Monday, May 10, 2010

I Can Do Anything You Can Do

Growing up, I was taught to be independent. When something needed to be put together, I sat down with the instruction manual and appropriate tools and put it together. When something needed to be fixed, I did it. Since my father died when I was young, I grew up in a single parent household. My mother was much too busy working, putting herself through school and raising my younger sister and me to not raise us to be independent.

There were often times when the three of us had to do things that are stereotypically “men’s jobs,” because if we didn’t do it then it wouldn’t get done. Of course, sometimes people would comment on this but I never really thought much of it. This is not to say of course, that I didn’t have wonderful male role models in my life, because I definitely did. I am fortunate to have most of my family living very close to us. My grandfather and uncles were always there and willing to do things like take us to our Girl Scout “Me and My Guy” dance or take us fishing. My first ever time driving was with my two uncles. That being said, there is a lot in day to day life that we did ourselves.

Anyway, as I said, doing “masculine jobs” by myself has never really fazed me. I experienced this Friday, as I was moving myself out of my dorm room. It probably took me about eight trips to get everything out to my car. Partway through, I began using a sort of cart that was in the dorms, (I think it was originally for laundry). I got the idea from another group of people who was using the other one. Unfortunately, I lived on the second floor of a building without an elevator, so in order to use the cart I had to carry it up the stairs and back down the stairs once I had loaded it. This was probably not my most graceful moment ever. The cart was taller than I am, and somewhat difficult to lift, especially when it was loaded, but I managed fine. It was perhaps not the most efficient way, but it was working well for me.

Several times I was stopped by men who helped me on the stairs. Now let me say that I have no problem with people helping me. I always try to help other people whenever I have the opportunity and I always appreciate when the favor is returned. However, one thing that I did not appreciate on this day was the remarks of the people who were passing by, or the people who helped me. One man, as he walked by with presumably his daughter and wife said, “Where is your father to help you?”

Another time, when I was getting the cart down the stairs a guy stopped to help me and said, “Oh, you wouldn’t know this, but you don’t want to do that.” What the heck does he know about me and what I do and do not know? For one, he didn’t know that I had successfully maneuvered that cart up and down the stairs on three previous occasions.

Unfortunately, I tend to just get mad when people make comments like these, so rather than respond, I just keep my mouth shut because I probably would not be very nice. However these comments got me thinking about perceptions. I’m betting that if I was a male alone I would not have gotten these comments, and maybe not the help. Why is it that it feels like men have a built-in “young female without a male protector” radar? Why is it that they felt the need to “help me” and tell me what to do? I’m nineteen years old, I just completed my sophomore year of college, I have a job, and I am an intelligent female. Yet, why do men assume that I’m incapable of doing things myself?

Although I know that it is because of oppressive gender roles which state that as a female and someone who is feminine I am supposed to be weak and not know what I’m doing. But I’m most certainly not. I am someone who can and does take care of herself. I know that I am not alone in this situation. You can see examples of this in everyday life and in pop culture. For me, one example that comes to mind is in the TV show, “Sex and the City” when Miranda is buying an apartment and is asked if her father will be providing the down payment. Miranda is in her thirties and is a Harvard graduate with a successful career as a lawyer. Yet, the assumption is still made that she isn’t financially responsible for herself.

While these stereotypes are frustrating, admittedly, they probably won’t disappear overnight. So how to deal? I think the only way to get rid of these stereotypical ideals is to continually challenge them. Don’t be afraid to be your strong female self. Some people may not approve, but really, you’re never going to please everyone. Don’t make yourself feel like you can’t do something just because of your gender. Take the initiative, step out of your comfort zone, and get things done, on your own, in your own way. We explored this theme recently in our program, “Girls under the Hood,” which empowered women to learn about their cars so that they can feel comfortable doing some maintenance on their own and feel knowledgeable enough to request service when it is needed. So now is the time – get out that bookshelf that never got put together, change your oil, or learn about something that you have never felt comfortable doing before but would like to do. You won’t regret learning to do it yourself.

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