“Oh Annie, they are just being men…” My grandmother’s canned response to rude comments, or explaining why my uncles never helped with cooking or cleaning. The worst part - she felt this was reason enough for me to ‘let it go’.
As a child, I had a difficult time dealing with a dynamic, large, loud, and abused extended family. The men would tease and taunt the women, calling them fat, worthless, and stupid. The women were constantly trying to prove themselves, and would compete with each other to fight the labels. This created disordered emotional eating, depression, and eventually led to relatives finding partners that shared the same absurd sentiments –continuing the negative cycle.
My grandfather was the biggest tease, and although I realized later in life it was to cover up his own insecurities, he would pick and prod incessantly. He was a salesman, and I remember watching him flirt with the waitresses; calling them names like ‘sweetie’ and ‘good lookin’ with a wink while his wife and grandchildren were sitting at the table. We knew he cheated on grandma and they were still together, no one saying a word.
My mother took care of my brother and me by day, and worked at night or on the weekend, yet she was always reminded how ‘lucky’ she was to have my dad making money to take care of her and she never had money to spend on her own needs.
Growing up, I hated being a girl. In fact I would pray at night to become a boy. I was told the story over and over, how disappointed my father was that I was not a boy when I was born, and when I was in 2nd grade I decided to have a ‘bowl’ haircut (it was the 90’s) in hopes to become the boy he wanted. I loved it when people would point at me and say, “What is your name young man?”
When puberty hit, I realized a haircut would no longer help me. I found other ways to navigate the world. I observed confident women, watching how they had the ability to flirt, yet make men feel they were superior. I bantered with my grandfather to practice; learning how to tease back and I longed to have positive attention from men. I found that if I worked harder, yet let men feel they knew best, everyone was more comfortable.
As I entered middle school, I began to watch my younger brother struggle with the same gender issues, but in a completely different way. My mother was determined to raise a son that was nothing like her brothers. Bryan was constantly reminded how awful men could be, making him bitter, and feeling disconnected from women. He felt rejected from our mother the same way I felt rejected from our father.
Here is where we meet the sad truth - GENDER INEQUALITY HURTS EVERYONE. My brother and I carry our own scars from childhood –A dreadful paradox: I prayed to become a boy while my brother felt shamed because he was one.
Anyone that knows our parents understand the incredible love they have for us. The gender bias was not intentional; it was a part of our culture. They did so much for us, making our lives much better than the ones they had growing up. Now later in life I have been able to mend my relationship with my father and my brother is beginning to do the same with our mom, yet we will always carry this hurt with us.
This isn’t just a Small Town or Mid-West Thing – I see Gender Inequality Every Day all over the US.
At work a few weeks ago, I witnessed a young man being harassed; called ‘F-word’ for wearing a pink shirt. When I went over to say that was completely inappropriate my peer apologized and called him ‘gay’ instead thinking that was more appropriate.
While working with clients or customers I have to endure the greeting of ‘hey beautiful’ with a wink and a lingering hug with violating x-ray up and down looks, something that would never happen to a man.
The human brain is built to categorize – this is the only way we can function. This is how we can tell if something is a domesticated pet vs. a dangerous animal – we have assumed mental attributes helping us navigate the world. The issue begins when our natural tendency to categorize has warped attributes attached to it.
Let’s Change the Negative Attributes Tied to Gender –
· A man that helps out at the home is not less than a ‘real man’.
· A woman is not ‘less than’ if she is a stay-at-home mom or works full time.
· A man expressing feelings should not be accused of being a ‘girl’.
· A woman having a firm conversation at work similar to a man should not be called a ‘B$%ch’.
Yoga and Gender Inequality –
In the West, yoga has changed from something only men do, to an activity reserved for mostly women. Yoga is a beautiful practice where the individual is encouraged to connect with their deeper self, find peace, connection, community. Here is my question, why is this considered just a 'female' need?
Change on the Horizon – We are starting to see a shift. NFL and NBA players are using yoga to increase mental performance and improve recovery. WWE wrestlers and famous male musicians praise how yoga has helped them in every part of their life.
Yet in studios and gyms across the US, over 90% of the students are women.
Help Make a Difference –
· Observe your own biases through meditation – Take a moment to find a comfortable seated position, close your eyes and start to bring your attention into your body. Slow down the tempo of your breath. Scan your body from head to toe -slowly inviting relaxation into every part of your body. Once you are centered and relaxed, start to reflect on any gender biases you might hold, or difficult situations you have experienced in your life that relate to gender. As you exhale, release from negative situations where you felt gender inequality. On your inhale, greet positive or gender neutral attributes for the word 'man' and 'woman'. Set an affirmation, or word to help you re-set conditioned attributes as you go through your day. End your meditation with gratitude for one man and one woman in your life.
· Say Something – If you find yourself in a situation where gender inequality is taking place, find the courage to say something. If approached with the spirit of love and equality, this will give others the courage to change perspective, and say something as well.
· Share your Gratitude - Is there someone you know that supports gender equality with their everyday actions? Let them know!
Gender Equality is something we can all live with. It starts with the individual, and from there culture can change.
So let’s get out there,
make a difference,