If I ask you to define an ideal man, you'd probably say that an ideal man is strong, he has muscles and a beard. He is smart and educated. On the other hand, an ideal woman is pretty, petite, gentle and caring. And, quintessentially good, whatever that means.
We generously use words like 'good girl' and 'good boy' when children do something we have asked them to do. The use of this adjective seems harmless to us, because it is used as an approval, a validation.
We don’t need academic studies to prove this, but just because I wanted to substantiate my point, allow me to quote a study conducted by Princeton University, which says that the adjectives related to gender roles have a huge impact on the way we behave, think, act or conduct ourselves on a daily basis. These adjectives lead to ideas and set rules for us, ultimately contributing to stereotypes and gender roles.
So, if children are asked to be ‘good’, it is bound to make them pick up roles and choices that will appease the world around them. Even if these choices go against their basic nature.
It is like carrying an invisible box around you that is covered with mirrors on all four sides. These are the mirrors created by the society, and what we see of ourselves in there is merely a reflection of the world around us. Even though these norms have shaped us into who we are today and have by and large clouded our true identities, the silver lining is that we can break them. One by one.
This 'good child' notion, especially because I am a girl, has always intrigued me. And that is why I am rooting for this trailer of an upcoming web-series called 'The Good Girl Show':
It made me think of ways on how I, as a 22-year old girl, would want to break the stereotypes I have grown up with. We really can break the mirrors created around us and embrace our true selves and here's what I will do:
1. Stop sitting like a lady and start sitting the way I want to
"Put your knees together, angle your legs and sit up straight. Place your hands in your lap and pull the skirt towards your knees." Girls are always taught to sit a certain way, and I have HATED this all my life. I don't need to sit 'like a lady' anymore; I should be able to sit the way I like.
2. Start talking about my periods more openly
A lot of us are conditioned not to tell our fathers if we've got our periods. It makes us cringe to talk about it openly. While buying it from the chemist, we have to quietly tell the shopkeeper to give us sanitary napkins. It is a mark of our womanhood and we still hide it. The one solution to breaking every taboo related to periods is to talk about it. Talk about with your male friends or your father. If nothing, then go ahead and ask the shopkeeper for the pads in your normal tone of voice and walk out with grace, not with a black plastic bag.
3. Put my make-up on, colour my hair rainbow, or do nothing
We are often told that we are trying 'too hard' if we colour our hair, put makeup on and wear short clothes. It is our body and if putting on make-up makes us feel more confident in our skin, let's do that. If colouring our hair rainbow or green/white/pink makes us feel funky and charming, let's do that. If wearing short clothes gives us the liberty and makes us feel beautiful, let's not be afraid. And if doing none of these makes us feel good about ourselves there's no need to put it on for the society.
4. Not feel pressurised the next time I open my Instagram
Whenever I open my Instagram, I see photos of a bunch of my friends and women my age with the ideal body type- skinny and tall with perfect features.
90 percent of girls between the age of 15 to 17 years want to change their physical appearance. So did I when I was their age. And yes, it is undeniably hard to fall in love with one’s own imperfections, to appreciate your bulging stomach and the pimple on your face. But striving and even starving to achieve that perfect body is not the right thing to do. It is akin to self-harm.
5. Ride a bike. Drive an F1 car. Become a DJ. Write a poem. Be the rockstar you want to be
Us humans always look for approvals and validations from our peers and those around us, and this gives birth to the 'stereotype threat', which leads to a constant need for us to prove the stereotypes associated with us. What's even worse is that this threat occupies our working memory space.
For example, if I am learning to ride a motorbike and in my head, I have a stereotype associated with it that says that girls are supposed to be bad at riding bikes and how can my 50kg-nothing weight handle a bike’s 100 odd kgs of weight? My working memory space will be bombarded with these stereotypes leaving less available memory to learn to ride the motorbike.
Result: I will take more time to learn to even balance the bike, and will probably give up on it after a few failed attempts. Because I have always been made to believe that girls aren’t supposed to ride a bike.
Research by the University of Chicago proves that us girls underperform because of the stereotypes clouding our minds and the 'stereotype threat' pushes us to conform and be a part of the stereotypical brigade.
So now that we know that these are just illusions created by the society, it's time that we break them one by one and rediscover our true selves instead of being just a ‘good girl’.