What should – or should not – girls do?
When I was growing up in South Africa in the 1970s, there were all sorts of sayings that were taken as given, no questions asked. A girl should always wait for a boy to ask her out. A lady should always wait for a gentleman to open a door for her. And then there all the things that nice girls shouldn’t do:
Nice girls shouldn’t contradict men.
Nice girls shouldn’t betray any interest in finance, science, the economy, sport or cars (especially cars!).
Nice girls shouldn’t have sex before marriage (or if they do they should definitely marry that man).
Nice girls shouldn’t have a career. (Yes, really – but this was South Africa).
Basically, girls should be seen and not heard. Gosh what a long time ago that now seems! Thank goodness.
I thought I’d discarded all this advice, but it’s amazing how insidious it is. You only realise you hold a certain assumption when something brings you up short. For example, someone recently referred to a young man as a ‘man- hoor’ (man-whore). It made me laugh out loud because it was so unexpected. Why? Because we know that girls who sleep around are whores and men who sleep around are … well, now I know they are man-whores. Unfortunately when I was younger we didn’t have a word for it, because it was completely acceptable for men to do that.
We do have different expectations of girls and boys. And that’s fine, if it because that particular individual is different from another particular individual – because we are all different. But it’s NOT fine if it’s based on an assumption around gender. Obviously, boys shouldn’t be restricted by sterotypes either, but it’s girls I am most concerned about.
So what do I think girls should do? The answer to that, really is – anything! Girls should decide what they want to do, and do it. The result might not be what they expected or wanted, but that’s fine. Even mistakes take us forward. We learn from them. If we don’t try anything we won’t achieve anything. And it’s far better to learn from your mistakes than make mistakes based on other people’s advice.
And, finally, here are a few examples which show girls (and women) really are capable of absolutely anything:
- In July 1967 Jocelyn Bell Burnell discovered evidence for the first known radio pulsar, which resulted in the 1974 Nobel Prize in Physics for her supervisor (hmm, she didn’t get the prize – but that was the 1960s)
- J. K. Rowling is the highest-selling author of a book series, ever!
- Jane Goodall is a British primatologist considered to be the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees.
- All three leaders of the biggest political parties in the Scottish Parliament are female: Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Kezia Dugdale (Labour) and Ruth Davidson (Conservative).
- Astronomer Andrea Ghez received a MacArthur “genius grant” in 2008 for her work in surmounting the limitations of earthbound telescopes.
I could keep going, but I’m sure you’ve had enough of me now so I won’t. A good girl should always know when she’s said enough.