We are Limitless
I still remember the day before my first day of high school. Having watched many shows and movies whose premise surrounds high school, I was the least bit excited. The thought of being outcasted was running in my mind all night. What if people avoid me because they think I’m weird or nitpick my appearance? Every mainstream media about high school I watched leading up to this point has taught me being popular is the ultimate goal of high school. This part belongs in the entertainment media section. As a result, I told myself that I was going to blend in and stay in the shadows and not cause any drama.
For the most part, I did that, but going to a relatively small school with less than 500 people, staying in the shadows was impossible as everyone knows everyone especially when you are in the same year. There was bound to be rumours and drama spread around about numerous people. It’s not uncommon for students to talk about others but sometimes some of them do get out of line. For instance people calling others derogatory terms because of their dating history. Sadly as a girl myself I noticed people who call others derogatory terms such as “sluts” or “whores” are girls themselves, all just because they get male validation or have a history of dating. This was not what I expected, as many times in films it is often portrayed that those who are outcasts or made fun of are “nerds” who barely get any attention from their male peers. However, if we pay more attention to these movies and even some books you start to realise that oftentimes these main characters are not entirely innocent of being judgement free.
Agents of Socialisation
Interaction and influence from the people around us are a major factor on how we behave and react. This is called socialisation, the process beginning during childhood by which individuals acquire the values, habits, and attitudes of society. This process begins when we are children, our most vulnerable self. Each one of us is raised in different environments and family structures that are unique to us. This could influence the way we think and behave; what is considered as a societal norm to one may differ from other individuals. As a result, many of us — especially young people — may struggle in pursuing their dreams and goals in fear of being condemned by their peers.
There is no doubt family plays a huge role in our development, particularly our parents. Most of us are dependent on them from a young age. They guide and teach us about everything we need to know such as taking care of ourselves and preparing us for the future. There is no wrong or right way to raise a child. However, issues arise when the child is taught to judge and look down upon others. Sadly, it is not an uncommon scene to see a student getting ostracised because they are different. More often than not they are usually marginalised groups: religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or even their personal interest. Children can be ignorant without the right guidance, hence they think it’s fine to ridicule someone just because they exceed societal norms.
People who are raised in homogenous and conservative societies tend to not be exposed to diverse groups of people and may lack knowledge of people who are not like them. As a result children may blurt out something offensive to their peers unintentionally because of their lack of understanding. Being different should not be condemned; however young children may struggle to grasp this concept as they still have a limited perspective of the world. Confining them in only one community could do more harm than good as they do not get the chance to broaden their view, forming their own opinions and learning about themselves. Exposing children to various activities and diverse groups of people can help them to develop into an open minded person who is not afraid to be different.
Places of education such as schools also play a big part in the development of children. This is where a lot of them are first exposed to environments outside their household. Obviously school is where pupils take up knowledge from various subjects such as Maths, Sciences and Languages. However, school is not all about studying and submitting work before the deadlines, it is where students have communication outside the house. Now, young people have another place where they pick up behavioural habits from others besides their parents.
Schools are places where students learn and increase their knowledge. Students should already know that equality is what we must strive for in order to have a better and ideal society. Unfortunately, some institutes of education are sending out the wrong message to their students. Though it may not be evident on surface level, the patriarchal system still has an effect on schools. Although things have gotten better over the years where most girls around the world are allowed to pursue their education, sexism is still present in various areas; from prioritising boys’ sports teams over girls’ to restricting students from taking part in certain clubs based on gender, it affects everyone.
Schools that do this are limiting the students’ freedom in pursuing their interests and hobbies. They might be afraid to step out of the line and go against the authority. Hence labels such as “boy” sports and “girl” sports still exist as they are restricted in taking part in certain activities just because of their gender. For example, ask yourself: how often do you see girls’ football teams in Malaysian high schools? Overall, it can well be said that gender biases only serve to restrict the creative freedom of students and discourage them from being themselves.
Influence by Peers
Have you ever done something because someone you knew did it or took a liking to something because your friends took an interest in it? This influence is called peer pressure. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it can get out of hand when there is negative influence. Yes, activities such as smoking and underage drinking are unhealthy habits that can be influenced by peers but that is a topic for another day.
Peers can also influence the way we treat other people. To put this into context, if one person of a friend group, usually the “alpha” of the group puts someone on a pedestal, more often than not the others soon follow. However if we flip things around, a person can be ridiculed by big groups of people just because one person has a hatred towards them. Those who are targeted are often labelled as “weird” or “different” because they do not fit into societal norms. Consequently, many young pupils are afraid to express themselves in fear of being scrutinised by their peers.
Influence of the Media
The High School Musical trilogy was one of my favourite movies growing up. The singing, the dancing, the romance. I loved it. My younger self failed to unearth the deeper plot, but rewatching it years later made me realise that the plot is sort of ridiculous. A high school jock and an academic driven student auditioning for a musical should not have caused that much stir among the school. There is literally a song called “Stick to the status quo”. To be fair, everyone in the school learns to accept both of the characters’ interests in singing at the end of the movie — but did everyone have to act so dramatically about it? It isn’t really odd that someone could have multiple interests.
Not to mention the trilogy’s “bad guy” Sharpay who is portrayed as a hyper feminine character whose achievements were downplayed just so the two main characters’ plot could go on. Another example of feminine female characters who were sidelined and ignored was Jessica from the Twilight saga, as compared to Bella Swan, who rejects femininity and is seen as cool and quirky and gets all the male attention.
There’s nothing wrong with not wanting to be girly or unfeminine but it becomes a problem when countless entertainment media outlets portray girly girls as ditzy or an airhead, when in reality, people do not need to fit into a specific look in order to be smart. Being smart and liking makeup is not mutually exclusive. People can enjoy multiple aspects of their lives and it should not be seen as out of place.
We see so many trends popping up from these various social media platforms. For example, the “bruh girl vs soft girl” trend. It started off as a harmless and fun trend where people compare the different personalities and hobbies of these girls where “soft girls” are usually more feminine while the “bruh girls” are usually low maintenance and do not care for traditional girly things. However, people on social media, especially Tiktok, started to put these women against each other by portraying the “bruh” girl as the “better” one as she is usually quirky, “not like other girls” or “one of the boys”. This trend perpetuates the idea of females as one dimensional human beings who cannot have multiple hobbies and interests. The “soft” girl is then criticised for being too girly and superficial because they like fashion or makeup.
Internalised misogyny to blame for this. Many women growing up especially in the early 2000s were told to reject femininity as it is presented as weak and inferior. Due to this, many of them tended to pick up traditionally masculine hobbies to make themselves superior to others and appeal to the male population. Women pit against each other just so they could receive validation from their male peers. “Soft girls” and “bruh girls” are not enemies. Just because people have different interests does not mean one is superior to the other. Human beings are not one dimensional, different hobbies and traits are not exclusive to one gender or identity. Social media trends which make teenagers compete against one another are in this way harmful and toxic.
What does this say about our judgemental society?
It is human nature to judge. Sometimes it can be unintentional or people just want to judge for no reason. Teenage girls are especially targeted, whether it is their appearance or their interests. It does not matter what kind of things they have a liking for one way or another someone would invalidate their interests. If she likes sports or gaming she would be seen as fake, whereas if she likes traditionally feminine activities they are downplayed and are not seen as actual hobbies or interest. Fangirls are seen as maniacs and crazy, while sports fans are just passionate about their interests. Why is it that whenever young girls take interest in something oftentimes they are seen as silly and “not actual hobbies”? The Beatles, whose initial fanbase were adolescent girls were heavily judged; now they are considered one of the most iconic bands now because men started to like them.
Judging people based on the fact they find something entertaining and interesting while you don’t is one of the most pretentious things someone can do. Not everyone has the same interests or likings; as long as they are not harming anyone, it really is not a big deal. Just because other people do not reflect the same ideas of fun, it does not mean their interests would be watered down. Let people enjoy things, for everyone is unique in their own way.
Hopefully the future may diverge itself from these stereotypes and labels that have been around for centuries. It is time that they must be abolished. With the youths becoming more socially aware as each generation passes, it is not impossible for us to achieve these goals. Humans are limitless and labels restrict us from being who we truly are. It is okay to have multiple interests, for it’s what makes us unique.
[Written by: Chow Anne Rose. Edited by: Teoh Jin.]