When I read the Girl Boss slogan; My World My Rules, from my desk every now and then I imagine myself as the feminine ruler of a formidable empire. Maybe, that’s the Leo in me. According to astrology our secret desire is to rule the world…
What does being a girl mean to you?
Our society functions on a set of social rules called gender norms. Gender norms are the codes of conduct that people belonging to a certain gender are to conduct themselves by. We’ve all heard the, ‘a girl doesn’t sit like that’, ‘boys shouldn’t wear pink’, ‘boys don’t cry’, ‘girls are delicate and shouldn’t play soccer with the boys, but rather play with dolls’. These are examples of gender norms. They are also linked to culture. How girls are to behave in one culture could be seen as inappropriate in another culture. Religion also plays a role in how the spiritual leaders from a certain religion define a virtuous woman. Being raised in the Christian faith, for example the Bible speaks of “do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewellery, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” 1 Peter 3: 3-6.
It is believed that the ideal girl isn’t opinionated and doesn’t speak out of turn. She follows the direction given to her by her parents and then by her husband when she is married. A virtuous woman, wants to get married. Where she will submit to her husband. She is modest and puts the needs of her husband and the household above that of her own. She wants to have children and doesn’t express dissatisfaction. This is the ideal woman.
The influence of gender norms begins even before we are born. For example, toys and outfits for a baby will be chosen based on their sex. Maybe even the aspirations for a babies life will be envisioned by their parents based on a child’s sex. Some may argue that gender norms are outdated and toxic. Rather, we should let children decide for themselves how they want to present themselves to the world. Instead of verbally disciplining them on what is the manner they are expected to behave according to their prescribed gender.
The thing is, these heteronormative rules can be sexist. For example, a woman is to keep the home tidy, cook and basically be the support system for the man as he should be the bread winner. The man’s role is to financially provide for the household, is another gender norm. These norms can be restrictive as, what if the woman has her own career ambitions? Why should her career come second?
“We teach girls to shrink themselvesChimamanda Ngozi Adichie
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls,
“You can have ambition
But not too much”
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man.”
Gender norms also become problematic when they don’t allow for diverse sexual orientations and expressions of sexuality. They’re a breeding ground for homophobia and patriarchal notions. The ideal woman is straight for example and an ideal man isn’t gay. If you are different from the societal norms then some people may think there is something inherently wrong with you. If you don’t conform to the norms you are seen as abnormal. Gender norms encourage conformity and that you must conduct yourself in a way that maintains societies structure. The belief is there is a natural order in our world.
“There is a natural order to this world, and those who try to upend it do not fare well. This movement will never survive; if you join them, you and your entire family will be shunned. At best, you will exist a pariah to be spat at and beaten. At worst, to be lynched or crucified”Cloud Atlas 2012
But what if the power structures of a given society are oppressive? We see this in the prevalence of sexual violence against woman and the LGBTQI community. Rape for example is a form of patriarchal discipline on the bodies of woman and the LGBTQI community. A woman that presents herself as being too free with her body by wearing clothes that a ‘virtuous woman’ would consider as too revealing and therefore provocative, is disciplined by being raped. As the showing of skin is an expression of freedom and sexuality. The queer community faces the phenomenon of corrective rape by toxic men. Where they are targeted and sexually assaulted in order to discipline them to conform to societies heteronormative gender roles.
It is your life and you should live your life in a way that makes you happy. Granted you are not infringing on the rights of others. Therefore, I encourage you to navigate gender norms consciously. Examine them and see whether they are in alignment with your truth, if they are not, then you don’t have to conform to them. For example, you can be a stay at home mother if that is truly what you want to be.
Don’t let society dictate to you how you should present the truth of who you are to the world. Stand in your authenticity. Live with integrity and honor who you are. Let them judge because they also judge themselves inadequate. You can be a feminist and enjoy cleaning and cooking, it’s up to you. As long as you are being truthful to who you are on the inside. You can also not be sure if you even identify as a girl. When you choose the rules, you live by you are happier because you are free. Look at the state the world is in, people are chronically depressed and anxious. These norms haven’t given us the happiness we deserve. Be aware of the reasons why you act the way you do. It’s your life, live by your rules.