On my tenth birthday, my neighbors jokingly declared me the mayor of my cul-de-sac. I had long since been the organizer of our childhood games, along with my brother, who was the oldest of our merry band. Still, there were different expectations for the two of us. He was called vivacious. I was called mature.
I never asked for such a title, its implications wearing heavily on my bony, childish shoulders. I wanted to be a kid, who could get away with running wild with my brother and our friends, who was allowed the leniency to sneak outside on a school day, or make mistakes. But despite myself, I began to conduct my life differently. At school, I felt like I had to play into the expectations adults had for me. I did more than my share of work in group projects, I watched over my friends if there wasn’t supervision. Upon entering middle school, I changed the patterns of my speech and dress to seem more “mature.” The adults were looking to me to be an example, and I was scared of disappointing them.
For girls, this trap of maturity is a global phenomenon. Girls are told from the moment we're born that boys mature slower than us, that we need to make allowances for them. Older sisters are expected to take care of their younger siblings in large families, often without the help of their brothers. My cousin, who is two years younger than me, is frequently relied upon to watch our youngest cousins on vacation. She was never asked to do it, and never volunteered, it was just an unwritten rule in our family.
The legal age of adulthood in the United States is eighteen, but we expect girls to act like adults much sooner. Girls tend to do better in academic settings, regardless of what is being tested, according to a 2014 study conducted by the University of New Brunswick. This finding is attributed to increased conscientiousness; girls develop a stronger work-ethic earlier in their lives than boys do. There isn’t a biological difference in our brains that makes girls more attuned to schoolwork, rather, girls are socialized differently. The expectation to be more mature than their male counterparts manifests in choosing homework over watching TV or playing outside. While men are allowed time to grow and make mistakes, girls are rushed to pick up the slack.
The higher standard for girls has implications throughout their lifetimes. In the workplace, women may be passed over for promotions because of small mistakes, which are remembered more frequently than those of their male coworkers. Overqualified women are so used to performing perfection that they think themselves underqualified while searching for jobs. In Hollywood, young actresses are picked apart, because they are expected to act like adults and not children by virtue of their job. Makeup and fashion brands teach girls to be ashamed of their bodies, because the skins they grow into are never pretty, or skinny, or smooth enough. Adults use their insecurities as an excuse for exploitation, and girls are taught to have insecurities in spades.
I’m not a young girl anymore. As a teenager, I straddle the line between childhood and adulthood with scrambled, awkward grace. But sometimes, I wake up the same child I was a decade ago. Sometimes, I just want my mom, or my dog, or somebody to reassure me that I still have a lot of growing to do. To save generations of girls, I will be the mayor if I must. But my efforts are useless if they are not echoed. I only wish for others to know the fleeting nature of girlhood. I only wish they understand the cruelty in taking away something already half gone.
citation: 2020. Apa.Org. Accessed March 7 2020. https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/bul-a0036620.pdf.