That’s it: the difference between boys and girls is all in the head of the adults. Kids learn what they see and hear. And we are constantly giving out gender defined (and gender biased) information. The way we keep our hair (long and short), the use we do of make up, the presents we exchange among us, and those we give to our children. And, most of all, what we say.
Science for girls
Today I participated in an amazing project, part of a larger international effort, to promote scientific studies among young women. The target were pre-teen girls, in the age range from 9 to 14 years old. The participants were guided through scientific laboratories and hand-on experiences in a friendly environment, and they were given the opportunity to interact with positive role models.
I was responsible for one of the activities, where the kids could learn something about electricity while playing with some (safe, but spectacular) electronic device. The girls were interested and enthusiastic, and I have really enjoyed sharing my time with them!
Laws of attraction
You know, words are really important, and I have been very careful of not giving any gender connotation to what we were doing. However, it happened that when I was explaining to a small groups of girls how positive and negative charges attract each other, but at the same time repulse those that are similar, an adult interrupted me saying “like girls are attracted by boys“.
Now, there are three good reasons why I think this was not appropriate.
The first is that this statement introduced gender, whereas the message of the day was that science has nothing to do with gender. The second reason is that this is not true: people are attracted or not attracted by people, irrespectively from their own and the counterpart gender. Third: why do we need to give a representation of what is correct and what is not, as if affection and attraction should follow heterosexuality as a law of nature?
A pink skirt
That is the same as wearing pink. My nephew is the most intelligent and beautiful toddler of the world. And he liked to dress up like a princess, as well as playing with cars, dolls and monsters. However, as it is good for his age, he is now attending kindergarten, and it seems he his getting already a well defined idea of what is masculine and what is not. My mother (his grandma!) told me how he now refuses anything pink, saying “oh, no, pink is for girls!“
Why? Why is pink supposed to be for girls? Do you realize how ridiculous is this statement? But now think, how often do you get out of home dressed up in pinkish, if you define yourself with a specific male identity?
On the newspaper, few days ago, I read the dramatic news of a 15 years old boy who committed suicide in Italy. According to the report, the boy was bullied at school — by his peers — because he was used to wear pink trousers and make-up.
The prices it comes with
So, you may ask me, why do I go to work with trousers, and not wearing a skirt?
First of all, I am not saying that everyone should do it, but just that everyone should be free of doing so. Still, we should not impose our narrow view of the world over our children. And then, I think, to live in our western world, it is like to live in Iran, or in Saudi Arabia.
A women, there, would never go around without hijab, even if she thinks it is stupid (or outrageous): but the social pressure and the consequences are so harsh, that she has no better option. The same way, I might buy a pink skirt. But, would I be ready to pay the social price it comes with?