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I grew up being told that "Girls are smart and strong. They can do anything."
Recently, I was doing some volunteer yard work for an organization by helping clear dead leaves and rubbish from flower beds, weeding the gardens, and putting down fresh mulch. As much as I love the opportunity to give back and volunteer, my experience this time around wasn’t quite the same. During the time that I was with this organization, I was told repeatedly to “just let the guys handle that” or that “we need some strong men for this project.” It started to rub me the wrong way.
Yes, I am a girl. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t look like much. I’m short and I have a smaller build. It’s easy to underestimate me. But just because I am a girl does not mean I don’t know how to handle a wheelbarrow or that I can’t shovel pounds of mulch or that I can’t lift and carry bins of trash. Just because I am a girl does not mean that I shy away from hard work or that I’m afraid of getting a little dirt underneath my fingernails. I am a girl and I am strong.
Yes, there are times that I can’t do it all. I’ll admit that sometimes I am not tall enough to reach the highest shelf or strong enough to lift heavy objects on my own. Does that in any way diminish my value as a volunteer or as a person? Absolutely not. I still have that headstrong, can-do attitude and you can be sure that I will go out of my way to prove people wrong. You need a “strong man” to shunt the mulch from the flatbed truck into those wheelbarrows? I am stubborn enough to shovel mulch until I am blue in the face just to prove that I can.
I might not know a lot about cars or tools or sports. I hate bugs and all creepy-crawly things. As a young girl, I grew up obsessed with ballet and princesses and all things pink. But these gendered stereotypes don't define me, my abilities, or my worth. These things that make me unique—like the fact that I love wearing dresses but I hate wearing high heeled shoes—shouldn't determine what you think or assume about me. Instead, I implore you to look at the qualities that I have as a person... I am a hard worker and high achiever. I am quiet and reserved, but passionate and empathetic. I am the worst at giving advice, but I am the best at listening. These are the things that are distinctly "me" and the things that I want to be valued for, not my ability to wield a shovel or a rake even though I am a girl.
I am not asking you to completely change your beliefs or become a die-hard feminist. All I am asking is that you just give me a chance. A chance to prove myself and a chance to change your assumptions about me. Don't assume that I can't hold my own against a barrel of dead leaves and twigs by telling me to "let one of the guys get that for you." Offer support, encouragement, and praise. I will gladly accept your help and kind words, but don't think about doubting me even just for a minute.