This morning, I watched a TED talk by Reshma Saujani, founder of Girls Who Code.
It came with a warning that it might make me cry, but I didn’t actually think it would.
And then it did.
Boys come to me when their code doesn’t work [a computer science professor] and they say “there’s something wrong with my code”. Girls come to me when their code won’t work and they say “there’s something wrong with me”. We’re teaching girls perfection or bust.
Yeah. That was the part that undid me.
The number of times I’ve asked myself, or others, “what’s wrong with me” in situations as varied and as commonplace as putting up flatpack furniture, relationships and breakups, drawing eyeliner on symmetrically, getting sharp photos, learning new skills, colouring in while staying inside the lines, and yes, coding (or at least CSS).
What if the question I should have been asking was different?
What if, instead of assuming it was me that was the problem, I’d looked at the missing piece of the shelving, the myriad of warning signs that he wasn’t the one for me and had his own issues, the fact that liquid eyeliner is just a sadistic bastard of an invention, that my camera needed a replacement autofocus unit, that staying inside the lines is optional, that coding is a whole new language and it’s ok for it not to work first time?
The men I know, when something goes wrong, generally have a strop, and then assume there’s a problem with the thing and get it sorted. They don’t instantly look to their own perceived failings to explain it.
WHY are we teaching our girls that only perfection is acceptable, while letting our boys experiment and fail and iterate? Why are we teaching our girls not to take risks?
Why do we let our boys get messy, muddy and jump off the climbing frame and in the puddles, while we coddle our little girls and caution them not to let their skirts ride up while they’re playing?
Why do we show them, persistently, through our own examples as much as in explicit lessons, that how they look is more important than what they do, that marriage and children is the highest ideal they could possibly attain, and that they really should be seen and not heard?
How often do you hear someone shushing their female child, because shouting (which, let’s face it, is a default setting for kids) is unseemly? And how often does a little boy yell and rush around, and people just dismiss it as “boys will be boys”?
How often have you kept something to yourself instead of telling the world, because it’s not yet perfect?
That novel, that website, that article, that painting, that floral arrangement, that recipe which tasted amazing but looked a bit weird. That wonky but effective thing you built, that idea that might just change the world…
I think of the times in my life I’ve let my perfectionism hold me back from doing something I really wanted to, and yes, I cried.
But I’m also determined to stop letting it get in my way now. I’m lucky enough to be a young adult in the most opportune of times – and I am once again taking on my 2015 motto of “Done is better than perfect”.
Alongside “feel the fear and do it anyway”, and taking (calculated) risks rather than hiding my light in the quiet, ladylike, nice-girls-don’t-do-nudity camp.
My photographs and my work celebrate the work of art that is the feminine – you, beautiful and worthy exactly as you are. We are beautiful and soft and warm and nurturing (sometimes). But we are also brave and strong and courageous and equal.
I don’t want to upset anyone. But I don’t want the generation that comes after me to still be experiencing this outdated perception of how girls should be and how boys should be.