BY SOPHIA LOLA
When I was in fifth grade, I tested into my grade’s accelerated math class. Out of seventeen students, only five were girls.
I was proud to be placed there, and though it was slightly daunting and even lonely to be surrounded by so many males, it was really fun. Little did I know that being in that math class would not only be the first of many academic successes for me, but also lead to the suppression of my femininity and the questioning of my gender’s capability. Because it’s beauty or brains, right?
That’s where my initial problem lies. Going by the traditional ideal, a man is supposed to be smart, strong, handsome, and successful, whereas a woman is pretty, delicate, and knows her limits. The man has standards that he has to meet and exceed, and the woman has boundaries that she can’t cross. For a man not to meet those standards is emasculating. On the other end of the spectrum, for a woman to cross her boundaries undermines her feminine nature. Part of this is because there aren’t enough women in male-dominated fields for it to be considered normal. According to a fact sheet made by Rutgers University, only 19.4% of US Congress members are women. An article by the New Jersey Institute of Technology says that nationwide, only 19% of college students majored in engineering are female. Those percentages are less than my fifth grade math class, where we five girls made up 29.4% of the group, which is still low. When the media talks about these women though, they don’t just talk about how they’re successful; they emphasise that they’re still “regular” women despite their intimidating intelligence, as if that in and of itself is radical.
I’m very much a stereotypical teen girl. I like clothes, makeup, boys, coffee, and social networking, but there’s more to me than those superficial interests, just as there’s more to other girls too. I am also mature, intellectual, and dedicated. But my family often only looks upon those second traits positively. I’m teased about crushes, taking too long to get ready, wearing red lipstick, going to Starbucks, and liking shopping. When we were talking about Marvel superheroes, my father said, “You know, not many girls like this stuff.” I’ve been told that I should be thin, shouldn’t wear revealing clothes because it isn’t modest, to sit with my back straight and knees closed, and that it’s too forward for me to ask a guy out. I’m given the title of woman in the most restricting ways. But I’m constantly reminded that I’m smart, and will attend a good college and have a good career. My family thinks my feminine wiles will be the death of my ambition, that I’m a brainy woman, so I shouldn’t act feminine. That isn’t fair. Feminism isn’t about proving oneself to or being like men; it’s about equality and having the ability to make choices as a woman. I choose brains and beauty.