A 12 year-old girl explains how sexism works in her school

The gender gap starts young. Image: REUTERS/Danilo Krstanovic

Melina Betten, Student

Did you know that an average full-time working woman in the US earns just 84 cents for every dollar a man makes for the exact same job? That’s just one out of many examples that add up to a rather fancy term called sexism, and in my experience, it starts at a very young age.

For example, at age six, when new books were delivered at school the teachers asked for volunteers to help them carry. Almost everyone raised their hands; she only chose boys. Or at age seven, when I wasn’t allowed to compete against the boys at the 60-metre dash during PE class, because “it wouldn’t be fair”.

Or at age nine, when I and many other girls were being judged with the word “bossy” whereas the boys never were. This happened, for instance, when we wanted to be in charge of a class project or to choose the book that the teacher would read. Or in some cases, when girls disagreed with the boys or had another opinion, they were labelled as “pushy”. At some point, I didn’t want to state my opinion or start an argument because I was afraid of being labelled with these words.

Or, just last year, at the age of eleven, when a boy put his hand up my skirt and lifted it up for the entire schoolyard to see. When I told my teacher, he simply ignored me and acted like it was normal.

After these and many other experiences, plus some research, I decided that I am a feminist. After facing more catcalls and similar behaviour, I faced the bully and confronted the problem. People were surprised, but not in a good way. The most common responses were eye-rolls and comments like “don’t make such a fuss about it”.

But the thing is, they’re telling me that I should ignore sexism. More broadly, this means ignoring the fact that one in three women in the world has been physically or sexually abused. That numerous women build a career for themselves fearing that it will all come crumbling down once they have a child. That about 20 million women in the US alone suffer from an eating disorder, partly due to unrealistic images in the media.

So now perhaps male readers are thinking, why should I listen to this girl rant all about how the world isn’t fair? Well, boys and men benefit from gender equality too. Most cultures set a stereotypical example that boys should be muscular, hard-working, aggressive and unlikely to talk about their feelings. That’s what being “manly” is about, right? What if it didn’t have to? What if you could live in a world where the role of a child’s father was as appreciated and as important as the mother’s? What if boys could talk about their feelings without being seen as weak?

That’s a world that doesn’t only benefit girls and women, but boys and men, too. So, the next time that people say that sexism is a girl’s problem, I would disagree: it’s everyone’s problem. My dream is tackling that problem and closing the gap between men and women for generations to come.

Just remember, in the words of Emma Watson: “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

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Originally published at www.weforum.org.

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