I don't deal well with large crowds and shopping centres. Standing in the middle of this particular crowd of angry Saturday shoppers, I decided I needed to seek refuge within the calming confines of a nearby refreshment stand. In a moment of madness, I told my Mum in a fit of frustration that I had to leave - I told her to call me when she was done and with that, I swept away into the night without a trace.
A few weeks ago, I attended a talk by Everyday Sexism's Laura Bates at my university's Students' Union - Laura is a phenomenal public speaker, and her talk really resonated with me. After all, having been raised in a non-traditional family whereby my Mother successfully juggled the demands of both a successful career in and the set of responsibilities as a Mother, the realisation of just how widespread sexism is came as quite a shock when I entered into the adult world and began to look more closely at the world around me. In the past, I've written articles defending 'LAD' culture - now, I actively oppose it. After all, seeing that my Mother's position as both a strong, independent career woman and a Mother as the anomaly, not the norm, shocked me into recognising that our societal ideas of how gender roles should be run far deeper than I'd been led to believe. Now, as a twenty-one year old male I'm interested in, and actively seeking to educate myself more about, the debates surrounding gender equality and sexism in the world around me, and my brief time listening to Laura only propelled me more to question, and challenge things around me that didn't sit well with my beliefs of what is right and wrong.
Anyhow, as I left the painfully busy store, I dashed straight to the nearest refreshment stand to find a beverage to quench my thirst. On arrival at the counter, I ordered my go-to treat drink - a strawberry milkshake, before progressing to the area whereby customers can pick up their orders. In this waiting area was a strategically placed publication that detailed the other products that the company offered. I took a cursory glance at the publication, landing on their cupcakes selection. There, to my surprise, I saw the sections: 'Cupcakes for Girls', 'Cupcakes for Boys', 'Cupcakes for Ladies' and Cupcakes for Men'. A few years ago, this would not have made me look twice. After all, I'd been raised within a societal framework that had, from the earliest possible moments, placed me at odds with what was expected of me in terms of the traditional male gendered role. Boys were supposed to play football and enjoy action men - I played netball (quite awfully, I may add) and enjoyed playing with my toy kitchen. As a young boy, I also enjoyed listening to the Spice Girls and consuming bright pink strawberry milkshakes. Whilst my somewhat forward thinking parents didn't really bat an eyelid, less accepting parents would have sooner forced me onto a football field kicking and screaming than allow me to truly enjoy the leisure pursuits I enjoyed. From the earliest possible moments of a young child's life, we are put into two, undisputed categories - the pink, fluffy accessories for baby girls and the blue counterparts for boys. So normalised is this practice that it doesn't even seem odd to most to take a innocent, newborn human and shower it with accessories and toys that are specifically geared towards what society wants them to eventually be like. The most shocking thing of all is that it is everywhere - from the blue or pink 'baby boy/girl on board' car signs, to the widespread acknowledgement amongst most toy shop chains that whilst girls must enjoy spending their childhoods playing with dolls and cooking pretend meals in the kitchen, boys should prepare to be manly through the enjoyment of cars and action figures.
As I walked away from the stand, enjoying my pink beverage, I got to thinking about everything I could see that was gendered unnecessarily, and from then on in I couldn't un-see it. It was everywhere - from the advertisement billboards to the outfits that shop assistants were required to wear in the workplace and so much more. This would all be humorous as a result of its' archaic stupidity if it were not for the grave and depressing consequences of such a values system - a values system that led just last week to national newspapers reporting on a five year old boy being banned from his after-school club for wanting to wear princess dresses. Not only was it frightfully mean, it also stood as yet another example of our rigid, traditional gender roles causing unnecessary distress.
Whilst my formative years as a teenager had been fun and enjoyable, some of the most ruthless bullying I'd experienced in my younger years came from others who simply couldn't understand my inability to excel at traditionally masculine pursuits. I couldn't play Rugby, or feign an interest in Football whilst hanging out with some of 'the lads'. Looking back on it now, I wish I'd simply explained that everyone is different and that, in turn, is what makes us unique. At the time however I was too wrapped up in my own dislike of myself to argue back. Looking back, my bewilderment that to be called 'girly' was an insult is still as strong as ever. Clearly, it is time to make a conscious effort to abandon these archaic understandings of traditional gender roles and the ritualistic practicing of gender stereotyping on such a widespread level. Encouraging others to be true to themselves should be our top aim as a society.