The Gender Gap
Last Spring, Constance McMillen was barred from bringing her girlfriend to prom. The story leaked, and rightful outrage ensued. Now, in the same state of Mississippi comes another story of discrimination. Ceara Sturgis decided to wear a tuxedo in her senior portrait. The school responded by excluding her from the yearbook entirely. Two very interesting cases; the latter is an issue of basic human rights, while the latter covers the much more broad rhetorical term we call gender.
First, let me say this about yearbooks: they’re pointless. If you want to remember those times, then stay in touch with the people who meant most. 20 years down the road, you won’t care about the room you took Spanish in. And as for the submission of senior portraits–ridiculous. My high school would allow nothing besides a professional portrait. So, we overpaid for mediocre pictures. Then, there are the quotes, where seniors are asked to submit a favorite quote to be printed under their portrait. I remember my friend submitted “Murder Lunch,” and it was printed. When I asked him why that phrase, he said, “It’s just stupid. I like to make fun of the people who think they’re so deep, but use the same quote as 20 other people.”
But, back to Ceara’s case. To me, the issue of her wearing a tuxedo goes beyond sexuality and fashion choices. By wearing a tuxedo, Ceara dares to defy the norm, where girls wear pink and boys wear blue. Remember, sex is biological in terms of male/female, but gender refers to the way we act; the debate is whether it is assigned or learned. The moment a baby boy is born, we place a blue hat on him. From birth, we assign babies a gender. If they can break free of it, then good for them. Although breaking the mold isn’t easy.
I was in a Toys ‘R’ Us a few weeks ago helping a friend grab a gift for her little cousin. When I asked what the cousin liked, my friend said, “She’s a girlie girl. Anything pink.” As I wandered around the toy store, I was dumbfounded by how rigid the gender roles are for children. Even in toys, boys are being taught how to be manly and girls are raised to be “girlie girls.”
Let’s look at those toy kitchens everyone had. Of course, they’re much more modern now; some have dishwashers, and stoves that are built into the wall. More interesting is the box. Rarely will you see a boy playing in the kitchen. No, it’s usually a young girl, smiling innocently as she cooks or wash dishes. If you do happen to see a boy, take note of his position: he is usually being served the food, or on a pretend cell phone. Because the boy is supposed to grow up and work, while the girl waits at home for him.
Look at the term “girlie girl.” We as a society come up with new words and phrases to keep the definition of our roles. If a girl plays sports, she’s slapped with the label “tomboy.” Unfortunately it seems the roles for boys are more strict. I won’t forget the day a father yelled at me and my co-counselors at day camp because his son made a bead necklace in crafts. According to the father, he didn’t want his son to grow up queer.
I applaud Ceara for refusing to go home and put on a dress for her photo. It’s blatant discrimination on the school’s part. It is not a school or government’s place to assign gender. We as human beings possess that right to carve out our own identity. We as human beings should be allowed to be who we are. The key word there is “should,” because unfortunately discrimination and hate is a daily thing. But, why don’t we walk towards growth one step at a time: let Ceara wear the tuxedo. Let your son buy a barbie doll or the race cars. Let your daughter choose if she wants to be a stay-at-home mother or kick ass on the soccer field. Hell, maybe your kid can do both! We all should have a choice. It’s a freedom. And until we are able to make our choices freely, can we really call our country the land of the free?