As a kid growing up in the 80s and 90s, I remember having this feeling that my being a woman was a “condition”. That it limited my abilities and my future. That it meant a lot more than a gender and it dictated the positions in life and in society that I could aspire to, and how far I could ever go (literary). This was never my own reflection, but a concept I absorbed in my early years. I observed how adults would ask little boys in the family about their girlfriends when they were just about 5 or 6 years old, and at the same time call their 17 years old daughters’ boyfriend, their “special friend” or “amiguito” (little friend). This was very confusing to me, I mean, I knew by the tone of their voice they were joking but I could not understand the joke. They were also very concerned with girls spending most of their time inside the house and boys outside, with “the men”. Girls would be expected to help around the house, and boys would be treated as heroes when they offered a hand to help. There were certain tasks that were expected from a girl and another one from boys. I really didn’t like the girls tasks. Don’t take me wrong, I see cooking as a form of art now, and I truly enjoy cooking for friends and family on special occasions, but when I was a kid I really hated the kitchen. I guess this was a result of my experiences. The whole dynamics in this area of the house were very concerning to me. If a boy or a man were in the kitchen, they were expected to get out of the way, while if a girl or a woman were there, they were expected to cook, serve the food, or clean.
I struggled a lot with these observations. What may have been jokes and ordinary comments to others were received into my little brain as bruises to my value as a human being. Never quite could understand that they were just part of a culture and not a reality. That I was not weaker than boys or needed to be cared for in a different way. That there were not sports or activities for me and a different set of them for boys. It took a while for me to grasp the concepts of culture and traditions in terms of their impact on gender. This is, of course, something we are able to understand better as we grow up. And it made harder for me to go through puberty, not that it is easy for anyone. But feeling incapacitated by a set of beliefs, that are not even yours, can be crippling.
From the concept of “Quiceanera” to the rules around dating, and even sex education in our public schools, there seems to be a strong link between culture, traditions and religion that has had a huge impact in the way we treat our girls. And even though most people would admit to have an understanding of this if asked, it is not a regular topic of discussion. We have not made it a priority, as a society, to analyze the impact of these traditions or rules. We have concentrated in opening the channels for women’s success allowing for more women to achieve higher education, enter the professional field, and take on more important roles in our society. Don’t take me wrong, I think this is all great. Yet, I can’t understand why some of most fundamental needs for a woman to be successful are still very much debated within the boundaries of culture and religion. When we do not provide our girls with a good understanding of how their body works and how to prevent pregnancy and illnesses we are showing very little respect or hopes for their future. That, is a very clear display of where the priorities of our society lie. When control is prioritized over health or education, there we find a reason to stop and think.
I remember spending a whole semester trying to learn how to draw, writing about the different types of sports, and even taking a “Domestic Economy” class once, this one for an entire year. Yes, I was formally instructed on how to cook, sew and set a formal table, yet I was never taught about fertility. Interesting how our Biology courses managed to skip that, all through high school. Understanding fertility, no sexual education, no how to use contraceptives or what the many sexual transmitted diseases are, is of outmost importance since this is an aspect of our body that takes place whether we understand it or not, whether we are ready for it or not. Hormones similarly, control many of the body functions and so affect us all in a very real way. These two topics, are as significant to women as learning how to eat or read. We deal with this every day and our knowledge about it seems to be very little by the time we hit adulthood.
And even though things have improved since I was a kid, there are still way too many issues that prevail. From the game of “shame” on women who decide to take charge and express their own sexuality, or the debated views on professional women going back to work “much too quickly” after giving birth, or even their right to have contraception medication included in the medial insurance, it seems that the achievements of the last century have had not much impact on still very important issues affecting women and thereby society. As parents is our decision whether or not we follow blindly or do our own diligent research before continuing to follow the crowds or follow traditions. The health and well being of our girls must be a priority to us all if we hope at all for a better future as a species. Even if there are things we may not been able to change overnight, the simplest act of having an open conversation about the topic and stop to analyze the things we do and say, can make a huge impact on our next generation. Gender should not be something to overcome. It is a part of us but it does not define us. Ethics don’t change, even when culture and laws may vary throughout the years, the right thing to do is always the same. Prioritizing our own education on even the most uncomfortable or unusual topics for the well being of our next generation is to show we care.
Want to fill in the gaps on the fertility and hormones knowledge missed from school education?
Taking charge of your own fertility, by Toni Weschler
Want to know more about current issues?
Women in STEM, Huffington Post articles
A bit more description about some terms?
Gender Role, Wikipedia article
Gender Equality, Wikipedia article