I grew up privileged, I know I did. My name is Tessa and I am a 21-year-old student from the Netherlands. If I look back at my life, I can see that who I am and where I come from did not ever prevent me from having access to opportunities. I am the stereotype of someone who has it easy; someone who is white, straight, is, and middle class. The only thing I do not have going for me is the fact that I am a woman. Do not get me wrong; I absolutely love being a woman and I am very proud to be one. However, I think we can all agree that being a woman is not easy. Even though we work very hard towards gender equality, men and women still are not equal in a number of aspects. Sometimes I wonder how we even got here. Is it not strange to think that people are treated differently based on what they have between their legs? I certainly thought so when I was a child. So this is the story of how I discovered gender inequality.
I grew up in the Netherlands in a relatively protected environment. My parents were amazing and I had everything a young girl needed. Until I reached the age of six, I did not even know that societies treat girls differently than boys. However, I do remember the moment when I finally learned about this difference. I was at home watching TV with my parents, when suddenly a commercial about helping poor children in Africa came on. The commercial talked about helping young children to go to school, and how important it was to help these children, especially girls. At that moment I was very much stuck in the phase in which girls thought boys were gross and vice versa, so I completely agreed with the commercial. Naturally it was more important to send girls to school! I remember the look on my mother’s face when I said that. “You do know why it is important to especially send girls to school, do you?” she asked.
I thought she meant that girls were better than boys, but instead she told me something I never heard before. She told me that in some countries boys are allowed to go to school, but girls were kept at home to help their mothers with cooking and cleaning. Six-year-old me loved school and learning more than anything, so this story shook me to my core. Why were these parents so mean that they would prevent girls from going to school, learning, making friends, and becoming independent? My mother explained to me that it was not just these parents who treated girls differently than boys, and that many people in the world act in the same way. I remember not being able to understand why this was the case. Why do we treat boys different than girls? Why do men and women not have access to the same opportunities? Why does the wage gap exist? Why do I feel the need to walk home at night with my keys clutched between my fingers but my male friends do not?
I think we have to keep asking these questions. Because it is not okay that we treat people differently based on something they cannot change. It is not okay that women do not have access to the same opportunities as men. And if you really think about it, is it not unbelievable that entire societies operate this way with only a few people questioning this inequality? If we could all look at the world from a child’s perspective, would we not be in a much better world because of it? So I encourage you all to keep questioning why something is a certain way. Because “it has always been like this” is not a valid excuse. And because we all owe it to the curious child inside us.