Dear girls of the world: Never let gender stereotypes confine you
Dear girls of the world,
When I was younger, I was made to believe that women are supposed to act a certain way. That we’re supposed to study hard, get perfect grades, land a good job, meet a nice man, settle down, have babies, and become the perfect homemaker, mother, and wife.
Obviously, my family was quite traditional—and my mother even more so. Growing up, she would assign me household chores typical of my gender: washing the dishes, doing the laundry, vacuuming the floors, and eventually, cooking dinners. It was kind of like housewife bootcamp.
Meanwhile, my two younger brothers were allowed a little more freedom. Their chores consisted of things like taking out the trash, mowing the lawn, and any other grunt work that needed to be done around the house. It always bothered me that they had less to do than I did, and I often complained and questioned my parents about the volume of my chores compared to theirs, which I felt was unequal.
“Because you’re a girl,” my mom would answer. “You need to learn these things.”
I remember being flabbergasted by this response. Even at a young age, I knew that something about my mother’s logic was off. I had no idea what feminism was at the time, but my mind responded like a modern feminist would—I felt indignant about how unfair the whole thing was, and I could not see why I automatically had to do more chores simply because of my gender. My indignation, however, stemmed more from the fact that I was envious of my brothers’ extra leisure time to play video games or watch TV, and not because I was concerned about the social injustice of it all.
Nonetheless, I accepted my mother’s logic. My parents both had jobs, yet my mother did most of the housework while my father got to put his feet up and lounge around on the couch after work. My mother didn’t seem to mind—in fact, I think she preferred it.
So, despite my brain rebelling against the idea, I accepted it. I complied. I did what I was told.
Fast forward to a few years later, and I was still being the dutiful girl that I was supposed to be. I did all my chores, learned to cook, got perfect grades, and went to a good college. I did everything that was expected of me. Of course, there were a few times when I tried to deviate from the plan, like when I floated the idea of doing a gap year before college to travel the world on my own. For obvious reasons, my mother was against it.
“Women shouldn’t travel alone,” she told me. “It’s not safe.” And because I didn’t want to go against their wishes, that was that.
After obtaining my Journalism degree, I got a job as a copywriter at a publishing company. Eventually, I met a guy from work and we began dating. Everything was going according to plan. I was right on track to becoming the ultimate female trifecta of perfect womanhood: homemaker, mother, and wife. All I needed was a husband, and I would be set.
But a few years went by, and I slowly began to realize that this was not what I wanted. I was unhappy with where my life was headed. My relationship, which lasted about three years, did not work out. We wanted different things—he wanted us to get married and live the suburban life, while I simply wanted to be free.
It was also around this time that I became disillusioned with my career. I realized that I wanted a job I actually loved, and this just wasn’t it.
So, I went back to my old dream of traveling the world. I thought about it a lot. And one day, as I sat at my desk staring into a cold cup of coffee, I decided to just do it. I pulled up a picture of the world map online, closed my eyes, and placed my finger on a random spot on my computer screen. When I opened my eyes, I saw that it had landed on Australia (technically my finger landed somewhere in the ocean around Australia, but close enough).
Without thinking of anything or anyone else, I immediately booked a ticket to Australia and began planning the logistics of my trip. The next day, I drafted my resignation letter and told my boss that I was leaving the company.
Thus began my new “career” (although I would rather call it a lifestyle) in travel photography. Now that I was jobless, I needed to make money to fund my trip. I had some money saved up to last me a few months on the road, but clearly that wasn’t going to be enough.
So, I decided to become a travel photographer. I had been dabbling in photography for years, ever since I got my first camera (it was a hand-me-down 35mm SLR from my cousin) when I was about 14. Money was honestly the least of my worries at this point because what mattered more was getting to do what I wanted to do, for a change. And I knew that as long as I had my Nikon DSLR camera and my trusty laptop, I could make ends meet by selling my photos to magazines, newspapers, or stock photo sites, as well as do some freelance writing on the side.
Even though my trip was over a month away, I was really excited. The only thing that worried me now was having to tell my parents what I had done. I knew they would disapprove of my decision.
And I was right.
Once my parents, relatives, and even my friends heard my plan, it was met with mostly negative reactions. Some of them were, at best, incredulous and skeptical. But the rest, including my parents, were extremely disapproving.=
I expected this, of course. But what disappointed me was that my parents did not disapprove because of the financial repercussions of my decision—they disapproved because I was a girl, and because the new career I had chosen was a male-dominated profession and therefore unusual for a girl.
Once again, my gender had come into play.
My mother also worried that, with all the traveling I’d be doing, I wouldn’t have time to meet someone, settle down, and start a family. The path I had decided to take, the path of a carefree vagabond, was so far from what she had envisioned for me (white picket fences and chubby babies) and my future, and that was something she couldn’t wrap her head around.
We fought a lot. My father eventually mellowed out, but my mother fought tooth and nail. We argued constantly. A few weeks before my trip, all we could do was fight. I knew my mother meant well—she only wanted the best for me. But after years of trying to be the perfect little girl, I was just done. I was going to do what I wanted to do, and nothing she said could change that.
My mother kept coming up with reasons why I shouldn’t do it. She told me that I’d be financially unstable. She told me that it was unsafe for me, a woman, to be traveling to all these unknown destinations. She told me that I’d be lonely.
The worst one, though, was when she warned that my biological clock was ticking (I was in my early 20s, mind you) and that I had to settle down soon so that I could have children and become the perfect Stepford Wife.
Honestly, I didn’t care. I knew every single reason she gave me had weight, but having a family wasn’t high on my priority list. I was more interested in finding happiness, freedom, and myself. Still, it really irked me that every criticism on my decisions was largely based on my gender. I then realized that if I had been a man, people wouldn’t think my decision was so outlandish. But because I was a woman, it seemed like I had no business being free to do whatever I wanted.
I hated that there were so many things that women weren’t supposed to do. I remember the time when I was a kid and I asked my parents if I could take drum lessons. My mom once again used the “you’re a girl” reasoning to dissuade me and offered to pay for piano lessons instead, as it was, according to her, the more “ladylike” instrument. At the time, indignation swelled up inside me once more, but I knew better than to complain. It was their money, after all. So I took the piano lessons and thanked them.
But as we all know, when you’re forced to do something you never wanted to do in the first place, you’re more likely to give it up. I gave up on the piano after three short months.
My dream to see the world and take photos for a living, I definitely wasn’t going to give that up. So what if I don’t get married? So what if I don’t have kids? If this is what I want to do with my life, why should I let these archaic gender stereotypes stop me?
After all the fighting, I ended up going off to Australia with my mother feeling deeply disappointed and believing that I’d change my mind. She believed that the whole nomad lifestyle would be too hard for me, and that I’d eventually give up on it and come home.
But I didn’t. I immediately fell in love with my new life. After spending two weeks in Australia, I moved on to Asia and spent 6 months hopping from one country to the next. I saw the most beautiful places, the met the most wonderful people, ate the most delicious food, and experienced the most amazing adventures. And contrary to my mother’s warnings, I was never lonely. I met many great friends during my travels, and I even managed to go on some dates, too (yes, Tinder exists in other countries).
Of course, every now and then, I do come home to New York and stay with the family. But never for too long, as my wanderlust is constantly pushing me to go out and explore some other part of the world. I haven’t fulfilled my dream of visiting every single country yet, but as of last year, after my recent trip to Egypt, I can now say that I have officially visited all the continents.
It’s been over 5 years since I went and uprooted my life to become a travel photographer, and though it hasn’t been smooth sailing all the way, I don’t regret it one bit. I get to see and experience the world. I make a decent living from my photography and odd writing jobs. And best of all, my parents have stopped being so disapproving of my new job and all my traveling.
Oh, and they’ve even accepted (though quite begrudgingly) that I won’t be tying the knot and popping out their grandkids anytime soon.
I’m just glad that I finally found it in myself to stop conforming to everything that society—and my mom—thinks a woman should be. I know that as a woman, there are certain expectations of me. Get married, have kids, keep a lovely home, blah blah blah. Of course I see nothing wrong with wanting and doing those things, but they’re just not for me—or at least, not right now, anyway. And I don’t think it’s right that a woman has to feel unfeminine or weird or incomplete just because she doesn’t prioritize or pursue any of those things.
Up to this day, many women are still expected to live up to impossible expectations. Sure, gender equality (and breaking down gender stereotypes) is a very hot topic right now, but many women are still being forced into this box of femininity to make them more socially acceptable. Whether it’s in their appearance, their chosen career, or simply the way they live their lives, women still have to adhere to certain norms.
Now, I guess what I’m trying to say is, don’t let yourself be forced into that box. Never let gender stereotypes confine you. If you want to quit your job and become a travel photographer or blogger, go ahead and take that leap. If you want to choose your career over starting a family, that’s absolutely your decision. Heck, if you want to become a lumberjack, just do it!
Who cares what everyone else thinks? If you want to be free and live your life the way you want, it should be your decision—and no one should have the right to shame you for it.
Being a woman doesn’t always have to mean slaving away in the kitchen and changing diapers.
Currently exploring the world with her drone and DSLR