A big thrust of my goals with Harley has been to raise her in a fairly gender neutral way. I want her to know that girls and women can do anything, be anything. If she wants to be a doctor, an astronaut, or president, she can do exactly that. And I totally stand by that goal. I also wanted to raise her to not feel imposed upon by society’s gender norms, but I realize that’s not really up to me.
I believe in fighting against inequality in all its manifestations. It’s only by fighting the gender wage gap, the pink tax, awful rape culture and systemic gender stereotypes that we can change the world. But even as we fight, we have to be realistic about what is expected of women and girls, and how we have to play the game to be successful.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Cassey struck a serious nerve for me with her recent post, Quiet casual violence of everyday actions. In it, she looked at the recent issues at Pretoria Girls High, and how it’s a sign of how even our modern, integrated and multicultural society is still so ingrained with white beauty norms. But she took it beyond that, looking at the politics of decency and how it is yet another way to police women’s bodies. We change the way we look, talk, think.
This casual, quiet violence turns our bodies into battle grounds. We are told over and over that we will never be good enough. And it is not something just told to those of us of colour, it is told to every, single woman.
And then I look at this post, all about perceptions of women with and without makeup. As expected, a woman wearing makeup is seen as more competent and influential, but also more authentic? How does that work?
But then look at what I do. I’m funky and alternative and do my own thing. But when I’m going to a meeting or an event, I always put on jewelry and makeup. It’s about looking professional, credible, and “well put together”. It’s about showing that I put the effort into myself as proof that I can put the effort into my work. It’s unfair and men don’t have to do it and it costs money, but it’s the reality of the situation. In the same way that the reality is that when I’m out somewhere it’s expected that it’s good manners for a man to hold the door open for me, or offer to help me to my car if I’m carrying loads. I don’t have to say yes, but it’s expected that there would be an offer.
When planning for Harley’s arrival, I kept telling people not to buy anything pink, and I still feel that way. I don’t want to push gender norms on her as a baby, or a little girl, or a grown woman. She could grow up to be a pink-loving princess, or a goth princess, and either is fine with me. She can wear whatever she wants, do whatever makes her happy. And I hope that she breaks barriers and finds her own unique way of expressing herself. But if she decides to become a doctor, or an astronaut, or president, she will also have to learn to play the game, to make sure she is competent and has great hair and nails. To make sure that she studies hard, and is charming and affable. It’s not fair, and it needs to change, but it’s also how it is and sometimes we have to learn to accept the inequalities and just play the game to our advantage to get ahead.