i) Normative Narratives
Girls are not as tough as boys. In Jaclyn’s self story “I Can Play Too” she recalls having to prove herself when her teachers told her she couldn’t play on her school’s boys basketball team. I had a similar experience when my own father decided I couldn’t go fishing with him because he actually believed that I would hold him back. He imagined a disastrous few hours in which I talked so much and scared away all the fish, until I began to whine because I was bored, getting restless and falling helplessly into the water (I have exaggerated this, I seriously doubt my dad things I’m this hopeless). In my story “Fishing” I describe my urge to be included in my dad and brothers “bonding” and how I worked hard to prove that I could do what they could. Girls have to start proving themselves as soon as they reach an age where their peers start to notice the gender of those around them (this exact age is debatable, I think it varies from person to person). Some common rebuttals included with this normative narrative are “you might get hurt”, “you play like a girl” “you talk too much”, and even “you can’t take direction”. These rebuttals have a negative affect on a girl’s self image, but if she is able to prove herself, it can boost her self confidence. Of course, this confidence only lasts until the next time she is belittled once again because of her assumed “gender restrictions”.
It works both ways. Another normative narrative is that boys are not suppose to do girly things. This includes jobs, activities, fashion, and hobbies. Something as simple as a bubble bath can even be considered “girly”. Kennedy talks about this normative narrative in her story “Dance is For Girls”. In Kennedy’s recollection, she remembers the assumption she had at a young age that dance is just for girls. She also mentions how her sister played hockey. There would have been a time when hockey was just for boys, but I think we have actually moved past that assumption, at least in Canada. Its true that boys and girls start in about the same place when it comes to hockey. While they are young, girls and boys play on the same team and no one has much to say about it. Challenges for girls who want to play hockey become more prominent as they get older.
On the other hand, it seems that there is not really an acceptable age for a boy to be in dance. I suppose its not uncommon to see one or two boys in the toddler class, but their parents tend to pull them out once they are old enough to start hockey. In my family, my sister and brother and I were all enrolled in dance at age three. My brother wanted to play hockey when his friends started hockey. My mom pulled him out of dance at the same time because she didn’t want him to be too busy and also because he expressed no interest in his dance classes. Kennedy states that “It was just a normal thing in society, to label a girl more boyish if she played hockey, but even worse, boys don’t dance and if they do they are usually thought of as gay.” Which unfortunately is spot on when you consider our social tendencies to mindlessly separate boys and girls on a regular basis. My brother was picked on in school when his classmates heard that he used to be in dance.
ii) Creating Counter Stories: Disrupting Normative Narratives
The normative narrative that girls aren’t as tough as boys was disrupted in Jess’s story “Tomboy”. In this story Jess tells her readers about a negative experience involving gender separation in her elementary school. Jess was approached by a girl that told her she fit in better with the boys. Jess quickly realized the truth in this statement and decided to play with the boys instead. What I found interesting about this, is that Jess doesn’t mention having to prove herself to these boys that she befriended. She says that they became her lifelong friends from that day on. I preferred the friendship of the boys in my class as well but I didn’t make that switch until high school when my girlfriends got all cliquey and started obsessing over celebrities. I didn’t experience any challenges befriending the boys because of my gender, I felt like I was able to fit in and didn’t have to pretend to be someone I wasn’t. From these stories I can infer that gender discrimination isn’t as simple as the normative narratives we see in our daily lives. Sometimes girls can fit in with boys. Sometimes they fit in better with boys than they do with girls and this becomes normally accepted in that scenario.
The stories we tell ourselves that separate genders are what makes gender discrimination hard to study. Everyone has a different opinion on the roles of women in society and not all of these opinions are discriminatory. So why is gender discrimination the most common view in society? Well I think its because we started from the bottom. In other words, women were once treated simply as mothers and housewives. They couldn’t vote or drive and men were always seen as the higher power. Women have continued to prove themselves throughout the four waves of feminism. We have completely surpassed many gender restrictions that were placed on women thousands of years ago. In the first wave of feminism there were people who believed that women were actually superior to men. Some people believe that men and women are equal and treat them as such. All of these beliefs are still scattered around the globe in different understandings. I believe it is possible for gender equality to one day be the social norm.