When watching a quiz show on television a few weeks ago, a question about boxing was asked. The female contestant looked dumbfounded and was quick to respond with, “I’m a bit of a girl.” Sadly, her response didn’t surprise me. In part, because I’m absolutely certain I’ve used it myself, but also because it’s a statement that goes unchallenged in many circles. This time, however, was the first time that I noticed my shock about the implications of such a comment.
“I’m a bit of a girl” is always used as a derogatory statement. Instead of claiming our femaleness as fact and observing the strengths that we each have, the comment is used as a put-down. It becomes about what you can’t do (“You run like a girl,” or “You throw like a girl”) and prescribes a set of subjects that you shouldn’t be expected to know anything about, in the case of this quiz show. But do we ever hear men saying their equivalent? Whilst claiming our status as women is so often seen as a declaration of weakness, manhood tends to be seen as the personification of strength and capability. If you cry, “you’re a girl,” is thrown as an insult because the sensitivity that we see as a positive when caring for others becomes a put-down if seen in the opposite sex.
If someone had turned to Nicola Adams, current Olympic, Commonwealth and European Boxing Champion, and told her that her womanhood automatically rendered her incapable of success as a boxer, her life would be radically different today. Yet her sport is the same sport that the quiz contestant claimed automatic ignorance about. I’ve overheard many conversations about sports and about careers, with people claiming that they’re not “very lady-like.” But is history really the best measure of what a woman should be? Perhaps we should be looking at what a woman could be.
The vast number of options available, from being doctors to electricians, playing rugby or badminton, demonstrates the vast spectrum of talents seen amongst men, surely showing that gender has very little to do with what we’re gifted at or what we enjoy. Opportunities, no doubt, are far more scarce for women in certain fields, beginning at school when PE lessons are divided into “girl” or “boy” sports. Only 9% of engineeringprofessionals in the UK are female, helped by 80% of Physics A-level students being male. This is despite there being no reason, biologically, why women can’t pursue this career path.
What we stereotype as being the male domain is kept off-limits, with our statements of “I’m a bit of a girl” being used as an excuse. We can’t keep succumbing to an “I shouldn’t know that” mindset and then expect to be provided with more opportunities. To confine individuals to lives guided by their x and y chromosomes, disregards the human capacity for learning and for achievement, whilst society doesn’t benefit from 50% of its inhabitants. If we, the people who so often speak of female empowerment, put ourselves down with our femaleness, we can’t expect others to do any different. It’s time to stand up and claim our place as women as the fact that it is. It’s not weakness, it’s not less. It just is.