When I had my graduation party two years ago, almost everyone that was invited asked me, “which one is your boyfriend? When are you getting married?” I was asked so many times that I started to wonder if a degree and a boyfriend were awarded together. When I graduated, getting married was the last thing on my mind. My mind was trailing along the lines of how free I felt and what adventure awaited me. But what those around me said made me curious. I realized, what we expect and ask of the girls and women in our societies is in great contrast with what boys and men are asked and expected of. In my experience there has never been a boy on his graduation being asked when his plan to get married was. The finding of a husband is left to us women.
The way we talk and address issues with a heavy coat of gender bias affects the women our girls will become. In most instances we don’t even notice that we are doing it, I will also admit that I have participated in doing similar. It’s just the way that we have all been conditioned to expect. We somehow don’t see the person first but the gender and what that entails within each of our cultural context. In this case, people thought of the fact that most women in our culture got married right after they complete their education or even before that. The male being seen as a provider would be given more time to get his affairs together so as to accommodate a wife and a family. Our culture’s gender roles are not constructive or fair to both sexes. Giving boys the forced part of provider, creates immense pressure that they feel like they have to fulfill. This behavior is seen early on, even when class mates decide to go on a date the boy is expected to pay even though these two individuals are the same age and with similar familial backgrounds. The expectation that he would pay may not even emerge from her, but from his own frame of masculinity.
Lucky for all of us these are social constructs, which means we can socially deconstruct it and help in the construction of it. How do we do that? We take notice of the way we speak and recognize the short comings of our own backgrounds. We should always make sure we are recognizing the person first and the gender second. We should be conscious of the phrasing we use and how we may be contributing to the existing negative social construct. For example when a boy runs badly telling him mockingly that he runs ‘like a girl’ is feeding the social construct that wants girls to feel inadequate in sports. It’s by changing the ways in which we, ourselves think and process information regarding gender, that we can be able to deconstruct the existing gender bias. And the most powerful tool is also to listen. Listen to the opposite gender about their experience with gender roles and expectations. Share the experiences of the journey you are all on and find the gaps, the parts you feel like deconstructing and help build it together. Because trying to deconstruct a social bias with just one gender is not as effective as trying to accomplish it together. That is why listening and forming understandings together is the most powerful tool we have to the construction of a better social gender construct.
Written By Hanna Haile