“One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
For me, this quote by Simone de Beauvoir summarizes one of the topics that has been under discussion recently in Portuguese public opinion.
Long story short: Porto Editora, one of the main portuguese schoolbooks publishers that, year after year, integrate the National Reading Plan, decided to sell two versions of a children’s free time book activities. These two versions aren’t a level 1 and 2 exercises but rather two versions: one created for “boys” and one created for “girls”, in blue and in pink respectively, and with reference to different themes. Later on, Porto Editora, accepted the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality’s recommendation and the books in question were withdrawn from the points of sale.
Now, the truth is that we live in a patriarchal and sexist society, where gender stereotypes are perpetuated daily. If, the fight against wage inequality between women and men and the fight against violence against men (and vice versa) are accepted by a large part of the population as “just and important” struggles for us to achieve gender equality, this no longer happens with the paranoia of wanting to know the sex of the baby before it is born – in order to be able to decorate the bedroom, buy clothes and toys – and wanting to know the sex of the child when he/she walks on the street, when he/she goes to school, when he/she reads books and when he/she chooses a profession.
Gender is cultural and social constructed. It is from birth, (and now, a long time before birth) that the child begins to have his/her destiny traced. Starting from a binary and normative analysis (mea culpa), here it is a glimpse of what it is to be a man and what it is to be a woman:
– Male babies wear blue and will never wear pink – and many times, it’s only some aspects for them to be confused with female babies; their bedroom are decorated in blue and the toys are blue or in shades of the same “family”; boys at a certain age, begin to realize they cannot cry, cannot be emotional, they have to play with each other and not with girls; the boys play outside (being home, by “nature”, is the rightful place for the girls): they play ball, run, climb trees. If handsome since the first months of life, they’ll be a danger for girls (it is no longer sufficient to say that our and other’s progenies’ will be a danger to the future women, as they also be heterosexual. Even, from an early age, they all fall into heteronormativity). Early on, they perceive and internalize – that if they want to avenge themselves nowadays, they must be strong, devoid of emotions and manly; and that no feminine trait follows them!
– Female babies wear pink, they’ll have the bedroom decorated with pink and their toys will be pink. From a certain age, they’ll be dressed in frills, dresses and ribbons and dolls will be given to them – which they will have to take care of as if they were their own children – with cooking pots and irons. They play houses between them – and not with boys – and they stay at home. If they are beautiful, they will give a hard time to their fathers – because it is to the family male, the element of authority, whom must’ve to respond with respect. From an early age, they’ll perceive and internalize that they must be reserved, that they cannot speak loudly or banter and that they came to the world to take care of others. They came into this world to be beautiful and modest and stay at home. Up to a good age, they’re called girls, in an almost perpetual infantilization of what it is to be a woman.
Fortunately, not everything is so black and white and many of the things mentioned above are no longer practiced in many nuclear families. However, these are small bubbles in a society still completely asleep and drowned in sexism and machismo, a trait normalized and perpetuated by media.
Effectively, we are still very distant of achieving true gender equality, acceptance of all as human beings, owners of the same rights, regardless of our physiology, gender identity, race or social class.
It might not be a bad idea to stop categorizing and ranking fights. We can act on several fronts. Questioning and criticizing deeply stereotyped gender roles can go hand in hand with oppose gender-based violence, the objectification and sexualization of women and homophobia. In the end – and at the beginning of everything – this is the matter’s source.
BONUS: The title of this article is a small adaptation of two verses of “Triste, Louca e Má” lyrics, a song by Francisco, El Hombre. You can listen to it here.
This post was originally written in Portuguese. Click here for the original text.
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