i) Normative narratives
Normal narratives about gender often cause restrictions to both male and female. I have noticed that there is a very distinct normal narrative that women are seen as “not good enough” compared to men in many situations or activities. In Damara’s self-story, she explains about a time when she felt that she was incapable of doing the same things as males do because of fear of being hurt. “What I took away from that day was that I realized I couldn’t keep up with the boys anymore. I had come to realize that I had a gender, and I could no longer do the same things the boys could do. I was finally socialized into one category. A category that led me to believe girls don’t play sports where they can get hurt” (Damara). In Damara’s story, she is performing the common rebuttal that she was socialized into believing the girls are weak and fragile. I can relate to Damara’s story because I have always believed that girls can do anything boys can do. However, I would most likely think twice about joining a boy’s football team or taking a class with all males. I think this is because I have been told my whole life that although I can achieve anything I put my mind to but I will always have limitations because of my gender. My parents would be the first ones to steer me away from joining a boy’s sport because of fear of injury, even though I am perhaps stronger and more determined than individuals on that team. This all relates back to the ideology that women are fragile and unaccomplished compared to males. Hannah’s self-story also supports this normal narrative. In Hannah’s self-story she talks about how she couldn’t understand why males and females couldn’t play hockey together. “Once I asked the coach “why are there no boys on the team?” he looked at me and said that “girls and boys don’t play hockey together” It was not until after this moment that I realized boys and girls are different and that we will always be different” (Hannah). Hannah’s story underlines that they don’t allow women and men to play hockey together because of differing abilities. “There is often a lack of support for ‘girls’ sports in schools, and even when there is funding for girls, the broader culture reinforces the idea that’s girls’ sports are not as valuable since girls in sports don’t go anywhere in terms of professional leagues” (Sensoy & DiAngelo p.85) and when women are given the opportunity to play sports it is often sexualized, for example, lingerie football. These stories, as well as my own story, all share the normal narrative that women are inadequate.
I easily relate to my classmates self-stories. I know that feeling of disappointment that you cannot do something not based on talent, strive or courage but instead based on gender which is permanent and unable to change. In my self-story about gender, I explain a situation in my life when I was told I was not good enough to do my job because of my gender. “A customer had entered my oil change shop and told me that she would not allow me to work on her vehicle because needed someone with more experience. I told her I was the most experienced working that night to which she replied, “I want anyone but you to touch my vehicle” (Kacie). This customer believed that as a female I was not as physically able to perform my job as well as my male coworkers could. This normal narrative often comes from media as well as peers and figures in women’s lives supporting this narrative. In FAQ: What is “sexism”? The author, Tekenji, describes how gender roles are often seen as “images of cartoon-like villains proclaiming, “Men are stronger and more intelligent than women!” or “A woman’s place is in the home, barefoot and pregnant!” (Tenkenji). These common ideas of gender portrayed by the media support this narrative that women are “not good enough” or less than men. This idea also comes from everyday encounters such as specific jobs designated for women that are looked at as being “easier” or separate male/female sports teams and groups. This narrative illustrates that women are not good enough which steers women away from certain activities and situations. The story reproduces that if you are female and incapable of doing something it is ok because you are female and that is why you are not able. It paints a picture for many women that no matter how hard you try to work at something you will never be as good as a male so there is no point in trying. All of these stories result in females questioning their abilities because of their gender and reproduces the narrative that females are incapable.
ii) Creating counter-stories: Disrupting normative narratives
In CBC’s documentary, The Gender Trap, Cordelia Fine, associate professor at the center for ethical leadership at the University of Melbourne Australia, states that, “gender stereotypes are the invisible hand that guides us in terms of what we already expect to see and often what we expect to see we then believe is fixed and never-changing” (O’Connell). These gender stereotypes then turn into normal narratives that influence our everyday lives. I find these expectations to be quite upsetting. In my job, I am very familiar with this feeling of being discriminated because of my gender. I have learned to accept the fact that I stand out at my job because of my social position and because of this I am vulnerable to discrimination. However, I am proud that every day I perform an act that is counter to the ‘norm’ of my gender and I hope I can be an inspiration for other women to challenge those norms and act opposing them. Throughout the years I have had many customers and coworkers express to me how awesome it is to see a girl in an industry typically dominated by males. I have had numerous women come into my shop and tell me I inspire them to break gender boundaries and there is nothing that feels better.
Although there is a normal narrative that women aren’t “good enough” compared to men, there are lots of situations and opposing normal narratives where this narrative is proven to be wrong. Another example of this is in Cassandra’s self-story. She explains about a time when she was playing football on a boy’s team. “My team respected me and did not underestimate my abilities on the field on based the fact that I am a girl” (Cassandra). Cassandra’s story made me feel proud and happy. Cassandra’s story is a perfect example of a women proving that she can play sports with males. She is breaking the common rebuttal that we tell ourselves that women are just too fragile and we don’t want them to get hurt in male sports. To see a situation where a girl was given the opportunity to be on the same field of her male counterparts is quite incredible. In Is everyone really equal? An introduction to key concepts in Social Justice Education, Sensoy and DiAneglo state that “many people cite sports as now open to women” (Sensoy & DiAneglo, 2012, p.84). I feel that the improvements for women in sports have been great but there is so much more we can do to end this normal narrative. The popularity of women in sports is also increasing and statistics have shown that “society’s interest in women athletes increases during the Olympics” (Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2012, p.85). Females breaking these narratives are taking one step forward to ending degrading stereotypes, expectations and mindsets about gender.
I want to resist the normal narrative that females are inadequate as the norm. Although sports are emphasized when discussing sexism between women and men, other activities and jobs also have narratives that conflict the common narrative that women aren’t good enough. Nowadays there are many women in careers often dominated by men such as police officers, engineering, construction and mechanics. All of these stories of women excelling help to silence the normal narrative that women are incapable. There have been large improvements in society to distribute this narrative, but how much has really been done? Is there more we can do? Women now have to right to vote and other equal rights in the law, but are still looked down upon for playing guys football or being a mechanic. If we begin to undo gender by disrupting categories that women and men are expected to be in, we can create a world that is more accepting and open-ended. I want to make it my own personal goal to not discriminate based on gender. I can do this by resisting the normal narrative that women are incapable. To do this I want to start recognizing women breaking this narrative and stop categorizing by gender in my mind in regards to sports, careers, strength and so on, By resisting the normal narrative that women are “not good enough” we can put a stop to negative expectations, stereotypes and beliefs that restrict all genders.
Sensoy & DiAngelo (2012) Is everyone really equal? An introduction to key concepts in Social Justice Education. New York: Teachers College Press.