‘Girls rule, boys drool!’

By Katie Dunne

It is a common axiom of playground life that carries through most of childhood. The dichotomy between males and females begins early in life and never really ceases to exist. Throughout grammar school, boys and girls are separated – there is a girls’ line and boys’ line, girls’ bathroom and boys’ bathroom, girls’ sports teams and boys’ sports teams. High school brings with it separate physical education classes and, for some (like me), separate campuses. Until recently, men far outnumbered women at institutions of higher education, and men still hold more upper-level positions at businesses and corporations.

Males and females are taught from a very young age to recognize and accept gender differences. We give girls Barbies, and we give boys toy trucks. Girls who play sports are labeled tomboys and boys are ridiculed for engaging in traditionally feminine pastimes.

Why does this dichotomy exist? For what reason does society separate the sexes in such an explicit manner? And what are the consequences for the daughters of our country?

The history of the United States, to a large extent, has been shaped by men. The Founding Fathers created a nation with little input from the nation’s mothers. During the 18th century, women were considered intellectually inferior and excluded from the political arena. Religion and science taught that a woman’s place was in the home. The Reverend John Todd, for example, warned in 1867 that women’s suffrage would “reverse the very laws of God.”

Though modern science affirms that a woman’s ability to learn is at least equal to that of a man, the legacy of male superiority remains. False assumptions about women’s capabilities have become ingrained in American institutions. Even today, after civil rights reform, cultural revolutions, and women’s liberation movements, it is not common to see powerful, effective women in politics.

Some continue to point to feminine nature as an explanation for women’s exclusion from the political arena, maintaining that women are inherently less capable of holding political office. They are too emotional, too compassionate, too unassertive. Others blame society for encouraging boys to be strong and girls to be passive, thereby putting females at a distinct disadvantage from a very young age. But maybe the problem lies not in women’s abilities (or lack thereof) or women’s assigned gender roles, but simply in our insistence on separating the sexes – on defining differences.

I will not deny that differences between men and women exist – genetically, anatomically, and neurologically – and there is nothing wrong with that. There is also nothing wrong with women who choose to embrace traditional gender roles and who enjoy cooking, cleaning and raising children or men who like football and the stock market. And I would never blame men, as a whole, for intentionally trying to keep women “in their place.” But we have become too accustomed to overexaggerating the differences between men and women and, as a result, women tend to get the raw end of the deal.

In “The Gendered Society,” Michael Kimmel argues there are actually more differences among women and among men than there are between women and men. Plenty of women exhibit traditionally masculine characteristics, such as aggressiveness, physical strength, and mathematical ability. Likewise, many men are emotional and nurturing and enjoy activities that are usually considered feminine.

We all recognize and understand our societal gender roles, and for the most part we accept the expectations that society has for us. But, on an individual level, very few people are completely loyal to gender stereotypes.

It is on a societal level that we overemphasize sexual distinctions, often creating more differences than actually exist. We insist on grouping according to biological sex to the detriment of individuality. The only way to achieve a political and social system where women are afforded the same opportunities as men is to start focusing on the individual rather than the man or the woman.

On the playground, that translates to: “I rule, you drool.”

Katie is a senior in Spanish and political science, and she will be graduating early.