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Growing Up Female

    Some argue that men and women have inherent differences - whether described as physical or genetic. However, a lot of the differences between men and women in general are taught to us by society, by all of the people and things that influence us daily.
    When women are born, they are given pink dresses and bows in their hair. Little boys are given light blue jumpers. Even when they are infants, even if other adults can’t tell what the sex of the child, this is done - precisely to insure that the rest of the world will know what the sex of the child is. As they are raised, they are given toys to play with - girls the infamous Barbie, and boys the popular G.I. Joe. Girls progress to baby dolls they can dress and feed and burp, with accessories such as baby bottles, strollers and blankets. Boys progress to model cars and trucks, then on to guns and weapons, then the prized bicycle, then sports equipment, then building and erector sets.
    As they grow, parents decide what clothes the children will wear, and what their hair will look like, and what toys they will play with, and how they will go about playing. Girls are clothed in little dresses, fully equipped with tights and buckled shoes, and are given little bows to hold back their longer, more cumbersome hair. They are encouraged to have a best friend to stay in the house with, to play house with, to play quietly with, to put make-up on, and to maintain a one-on-one, more intimate relationship. They role-play, and even in their play define roles for themselves - or at least define that there are roles that exist in the world.
    As boys grow they are encouraged to go outdoors, to be rowdy, to find new friends, explore boundaries, play sports where they learn cooperation and competition, and even learn to battle in play fights. They are dressed in comfortable pants and t-shirts and athletic sneakers. Their hair is short and manageable. They learn to get dirty. They learn to win. They learn to lead other boys in play - larger numbers of children than women are accustomed to dealing with.
    Each sex interacts with other children of primarily the same sex, but these same-sex children have been taught like them to do the things their sex is supposed to do. They reinforce the behavior of other children - the behavior taught to them from their parents, their siblings, their toys, their television, their movies, their fairy tales. Each sex learns about interactions with others, but they learn entirely different things. The traits each sex take from these experiences are vastly different from the traits of the other sex.
    Girls learn the importance of intimacy and trust, fostered by their female best friend. They learn not to be rowdy - they learn a more sedentary form of play. They learn the value of taking care of others. They learn to pretend and role-play the position of mother. They learn the value of their physical looks. They learn from their physical idol - the Barbie doll. If Barbie was a real woman, at 5' 10" her measurements would be 38, 18, 32, and she would weigh 110 pounds - an almost unattainable figure at best.
    Boys learn the importance of working with other people toward a common goal. They learn to get along with a large number of people. They learn to win - they learn the American notion of competition, and they also learn the harder lesson of not trusting others, especially when other children are working toward the same goal as they are. They learn to explore new things and not be afraid. They learn to stretch themselves physically. They learn to work toward their goals. They learn about pain, about losing, and about winning. And although boys do not necessarily gain close relationships in the same way girls do, they gain a common bond between other boys - any and all boys that can jump in and join the game with them.
    Some of the values both sexes take from their childhood are valuable - in fact, most of the traits taught to both sexes are admirable. However, it is important to remember three things:
    1. Both sets of traits are particularly one-sided. One learns the value of competition, but doesn’t learn how to interact on a personal level. The other learns deep trust, which can be detrimental when in a battle, such as a sport. One learns to build and create, but not interact. The other learns to imagine, but only on the level of interaction with a significant other.
    2. These differences are taught to us, given to us, by our parents, commercials on television, by other friends we meet, by our siblings, by the colors that surround us, by the toys given to us, by our idols from out toys - from the likes of Barbie and G.I. Joe, by our cartoon role models, by our clothing purchased for us. Boys are expected to go outside to play and get dirty. Girls are expected to keep their pretty clothes clean, even if they were comfortable in their dress, tights and patent leather shoes to go outside and play.
    There may by genetic or physical differences between the sexes, there may not be. I won’t even address that point; it is irrelevant. The differences that are present in the values the sexes distinctively possess are not exclusive to any one sex. They are taught to us by male and female role models everywhere in our society. They are imposed on us from the day we are born to long after we are adults.
    3. These two separate sets of traits, when placed with each other, one on one, face to face, are suddenly in great conflict.
    First of all, boys are taught to hate girls, and girls are taught to hate boys. Girls are taught to trust and develop an intimate relationship, boys are taught not to get close, but to win, whatever the cost.
    As they grow up, the woman looks for a long-term relationship, the man looks for sex. The woman is taught to keep sex from the man, and the man is taught to feign a relationship to gain sex. The woman is taught to trust, the man is taught to use that trust against her.


    It is a power that society influences over each and every one of us. It is a power that each and every one of us as members of society play into and reinforce in each other, as well as teach to our children. It is taught, shown to us by ads in magazines, by commercials, by children’s toys and clothes, by the way girls associate with their mommy and boys disassociate from their mommy and run to daddy. It is evident by the way women are taught to make themselves look beautiful while men are taught to look rugged. By the want women are calming and men are forceful.
    It is taught to us and perpetuated in this society by everyone in it that accepts it - women as well as men. Our mothers teach us this as well as our fathers.
    But it is taught to us.
    And these separations of personalities are not specifically inherent (genetically) to one sex or another - they have been arbitrarily placed in these positions because they worked for so long in keeping the sexes separated. And although women are making changes toward being more equal in this society, they are fighting not only against a work place that may not react to her so kindly, but they are fighting against everything they have been taught, against all the forces that have influenced them in the past.
    And when some women do succeed in making these changes, they are looked upon by some (male and female) as strange because they do not possess what this society considers “normal” traits for a woman.
    The problem is not with the people in this society. They are doing only what is expected of them, what has always worked in the past. That is to be expected. The problem is with what the society as a whole accepts as normal. They are created roles which further drive the sexes apart.
    Only when we notice these things can we understand why we have been raised to differently, why there is so much conflict between the sexes. And only when we notice these things can we learn to accept that there are other choices for how to raise our children, and how we ourselves should live.

Copyright Janet Kuypers.
All rights reserved. No material
may be reprinted without express permission.

Blister and Burn, Janet Kuypers 2007 book the book The Average Guys Guide (to Feminism)