Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Gender stereotypes - and where to shove them

Looking back today, I have to admit I'm quite happy I grew up during the 70s and early 80s. During that time most young parents didn't want to raise their children on stereotypes and thus did everything possible to avoid it. This meant for me to be allowed to choose my toys and interests without always hearing "that's for boys, dear" or other stupid remarks (not that I would have minded...). Actually, even so, my aunts did say stuff like that sometimes...

I hate gender stereotypes. To be honest, I hate stereotypes as a rule, but gender stereotypes are even worse than other kinds. It doesn't matter whether it's stereotypes about men and boys or about women and girls. They're all restrictive and don't really fit. Humans come in all shapes, forms and sizes. There's no such thing as the woman or the man around. (Which is why I usually find statistics so hilarious...)

There's no such thing as the boy or the girl either, but nevertheless magazines, TV shows, books and other media try to make us all think there's just one way to happiness and that's to become a stereotypical member of our own gender. And unlike a grown woman or man who should (theoretically at least) be able to see through such manipulations and know everybody is an individual, the children and teenagers can't see through it. How should they, without the experience an adult has?

Yes, I read Enid-Blyton-books when I was young - I liked them, too. But unlike my friends I didn't see them as a reality for me. I wasn't one of those girls. I was different and - especially during my teens - I actually started to be proud of it.

I owned a large collection of Barbie dolls and I played with them (what else would I have owned them for, seriously). But my games weren't the kind about the super-model or the perfect wife in a perfect relationships (my Kens - 2 opposed to about 10 Barbies - would in real life probably either have become gay or died of loneliness). My Barbies went through adventures - but I've written about that before, twice at least.

And yes, I like horses. But I've only ridden a couple of times in my life and I never felt the need to work at a stable during my teens, just to be near them. I read a few books about horses (and the girls owning them), but I never became such a girl.

And I think I might have mentioned how much love stories and romances bore me before...

But what makes me even more averse to gender stereotypes than my own life (and there's always the odd one, naturally), is what it does to all women. Why? Because of one real strong stereotype: the 'woman can't understand anything technical'-myth.

That's a stereotype we all grow up with, isn't it? Whether it's in books, in movies, in TV series, even in school sometimes, it's always like that: technical things are done by boys. There might be some girls around who work with technical means or natural science, but they're 'not normal'. They are odd - they are geeks.

A 'normal' girl doesn't do such stuff and isn't interested in computers (except for the 'acceptable' parts as playing the new Barbie game or surfing the internet for tips about make-up or a new diet). In the minds of quite some people female technicians, female programmers, female web-masters (I still think the word 'web-mistress' sounds a bit dubious ... more like I'm wearing a whip and something tight-fitting in latex) simply don't exist. There are all those women, but they do not - or rarely - appear in the media. We had to wait for over 20 years until the first "Star Trek" spaceship had a female captain, for heaven's sake! (And quite some fans don't like her at all.)

But that stereotype is dangerous to us women. Fact is, a lot of the new, well-paid jobs are in the computer and internet business. To get them, you have to work with those new technical means. You have to understand and use those means. And unlike what some men think (and some men still think women can't drive a car correctly - while all real-life experiences about accidents say something completely different), it's not really difficult.

As a programmer you have to work carefully. You have to be prepared to do the same stuff over and over again until you've found the error and corrected it. That's tedious work, surely, but nothing a woman can't understand or do. And don't people always claim women are better with learning languages? Programming also is done with languages ... what a coincidence.

As a web-master you do some web-design yourself (depends mostly on the kind of job you get, some are more based on taking care of the network, others are more based on creating and maintaining a website or something similar). You have to know the technical basis for it, you have to know about servers, networks and other stuff. But you also have to have a good eye for proportions, for colours that fit well together and so on. Sure, taking care of a server isn't easy, but selling the new collection to a woman who doesn't look good in it, isn't easy either.

The only thing biologically separating men from women is one chromosome. Women have two X-chromosomes, men have only one - and a Y-chromosome. Genetically speaking everything with one Y-chromosome is male, although there's men with two or more X-chromosomes around... Apart from that our genes are completely identical. And I doubt all the stereotypes fit onto this one chromosomes (which men have as well, as you might have noticed from my explanation).

So why do we still spent so much time trying to figure out what's 'male' or 'female'? Is it female to be able to sew? Is it male to be able to hammer a nail into the wall? I can do both (and learned it both from my mother who wouldn't have let her daughter move out without knowing she was able to do normal repairs on her own). In modern times, it wouldn't hurt a boy to know how to sew on a button and it wouldn't hurt a girl to know how to use a hammer.

Gender stereotypes don't really fit into the modern world. We can't try to build the World of Tomorrow with the Views of Yesterday.

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