Sunday, 15 March 2015

WHat If Boys And Girls Were Raised Differently

This is an excerpt from WE SHOULD ALL BE FEMINISTS by Chimamanda Ngozi

On experiences teaching
The first time I taught a writing class in graduate school, I was worried. Not
about the teaching material, because I was well prepared and I was teaching
what I enjoyed. Instead I worried about what to wear. I wanted to be
taken seriously.

I knew that because I was female, I would automatically have to prove my
worth. And I was worried that if I looked too feminine, I would not be taken
seriously. I really wanted to wear my shiny lip gloss and my girly skirt, but I
decided not to. I wore a very serious, very manly, and very ugly suit.
The sad truth of the matter is that when it comes to appearance, we start off
with men as the standard, as the norm. Many of us think that the less feminine
a woman appears, the more likely she is to be taken seriously. A man going to
a business meeting doesn't wonder about being taken seriously based on
what he is wearing—but a woman does.

I wish I had not worn that ugly suit that day. Had I then the confidence I have
now to be myself, my students would have benefited even more from my
teaching. Because I would have been more comfortable and more fully and
truly myself.

I have chosen to no longer be apologetic for my femininity. And I want to be
respected in all my femaleness. Because I deserve to be. I like politics and
history and am happiest when having a good argument about ideas. I am girly.
I am happily girly. I like high heels and trying on lipsticks. It's nice to be
complimented by both men and women (although I have to be honest and say
that I prefer the compliments of stylish women), but I often wear clothes that
men don't like or don't "understand." I wear them because I like them and
because I feel good in them. The "male gaze," as a shaper of my life's choices,
is largely incidental.

On gender:
Gender is not an easy conversation to have. It makes people uncomfortable,
sometimes even irritable. Both men and women are resistant to talk about
gender, or are quick to dismiss the problems of gender. Because thinking of
changing the status quo is always uncomfortable.
Some people ask: "Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer
in human rights, or something like that?" Because that would be dishonest.
Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general - but to choose to use
the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular
problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women
who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the
problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being
human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world
divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and
oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem acknowledge

Some men feel threatened by the idea of feminism. This comes, I think, from
the insecurity triggered by how boys are brought up, how their sense of self-
worth is diminished if they are not "naturally" in charge as men.
On how gender roles hurt boys.

We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity
of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard,
small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.
We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach
them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian-speak—a
hard man.

In secondary school, a boy and a girl go out, both of them teenagers with
meager pocket money. Yet the boy is expected to pay the bills, always, to
prove his masculinity. (And we wonder why boys are more likely to steal
money from their parents.)

What if both boys and girls were raised not to link masculinity and money?
What if their attitude was not "the boy has to pay," but rather, "whoever has
more should pay." Of course, because of their historical advantage, it is mostly
men who will have more today. But if we start raising children differently, then
in fifty years, in a hundred years, boys will no longer have the pressure of
proving their masculinity by material means.
But by far the worst thing we do to males—by making them feel they have to
be hard—is that we leave them with very fragile egos. The harder a man feels
compelled to be, the weaker his ego is.

And then we do a much greater disservice to girls, because we raise them to
cater to the fragile egos of males.
We teach girls to shrink themselves, 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. If
you are the breadwinner in your relationship with a man, pretend that you are
not, especially in public, otherwise you will emasculate him.

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