Wednesday May 1st 2013

Don’t Be Such A Girl


First published here for Bea Magazine in April 2013.

A couple of months ago, I did a post on here that was about school teachers, and about how some people seem to think that there’s no way that little boys can respect their female teachers in the same way that they can respect a male teacher.

In it, I touched on the way that we talk about girls and about women, the way society views them, and since I touched on it in that article, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Well, not often, anyway.

There’s a phrase, and it haunts me. “Don’t Be Such A Girl”.

I can’t lie and say that I hear it every day. I don’t. But I hear it enough. I hear it enough that it makes me wonder where the children who are saying it are getting it from. I hear it enough to realise that at least some of these children are getting it from their parents. Because I hear their parents say it too.

The more I think about it, the crosser I get.

Think about how different that phrase would be if we swapped the word girl for ‘gay’. Or ‘spastic’.

Yes, I know people do say things like that. I hear people use the phrase “don’t be gay”. I hear people using spastic as an insult too. And of course I am appalled by it, because neither of those words should be being used as a pejorative. There is a difference, though, and it’s this: as horrible and prevalent as it is, I’d say that the majority of people know that it’s wrong to do it. In school, if they used these words negatively, it would be jumped on by teachers. Adults wouldn’t carelessly use those words in front of children. They know that it’s offensive, they know it’s not ‘politically correct’. Well, the adults I come across seem to know that, in any case.

But it seems that people, in general, don’t worry too much about using the word ‘girl’ as an insult. “Don’t be such a girl”. What does that mean? It means “don’t be so crap”. It means “girls are crap, and that’s what you are like”. Why should my daughter have to grow up thinking that the word that denotes her sex is another word for crap? Why is it acceptable for society to send my daughter this message? That no matter who she is or what she does, she is ultimately a bit crap? Why is this fair?

Of course it’s really just a facet of a broader problem; which is the general acceptance that it’s okay for a woman to do traditional man things (wear trousers, etc) but demeaning or comic for a man to have to do a woman thing (wear a dress, etc). Mothers and fathers worry if their boy wants to play with dolls instead of trucks. They get nervous about dressing him in pink in case it somehow undermines him. They might dress their daughters in pink most of the time, but I’ll bet you they don’t think dressing them in blue and grey is much of a problem. And though they might discourage them from playing with boys toys, I don’t really think there’s the same level of shame attached to it.

Of course, you might, like me, believe that essentially, gender is a construct, and that actually, men and women are pretty much the same, and that in fact, all of these things that apparently set the sexes apart are in fact not real. Women aren’t really the softer sex, the natural child-carers, the more ‘intuitive’. Men can be all these things, and women can be the opposite. And if you believe that, then actually, we need to go deeper than just learning to respect what women are, we need to de-construct everything, dismantle all these conventions that say that women do one thing and men do another…

But that might take a while. So in the meantime, please can we just try and lose the gender-based insults? And I’m aware that this can cut both ways – I’m sure that there are times when people carelessly write off all men as violent wife-beaters, say, or domestic idiots – but let’s be honest, it’s not as pervasive, is it? I honestly don’t hear the phrase “don’t be such a boy”. Ever.

I do hear “Don’t cry like a girl”. “He screamed like a girl”. “Stop being such a girl about it”.

So, this is a plea, to friends, to family, to readers, to people on the internet that I don’t actually know very well and only ever met via Twitter and Facebook… please, please, please don’t let phrases like these pass your lips. And if you hear someone else using them, please, please, please challenge them on it.

If we don’t, we’re allowing two things. We’re letting girls grow up to think they are, as aforementioned, largely regarded as a bit crap, and they could very well come to believe that it’s true. And we’re letting boys grow up to think that girls are, in fact, a bit crap, and it’s okay to hate and deride them.

That’s not okay.

Is it?

Image courtesy of artur84 /