Gender Inequality: Let’s Rewind
Ellen Petry Leanse

Like the women of your story, I am amazed by the difficulty of trying to rectify the consequences of my gender training. Just yesterday I was mulling over one of my sticky memories- age three- of getting an emphatic and instant correction when I curtsied along with the girls in our circle dance.

Why did I want to curtsy? It has something to do with staying upright and looking at the other person. Bowing brings high risks because we break eye contact much longer. Curtsying is less vulnerable to nasty surprises, and much more congenial- values that might explain its assignment to women, but it is burdened with the simultaneous connotations of subservience.

I interpreted the gender norms as a cultural bargain. Men had more freedom but had to to the dirty and dangerous work. Women were highly restricted, but had more access to their feelings, had much better social skills, and could relax more fully together. I am sure today that this bargain, created for survival brings net losses for most men and women.

I studiously ignored the girls who watched the boys’ games, while noticing that some of them clearly wanted to be in the game. I didn’t like it, but I went along with the program to avoid the violence and shaming reserved for boys who let their facade of manhood crack just a little. And I took advantage of the benefits.

There were strong women around- school principals and business owners, and the one thing that stands out to me is that they didn’t allow disrespect. I often wondered who had helped them recover their agency after the awful fairy tales endured.

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