Top 15: McKenzie Barnes

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Analyse gender equality in your community. Should more be done to empower women?

Author: McKenzie Barnes

Community: Shepparton, VIC

Age: 17

I never perceived of gender as a barrier until I started to observe how often girls were spoken of negatively, expected to act a particular way and judged harshly and unfairly by society. Primary school, through my eyes, saw formerly vibrant, confident young girls sitting down, keeping quiet, quitting sport and becoming submissive. They laughed off crude, disrespectful and inappropriate jokes made at their and other girls’ expenses, instead of sticking up for themselves and others. As soon as I noticed this imbalance in equality, I felt it was wrong. and my feminist beliefs motivated me to empower girls as much as I possibly could, wherever and whenever possible.

When I was little, my mother would say, “Act like a lady is supposed to, McKenzie.” That statement confused me, as I never saw any males being told to stop slouching, sit with their legs crossed, not to spit, not to yell or not to burp. The way the child in me saw it, these things weren’t feminine concerns, they were general etiquette, manners and a common courtesy, which I still believe today should be taught equally.

I place a large portion of the blame for this inequality on the socialisation of children, as gender roles in socialisation impact us every day. Beginning with, “Is it a boy or a girl?” as well as gender specific colours and toys, females are taught to dull themselves down while males are taught to talk themselves up. Females are taught to aim for meaning something to someone, and males are taught to be admired. Whether we look at nationwide statistics, or analyse anecdotal evidence, we are guaranteed similar results. Socialisation is grim. It sees women afraid to stand up and take leadership roles, not only due to not being told they’re capable of being ‘the boss,’ like a man is seemingly born to do, but also because they don’t want to be seen as overconfident/self-absorbed. This is particularly evident in rural communities where gender stereotypes are conformed to.

It became particularly apparent that I desired change when explaining gender inequality to a female friend of mine, and I received this response: “Oh, but girls do it to themselves most of the time.” I thought the fact that she didn’t know what gender inequality meant was bad enough, but the fact that she herself held girls responsible for the disadvantage they face astounded me. An argument that never fails to amuse me is, “women’s rights have come so far, why are we still discussing them.” You’re right, let’s let the prevalence of sexism continue in all areas of our lives because we’re close enough. Perhaps we should have the same attitude toward cancer research and space exploration?

I hate patriarchy as a system that socialises men to be emotionless machines. It’s incredibly insulting that girls are socialised to be ashamed of the traits boys are admired for. By ensuring we raise future generations with equal expectations we can ensure that women become empowered and learn to value these traits.  You won’t call me bossy, hostile or aggressive just because I am a girl. Rather you will say I have leadership skills, am confident and assertive, just like you do for a man.