Born Equal: When Did That Change?

Think back a couple of years. More. A little more…

Take it back to a time when you were just a kid. Can you remember the first time you were told, “behave like a young lady!” or “boys don’t do that”?

Growing up, many of us are raised in certain ways; you’re told to do certain chores, encouraged to dress in a specific way, not to react to situations with too much emotion; have you ever stopped to think when this all started and what consequences it has for the way we live our lives?

Before we have even entered this earth, everyone is trying to establish whether we are a boy or a girl. This desire to establish whether we are considered male or female will have more of an impact on our lives than we may realise.

ARTICLES, QUIZZES & SEX

There are articles, quizzes and lists that tell you how you can predict your baby’s sex even before the doctors can say for sure. We have relatives who’ll share the same information, “Her nose is swollen so it must be a boy” or “wow, your belly is sitting high – must be a girl”. What is it about bringing a baby into the world that makes us want to box them even before they’ve taken their first breath?

From the moment parents decide to discover their baby’s sex, when our genders are assigned, we’ve already begun to be raised with those gender differences (the gender binary) in our minds.

Why is it that we’re primed to behave a certain way based on what’s between our legs? Who decided that just because someone is born with a vagina they’re a girl who needs a pink room? Or that when those born with penises cry, they need to ‘man up’, to be tough and take on characteristics of toxic masculinity, such as not expressing their emotions in ways that are healthy.

Part of this relates to the way in which boys are raised, which affirms that they can have whatever they want, leading to them feeling entitled to the attention of womxn. Who then decided to teach those with penises the entitlement to demand and forcibly take what they please; and those with vaginas to accept and blame themselves for violence acted upon them?

THE IMPACT

How gender is thought of in our society can wreak havoc. Boys are taught to be ‘the men’ of households, often without adding value to the household; getting chores done for them, or perhaps only doing the chores that are considered ‘appropriate’ for men. They take out the garbage, fix what’s broken in the house and do the garden, but why the expectation that everything else needs to be done for them? Why are boys not encouraged to also cook for themselves, clean up and buy groceries? The divide that exists in household work is only the beginning.

While young girls are taught to do what boys aren’t, the cleaning, cooking, making sure that everyone is doing okay – both household and emotional labour is left to them. They’re taught to be constantly accommodating, nice and at times overly sensitive to the needs of others. These binaries are holding us back and in many contexts, lead to violence.

When looking into the links of how gender differences and roles are acted out in our lives, we can link them to instances of domestic violence and sexual assault all over the world.

In 2015/16, an average of 51 murders were recorded each day in South Africa. The South African Police Service has had 42,596 rapes reported in the same period. And these are just the numbers; thousands of victims do not report their assaults because of guilt, shame and fear for their lives.

The different teachings we give children from a young age can lead to violence. The thoughts, values and prejudices we are taught when we are young allow many to grow up feeling that they can do as they please, even when it is violent. It leads survivors of abuse to believe that they’re the cause of violent assaults that may happen to them. When will we get to a place that doesn’t demand certain behaviours from us simply because of what’s between our legs?

MOVING FORWARD

We are vast, creative and powerful as human beings – so why attempt to box us into ‘male’ and ‘female’? Worse yet, why use those very boxes to determine our actions?

How do we go forward and challenge this? We’re aware of the fact that gender identity doesn’t exist in binaries, that gender isn’t pre-determined as well as the fact that gender roles are merely boxes rather than the reality of how we choose to express ourselves, make decisions and live our lives the way we choose to. We shouldn’t be gendering certain characteristics – being kind and loving and gentle isn’t just for girls and being strong, intelligent and free-willed isn’t just for boys.

These are the things that create conditions of violence and enable silence. We need to understand and pass on the knowledge that colours aren’t gendered, neither are jobs, clothes or toys. By exploring our own gender expressions and experimenting without boxing ourselves we could be well on the way to a huge shift.

It is up to each person to decide how they want to identify and express themselves. What we need is to allow people the chance to explore themselves outside of the pink and blue boxes, regardless of their sex.

  • Peliwe Mnguni

    Uwow….Sizele kodwa bafazi. Young women, our daughters, are taking the gender discourse to higher and higher levels. Cc Phethiwe Matutu Lulu Gwagwa Mimi Geleba Ntomboxolo Bikitsha (as we continue *that* conversation)! Lulu pls forward to Judy….