By Catherine Chmiel, 11th Grade Student at Sacred Heart Greenwich
Before I could even understand the different connotations intertwined with each gender, female stereotypes inadvertently encompassed me. Our sex is one aspect of our lives that is entirely out of our control, yet this fundamental characteristic seems to shape our identity substantially. Because I am a girl, certain clothes, toys, comments, and notions surrounded me. For example, when I was six years old, my aunt and uncle bought me a new Barbie doll as a gift for Christmas. I had already explained to family that I wanted a new scooter, more Legos, puzzles, or remote control helicopter for Christmas, but my family assumed that I, as a young girl, must want new Barbie. After witnessing how my excitement faltered after unwrapping the paper, they preceded to tell me about how this Barbie came with different shoes, outfits, and accessories. But my opinion was unfaltering; I threw the Barbie on down and stormed off upstairs to continue working on the massive Lego city I was building in my bedroom. My frustration did not stem from being an irrational six-year-old, but rather from a feeling that I was being misunderstood and judged based on others’ standards. I began to believe that there must have been a problem with me; why did I not fit into the stereotypes that were going follow me for my entire life?
At first, naming the worst problem contemporary women face appears difficult. After all, we live in a society are women are paid less for the same job, valued more for their looks than their character or accomplishments, abused, raped and so on. All these issues, however, result from one central struggle each woman has endured for age−−negative female stereotypes. In today’s society, this means that women are perceived as weak-minded, inferior, and essentially objects that need a man’s help to function. Women are associated with domestic duties, the color pink, makeup, shopping, and Barbie dolls. Magazine headlines revolve around female celebrities’ relationships and appearances rather than female politicians, CEOS, and businesswomen.
Nevertheless, focusing solely on stereotypes can be detrimental, as women are affected by these notions and will begin to believe their abilities are limited to these stereotypes. People will believe that the female sex is inherently weaker. This causes girls to believe that they are not as smart, as accomplished, or as deserving as their male counterparts in the classroom and later on in the workplace. Hence, these girls not demonstrate the same ambition and instead act according to the stereotypes, masking the individual characteristics that set them apart from one another. We will lose our female scientists, engineers, business executives and congresswomen. Most importantly, however, our society will lose the power in the everyday woman, who works to challenge all adversity to prove herself in an environment that regard her as second-rate because of her gender.
In the end, the only way to challenge feminine stereotypes is to break them. I refuse to pretend to enjoy certain clothes and makeup because some people believe I should, as a teenage girl. I will have faith in capabilities and act as an individual. Ultimately, I can wear pink clothing and love science, and I can wear makeup and have my own political ideas. Women are not limited to certain standards because of their gender; human beings are multifaceted and each person must cultivate their own sense of self. By breaking limited ideas of what a women should be, I can change the people’s minds around me. In fact, my actions prove their preconceived notions as false. Already, I take two advanced science courses, but still enjoy clothes shopping with friends. I have a younger sister, I have younger female cousins, and one day, I hope to have a daughter of my own. I have a duty not only to myself but to the next generation of powerful young women to break society’s limits, take agency, and achieve success. In turn, they can have faith in themselves and break the stereotypes as well.
This blog post was an entry into Young Women Rising’s annual essay contest in which 11th grade students were asked, “What is one of the most important issues facing young women today and how do you see yourself having an impact on that issue?”