As part of The Big Smoke’s Next Gen program, Giselle Atlas (age 13) discusses the unfair expectations that have been placed on girls since time immemorial.
Student: Giselle Atlas
Mentor: Valerie Buhajiar
Topic: Giselle (age 13) is sick of different standards being set for boys as for girls.
Ever since I was little, there have been standards set for me. How I should talk, when I should learn to walk, what grades I should get, etc. Most of these were not set by my parents, but by society. The most important and crucial standard was, of course, how I looked. In kindergarten, I was bullied for my look and that never stopped until high school. Even now, my anxiety is heightened tenfold when I have to wear a swimsuit! Girls are always taught to “look nice” which is fine … but are boys? Young boys do not have the same standard sets for them as we girls do. I could get sent home from school for my bra slightly showing, but they can swim without shirts on. Where is the line?
A little while ago, I had a haircut. (For reference, my hair is usually cut to my jawline but it grows very fast, so some are used to seeing me with my hair down to my shoulders.) I just had a few inches off the ends so I could feel comfortable and refreshed. I thought nothing else but that I looked quite nice and felt a lot more confident. But as soon as I arrived at my lockers, I was bombarded with questions and comments about my hair.
“Why is your hair short?”
“Why don’t you grow your hair?”
I don’t know … have you thought maybe it’s because I like it? I don’t get up in the morning going, “Hmm, I wonder what the boys in my grade would like to see?” I purposely got a longer skirt so I wouldn’t have people looking at my legs! I hope I don’t have to tell you why this is wrong.
In my experience, the boys I’ve dealt with at school, and elsewhere, think they have a right to comment on and objectify girls. Whether it’s straight girls who are attracted to them, straight girls who aren’t attracted to them, or lesbians who don’t want any male attention. Aside from small indie productions, it’s so hard to find any lesbian representation in the media without it being oversexualized, or unrealistic, or for men’s viewing pleasure. Have you ever seen a show displaying an innocent lesbian relationship? Exactly my point—there are hardly any.
I know of two guys in a friend of mine’s class who openly talk about how lesbians and bisexual girls are so “hot.” They said a lot more graphic things than that, but you can probably get the message. My friend, who is straight, went to their head of year to tell them about what these boys said. She told them how even she felt uncomfortable and objectified. And now these boys keep spreading rumors that are extremely untrue. Even after a stern talking-to by a teacher, these boys still continued their crusade of false rumors regarding my friend.
Kids my age joke around with saying “stop it, I don’t like it” and make fun of the phrase, when really it is so important for people of all ages.
According to an article in Psychology Today by counselor Nick Luxmoore: “Boys objectify girls because they can’t bear to feel their own fear, their own longing for intimacy, their own vulnerability and need for tenderness. They can relate to and control an object in ways they can’t relate to or control a feeling or a fear.” Do remember that this is only one point of view; others believe it is simply to do with male hormones as they grow up throughout high school.
In a world of supposed “gender equality,” the mental health of young boys is often overlooked. This applies to girls as well. Boys often look for a father figure, someone to emulate, admire, and aspire to be like. But what about boys who don’t have a father figure? Or do have one but they are abusive, or a drinker, or have mental health problems of their own? There is still this belief that boys and men have to be strong. Have to never cry. Have to be the ones who stand tall and never feel. I know even at my school boys are insulted if they show feeling. Why can’t we start to change this? Start telling your son that it is okay to feel, it’s okay to ask for help, it’s okay to cry. You can learn to deal with your feelings instead of having a constant need to turn everything into an object in your eyes.
Start teaching the rules of consent. Even something as simple as “stop it, I don’t like it” is an introduction to the rules of consent. I remember being in kindergarten when I was told to tell someone “stop it, I don’t like it” but the phrase has more or less lost all worth and meaning. Kids my age joke around with saying “stop it, I don’t like it” and make fun of the phrase, when really it is so important for people of all ages.
Looking around right now at the boys in my class I think, These boys are never going to change, and that shouldn’t be what I think. I should be thinking that one day I will be able to go out wearing a top with straps that’s slightly fitted despite the size of my chest. I have wanted to wear that top for years, but the one time I did I got many looks from boys, young and old.
But this isn’t about a top, this is about the future generations of men and women: men who know that women are more than their appearance, and women who feel safe to be women.
It’s just basic equality, my friends.
This article is part of a series for The Big Smoke Next Gen.
The Big Smoke Next Gen is a program which matches professional and experienced writers, academics, and journalists with students who wish to write nonfiction articles and voice their opinions about what is shaping the world.
For more information about our program at The Big Smoke, or to become a mentor, please contact us.