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Female students, vice principal share experiences with gender, feminism stereotypes in male-dominated activities

Zoe Tu
Senior Carolyn Jia reviews scholarship opportunities during her release period on Jan. 19th, 2024. “Although college application season is over, I still have to apply for scholarships and honors programs, so I’m still quite busy,” said Jia. 

 Chloe de Leon, USA Rugby team member, former wrestler and senior, has a deep passion for and connection to the rugby and wrestling communities, playing in a more masculine-driven sport as a feminine-identifying individual. De Leon said the stereotypes against the feminist movement have imposed negativity onto the confidence of athlete identities as well as discouraging females from joining contact sports.

“Stereotypes about women or just feminists in general– they work to put women in a box. They are limiting and restrictive to a woman’s identity, which can diminish pride and hurt their confidence in themselves,”  de Leon said. “The idea that it’s unfitting, inappropriate, or ‘unladylike’ for a woman to take part in a physical contact sport promotes the thought that they are less valid as a woman for taking interest to begin with. This is harmful since it prevents women already in contact sports from being proud of who they are and what they work hard for, and could also scare away girls on the outside from trying this awesome sport that they could end up loving if they gave it a chance otherwise.“

De Leon said she sees this limiting mindset more often outside of the sports industry than within.

​​“From the outside of the rugby world is the only time I really experience unfair stereotypes towards women in male-dominated sports firsthand. I get a lot of, “You don’t seem like you’d play rugby” or “Isn’t that a dangerous sport?” from older people who aren’t used to the way society is becoming more open-minded towards non-gender-based sports involvements. While I know they grew up in a different world, the initial impact alone that person’s words had on me was enough to make me question my own identity a little bit. To people who engage in that sort of mindset, it doesn’t seem like I’d be interested in a contact-intense sport because I present myself as very feminine, but I do have a super high interest in rough competition. It’s definitely becoming more accepted and normalized in today’s society, and it makes me happy that the idea is spreading that even though I am very feminine in my expression, it does not have any implications on my performance as an athlete.“

Emma Hu

De Leon said as part of the first-ever U18s USA 7s team in rugby,  as well as the first-ever women’s wrestling team at this school, she has observed herself breaking boundaries society has set for her. 

“At first, it was a little bit awkward to start wrestling because I would train with the boy’s team as well as with the girls. But even after the first day when you get over the initial awkwardness, I felt welcomed as an athlete, as I wanted to train to be the best wrestler I could be just like anyone else in the room. Once people see that, it becomes hard for anyone on the team to not respect that. I’ve seen the girls’ wrestling program gain some more members over the years, and it makes me super happy to know that more girls can achieve the same level of comfort in the sport to work to be the best athletes they can be. Slowly we are dismantling the limiting stereotypes preventing women from feeling comfortable with being an athlete.”

De Leon said it is far easier to progress past societal boundaries through the aid and support of like-minded people. 

“It takes a little bit of work, effort, timing, and a good group of people to lead the charge of change, but from what I’ve seen, progress has been made, and it will continue to accommodate more and more women, which is awesome to see.”
Likewise, senior and HOSA president Carolyn Jia said stereotypes regarding women contribute to a negative female perception in society. 

“All and any stereotypes that we see will always contribute to a negative perception of feminism in society because they are limiting. This leads to misunderstandings and resistance to feminist principles,” Jia said. “They also undermine efforts to address issues like gender-based discrimination and violence, because they distract from the core message of equality.” 

Jia said she feels these stereotypes can be harmful to people who identify as feminists and the movement itself. 

“I’ve encountered various feminist stereotypes that have impacted both me and others I know,” she said. “For example, there’s this misconception that feminists are ‘anti-men,’ which can be alienating for those who align with feminist principles but don’t fit this stereotype. I’ve seen others shy away from identifying as feminists because they’re scared to be labeled as ‘too radical’ or ‘too aggressive.’”

Jia is not alone. According to Pew Research Center, “A majority of Americans (64%) say feminism is empowering and 42% see it as inclusive. At the same time, 45% say it is polarizing and 30% say it’s outdated.” The author of the article claims the reasoning behind these various critiques of feminism is due to how men and women view it differently.

Moreover, Jia said several of the common stereotypes against feminism are unfitting. 

“I think feminist stereotypes are generally oversimplified and they’re often negative assumptions about individuals who identify as feminists or support gender equality,” she said. “Common examples are things like portraying feminists as man-haters, overly emotional or unattractive, which not only misrepresents feminist values, but also discourages meaningful conversations about gender equality.”

Similarly to Jia, de Leon sees these feminist stereotypes within the culture of her sports and life.

“It’s not apparent that I’m very (physically) strong exactly, but when you think of people that play rugby or wrestle, most people think of guys and masculine energy,” de Leon said. “I don’t really exude that. I feel like I’m pretty feminine. I like to dress feminine, I like to have my nails done, I like to have a lot of jewelry, I like having my long hair and I very much identify with the feminine part of me. But when you talk about stereotypes and having that masculine energy, I don’t really identify with that.”

In order to solve feminism and gender stereotypes, Jia said people have to be more aware of them in the first place, like de Leon is.

Jia said, “Individuals (should) resist internalizing or perpetuating feminist stereotypes by educating themselves about feminism, participating in critical discussions, and challenging their own bias and assumptions. It’s also important to listen to diverse perspectives and support initiatives that promote gender equality and inclusivity.”

In order for Vice Principal Amy Skeens-Benton to overcome these gender and feminism stereotypes within the workplace, she first had to learn from many women who did the same thing. 

“When I was a student at Carmel, there were no female principals. This was from kindergarten to high school graduation. It wasn’t until CCS had a female superintendent, Barbara Underwood, did we ever have a female principal at the secondary level. Underwood and Assistant Superintendent Libby Conner were strong, smart and I watched them make tough decisions that didn’t make everyone happy but were the right things to do,” Skeens-Benton said. “When I was given the opportunity to be a graduate school professor for my alma mater, it was because two women who knew my expertise and background in safety offered me the position. I had very strong females in my life that were leaders and provided me opportunities.”

Jia, on the other hand, said her role models for becoming a female leader have been shaped through the media. 

“I think the most important shapers of modern-day feminism are the media and popular culture, because it either perpetuates or challenges stereotypes,” Jia said. “For example, media representations of strong, independent female characters who defy traditional gender roles can challenge stereotypes, while negative portrayals of feminists as radical or extreme can reinforce stereotypes. Personally, I have observed position changes due to media in the perception of feminists, especially with the efforts of activists and advocates to challenge stereotypes. These social and online platforms have played a significant role in amplifying diverse feminist voices and promoting inclusive discussions, which ultimately inspired me to pursue leadership roles.” 

Ultimately, Skeens-Benton said women should uplift other women.

“I did not get my job because I was a woman. They weren’t looking for a female. But, because a woman was in the position to hire, it was possible. It is important for women to lift up other women,” Skeens-Benton said. 

Likewise, de Leon said young women should not let stereotypes get to them, and to stick with what they want to pursue. 

“At the end of the day, you really can’t let it get to you. You have to be strong enough to stick with what you want to do because it’s what you want to do,” she said. “Learn to be okay with your identity, love yourself, confide in yourself and respect yourself above all.” 

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