I remember the day of my final high school exam like yesterday. Imagine me sitting in front of seven teachers, all to judge my academic preparation. It wasn’t the series of questions I had to answer regarding history, maths or physics that threw me off. Not even the classical scrutiny of my plans, but the reply I received when I informed them I planned to move away from my hometown.
‘Why do you want to leave? Young women never do that! Girls stay with their families until they move in with their boyfriends. It isn’t something normal.’
I quoted my previous experience with living far from home as a reply, but I stood flabbergasted. On one hand, I understand my experience is not the norm; on the other, I cannot reconcile with the amount of opposition that women face when making certain decisions. If you believe I’m overthinking this, it was not the first time that traditional standards were pushed on me.
Gender stereotypes played a huge role in my life. Starting with my childhood, I got criticism for not being delicate, feminine, or traditional enough. Teachers and peers did not welcome my decision to move to Argentina as an exchange student during my fourth year of high school, as expected. People brought up a general scepticism surrounding my ability as a young woman to live abroad, not because of my life skills, but for being a girl. In the end, instead of moving to another region at the end of high school, I moved to another country altogether. However, every time a challenge comes up, I can’t help myself but reflect on what my teacher told me. Were they right to assume I wouldn’t make it?
Although some questions might have been genuine, I also experienced the biases against women who emancipate themselves. To some, I moved away because I didn’t fit; others asserted I wanted to be with men without my parents’ scrutiny. No matter my actual reasons – the drive for adventure, the will to grow as a person and the enjoyment of expanding my horizons – stereotypes weighed on me as a boulder slowing crushing me under its weight.
My experience is not an isolated case. Although the world’s view has improved regarding women who decide to follow a less traditional pathway, there is still a generalised cynicism towards them. The biases surrounding my decisions could have drowned my will, but the need to take a break from these expectations became stronger. However, I got lucky, as my family supported me. Young women are the most weighed down by stereotypes.
I can tell you ways to counteract the biases. First, more representation of young women’s experiences outside the “norm” is fundamental in media to sway people’s opinion. Second, the creation of programmes to educate teachers in modern issues would improve the quality of student’s life. Students would be better supported when they manifest the will to work towards specific targets. Lastly, producing a series of resources that young people can access to develop their goals would help with providing the backing that most need to focus on their achievements. Because no one should be kept from or judged for achieving their milestones.