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“Don’t be a girl”

The words we use are powerful.

I went for a hike through a lovely part of Bowral. About 40 mins into our walk we came to a tricky part of the trail and seeing a family coming the other way we stopped to let them pass. Two girls, around the age of 5 and 7, bounded over the rocks with their mother, full of energy and clearly having fun. We heard more voices so waited a moment and around the corner came their little brother, about 4 years old, and their father.

The little boy had been walking quite a while at this point and the section he was now descending was rocky and a bit tricky for little legs. Anyone that has gone bushwalking with small kids will be unsurprised to hear that he started to cry a little. His father was not a rough or unkind man but he also wasn’t happy with his son’s fear and whinging so he said to him

“Come on, it’s only a few rocks, not hard.”

 He then smiled and said “Don’t be a big girl.”

 The boy started to cry and replied to his father that he was  “Not a girl!!”

I was speechless.

With such a simple, even throw away phrase, his son heard a very destructive message; that it is not ok for boys to feel fear or to cry,  and that girls are weak and helpless. His daughters heard this too. That they are not strong or capable. 

Language matters. Words are powerful. Why are we still using phrases like this?

We need to do better. We need to use language that sets a foundation for gender equality and for old stereotypes to be just that, old and outdated. 

Otherwise, we will continue to reinforce the idea that to be tough and strong is a man’s role and to be caring and vulnerable is a women’s role. These qualities are not gender specific; they are human. To be allowed to express all of them, without judgement, is vital for our mental health. 

It is outdated to label either sex as only capable of one set of qualities, and it is destructive to place a higher value on one quality over the other. 

We need to remove the idea that being tough is winning and being vulnerable is losing.

Look at how we value the many vital roles that make our society thrive. Awards for careers in teaching and nursing, traditionally female roles, are so out of balance with traditional male roles like finance and law.  We need to address this imbalance and the idea that some qualities are “less” valuable than others.

We need to teach our kids that all emotions and characteristics are valid.  That “Being a girl” or “Being a boy” is equally cool.

Today is International Women’s Day and it is a day to celebrate women and to shine a light on the continued inequality between the sexes across the world.

Gender parity is not just for women, it’s for everyone. It’s for girls and boys, women and men, and we will all reap the benefits of a society where reference to a “girl’s blouse” or a “boy’s shirt” is just a reference to fashion.

Sinead Roberts.

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