Moving beyond gender Print
Youth Column
Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

"A girl's confidence plummets during puberty," the advertisement said. "But it doesn't have to."

That was one of the messages in a Super Bowl commercial for a company that makes feminine hygiene products.

The ad showed boys, men and older women who said doing things "like a girl" meant doing things that were weak and whiny. When young girls were asked, however, they gave a different answer. They said doing things "like a girl" meant doing things with strength and confidence.

At 14, I went from being an adventurous Girl Scout who would climb mountains, write stories, and stand up for myself to a teen who constantly checked her appearance and ducked whenever a teacher called on me. I became scared of saying the wrong thing, wearing the wrong thing, offending the wrong person.

I stopped doing certain things because people were telling me that those things weren't "for girls."

Why does this happen? Does it start in the early years, when parents are forced to buy pink toys for girls and blue toys for boys? Did it start 20 years ago, when girls were still taking home economics and boys were taking shop class?

Today, the culture that says girls simply can't do certain things continues. We still live in a culture that tells girls that they shouldn't be smart or strong, but they should be pretty.

Perhaps that constant cultural message is why teen girls lose their confidence. Girls end up forgoing science, math, and engineering classes. They rank themselves more on how they look than on how much they've learned or how talented they are becoming.

I hate seeing teen girls who forgo academic achievements because they think they shouldn't be working toward them because they're girls. A man can be president; so can a woman. A woman can stay home and care for her family; so can a man.

It works the other way, too. Men can enjoy cooking, shopping, and looking good, too. A boy can cook and crochet, worry about his hair, and dance. A man can take care of a baby and a boy can fall in love. Boys should have the opportunity to do these things without feeling as if they're being emasculated, embarrassed or teased.

If we hang on to ideas of what boys or girls can or can't do or what they can or can't like, we take away opportunities and life experiences from others. We are unkind to one another when we push artificial boundaries on ourselves or others simply because of gender.

Karen Osborne contributes to “Coming of Age,” a CNS column series for and about youth. She is a staff writer for the Evangelist, newspaper of the Diocese of Albany, N.Y..


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