About a week ago, I was involved in what you could call an argument about the importance and significance of gender roles in our society and in the feminist fight towards equality and justice for both genders. Many feelings and thoughts were shared, including the opinions that gender roles should not be at the top of the list of gender inequality issues in specifically my feminist agenda because there are more important issues to be dealt with. The classification of a toy as “for boys” or “for girls” did not seem for many to be an actually important issue to be talked about in our community.
First of all, before I even start delving into the topic of how much I have started to detest the whole argument of “don’t talk about these issues that quite obviously bother you and cause you a lot of pain because I think there are things that you should be more preoccupied with”, I’m going to say that when these people (as well as the numerous people in the past who have made the same remarks) started debating the point that gender roles are not important, or justified, or do not have any significant effect on anyone in our society and therefore should be left alone, I was at somewhat loss of what to say because I could not see where these people were coming from or why they thought this way. It seemed pretty obvious to me why gender roles were a problem in our society. And the more I pondered this thought, the more I started to realize that gender roles were even more substantial than even I thought them to be. In fact, I was able to connect the whole problem of gender roles or stereotypes to almost every sexist or gender inequality issue.
Here is an example: I assume everyone who is reading this post has heard or read of what the lovely Turkish president has said about womyn being unequal to men. If not, to summarize it briefly, President Erdogan had stated that womyn are unequal to men because of the “fact” that they are less strong, more delicate, and have different qualities in general. He also said, “You cannot bring women and men into equal positions; that is against nature because their nature is different”. Their nature is different. In other words, the way they are, the qualities they consist of, are different; those of the womyn being inferior. What is this based on, you may wonder?
The answer is gender roles. Gender identity. The way society and years (and years AND years) of sexist socialization and existence of the human species, years and years and years of sexism breeding sexism. Our perception of how womyn and men “should be” in accordance with their gender; i.e. men should be tough, strong, unemotional, loud, interested in cars and violence, whereas womyn should be reserved, quiet, delicate, sweet, frequently emotional, interested in dolls and knitting. Or whatever. We have been able to modernize these interests — turning knitting into make up into fashion into paper dolls into Barbies into Zaatar w Zeit’s Little Pet Shop toys that come with their Kid’s Meal. Turning cars into toy guns into action figures into racing car or murder video games.
Toys being customized by gender ensures that every little boy and girl will be exposed to these gender roles that they are going to have to fit into — that it is natural for these little girls to be interested in ponies while the boys get a toy car. And later getting exposed to these gender roles through other forms; girls seeing themselves being depicted as sex objects in music videos and boys seeing themselves as the controller, the perpetrator, the tough muscly guy who stands in a room full of naked girls flexing his tough muscles because he is a strong man who stands above all these naked womyn because he is the commander, the dominant. And these are the messages that girls and boys are getting from these toys and these videos and these advertisements. We are all getting them every day. We are all exposed to them. It doesn’t matter if you think they’ve had no effect on you — they have. Especially if you think that there is no such thing as gender roles or that they cause no problem or issue of inequality in our society.
Gender identity is a lie. It is a myth that we have been fed since our birth, that our parents have been fed since theirs, and it goes back to our ancestors’ ancestors, this sexist gender specification of who we are supposed to be. The truth is, there is no science book and not even a tiny shred of evidence on the face of this earth (or any other planet, at that) that tells us that there are a set of qualities that womyn are born with and specific qualities that men are born with and that this is how we are supposed to be. Scientifically, THEOLOGICALLY, any -ically that you want, there is no difference that divides us besides the state of our sexual organs. Nothing about our identity as aperson is determined by our gender. Our interests, the volume of our voices, our sensitivity, etc… these are all qualities that are formed through our experiences or because of who we are as a person — not as a gender. And that is why gender roles are dangerous. Because they lead us all to believe that we are forced to act or be a certain way because of our respective gender. Because they lead certain people, like Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to genuinely and completely believe that womyn deserve unequal rights to men because they have qualities that are inferior to those of men — qualities that are formed on the basis of his belief in gender roles and the so-called identity that we are all born with that comes in accordance with our gender. Gender roles are dangerous because they limit all of us, and not just in our heads and in our personal perception of who we are and how we must be, but in the fact that people who are in power can choose to depreciate our opportunities and choices in life because of their belief that womyn are weak or men are unemotional.
And that’s why, when I see toys in a toy-store or Kinder eggs with blue letters spelling out “FOR BOYS” written on the top of them, I get angry and repulsed and decide to start a campaign against gender stereotypes, or gender roles. Because I know that as a kid, I myself was affected by these things. I remember my cousin showing me his notebook in which there was a blue colored page for boys to write in and a pink colored page for girls to write in, and thinking that my favorite color was blue but for some reason girls had to like pink, and being confused. Or being told that I scream like a boy and it was weird. And being such a complete — for want of a better word — tomboy, that a deep, bitter hatred of my gender started brewing somewhere deep in my stomach because I saw boys as better: not weak and just pink like society had depicted the female gender for me.
Because although I was brought up by parents who did not believe that my gender had anything to do with who I was as a person, who did not limit me in anything I did because it was “boyish” and not “ladylike”, and who made me realize that there was no such thing as “for boys”, I know for a fact that there are countless parents around the world who do not bring up their children this way. That many children will grow up with this fixed idea of who they must be and how they must fit into this world and what their capabilities are, and yes, it will be because of a McDonald’s Kid’s Meal customized toy, or because of seeing a chocolate egg with the blue words For Boys on its head, or because of an advertisement or picture book or TV show. There will be kids who will be taught about who they must be as a person through the barriers we have formed for each specific gender. So yes, seeing a blue or pink Kinder egg — that makes me mad. And it should make you mad too.
But if it doesn’t, no big deal. I don’t go around telling other people what they must fight for or regard as important, although it is clear that there are many people who think of it as their higher duty to do so to me.