they have been conditioned to think that way. For example, the marketing of makeup primarily uses women in its advertising. This might make these boys think makeup is only for women, or the fact that lip-gloss will only exist on the aisle in the shop for women. We might think children do not notice these things, but they clearly do. They have learnt that something is right or wrong and they will tease other kids for not fitting into that box that they have unconsciously created.
At the end of the day, why is being interested in something that is marketed towards women viewed as bad but it’s not necessarily the same vice versa? It is because, till date, women are still viewed as weak and inferior. A girl interested in sports is viewed as cool (although still weaker than her male counterparts), but a boy interested in makeup is viewed “weak”, uncool and will be made fun of. It is a strange thing, that being interested in makeup has taken away from the boy’s personal strength.
Parents and society need to do more to help dismantle these stereotypes; as an adult, I know how difficult I have found it to unlearn some of the gender stereotypes that I picked up as I was growing up. Being a girl meant being told that you had to act a certain way, do certain things for men, or react to issues a certain way or speak a certain way so that you do not offend men! It is the same reason why a man and a woman can be stern bosses that demand authority but only one of them will be insulted for it.
To help break this cycle here are a couple of things you could do with young people:
These tips may go a long way in not only breaking gender stereotypes, but also in including non-binary young people. Children who are left to explore and be who they are naturally often become well-rounded adults. This means that they may choose paths or roles that are not traditionally occupied by their gender, but will be something they enjoy doing.
Written by Oyinkansola Oyefeso