It’s marathon season in my part of the country, and with marathon season comes the resuscitation of an image made famous in 1967 when Kathrine Switzer became the first woman to run the Boston marathon. Women were seen as “too fragile” to run 26.2 miles. Clearly, the person who made that rule had never witnessed child birth.
There isn’t anything wrong with a man who wants to stay home with his kids or a woman who prefers to focus on her career rather than churning out babies and baking pie. There isn’t anything wrong with switching “man” and “woman” in that sentence, either. The problem occurs when people, male or female, are forced into binary roles based solely on their sexual organs.
Women are brought up to be kind. To be accepting, pleasing to look at, not to take up too much space, and to accept, without question or objection, the flattery of men. Similarly, men must be manly, strong, and brutish, or risk (gasp) being referred to as a girl (or parts of a girl). How absurd is it that the worst thing you can call a man is … a woman? Both sexes have their share of responsibility, and efforts to defeat this construct often seem futile. There are small victories … I hear McDonald’s has stopped calling Happy Meal toys “the boy toy” and “the girl toy,” at least.
The feminist movement, despite whatever nonsense Phyllis Schlafly is spouting off about lately, doesn’t exist to emasculate men, and recognizing women as equally capable, equally intelligent, equally worthy, doesn’t doom the human race to extinction (because successful women won’t ever be able to find a husband, don’t you know – and what other point is there to life?). The goal of the feminist movement (and, by extension, the acceptance that traditional gender roles aren’t always in our best interests) is to right some wrongs and correct some imbalances. The feminist movement exists to give everyone, including men, the opportunity to be ANYTHING, without fear of judgment, ridicule, or violence. Kathrine Switzer didn’t take anything away from men by becoming a marathon runner, any more than Brent Kroeger detracts from motherhood by being a stay-at-home dad.
What we are taught is appropriate feminine behavior and what we know to be inappropriate masculine behavior are two sides of the same coin. Where women must be soft and weak, men are expected to be hard and strong. Men are expected to prove their strength – to women, to other men, to authority figures – from an incredibly young age. There is a distinct correlation between the gender roles tradition condones and the vast inequality that persists in our culture.
This isn’t a feminist problem, or even a women’s problem. This is a cultural and societal problem that prevents our collective advancement as a society. The only solution is to continue to defy gender stereotypes across the board – to stop worrying about what makes a man a man or a woman a woman, and allow ourselves the freedom to choose the antithesis of expectation.