Young Women Speak about Gender Roles
Every year, as part of their training for the army and as part of the leadership component of the program, mechina students at Hannaton spend time “out in the field”, learning to navigate with maps and compasses. Twice a year they are sent out in small groups, called “chuliyot” or “bands” of four or five, with backpacks filled with food, bottles of water, cooking implements and sleeping bags. Their task: to make it to the meeting point at the end of the day.
This year, the staff of the mechina decided to divide the students by gender, adding a new same-sex twist to the project. We asked a two young women, Michal and Bar, what they thought about this new approach.
Why am I in favor of mixed groups? To be honest, at first I wasn’t. I thought to myself that this was the best way, to be just with other girls, and we will handle everything by ourselves. The navigation, the weight of the bags, filled with food we need for a good few days, on our backs, the endless walking, nights out in the field and everything that comes with it. I thought it’s better not to have a boy with us, for the simple reason that for both sides – boys and girls – there is a tendency to avoid dealing with the question of gender.
For example, the question of weight. It’s very easy for both sides – boys and girls – to give the boys the backpacks to carry – that’s how we grew up, that’s how our society works. And on the side, “boys don’t know how to cook”. If the band is mixed, boys will automatically let the girls do the cooking. And the girls? They go along with it. We all know boys don’t have even the most basic cooking skills!
So why is gender segregation better? Because that way neither side falls into these superficial gender division and instead, everyone has to deal with the hardships on their own.
After navigating for four days, which I had the privilege of doing with four other amazing girls, that’s how I felt, because that’s what we did. We dealt with everything alone. And in the end, we felt truly amazing, a real sense of “girl power”.
But then, I thought about it again.
To be forced to confront something along is all well and good, but where is the choice in all of this? Where is the real effort? Is this what we are really striving for, for a separation between boys and girls? And if so, why? Because we are unable to avoid falling into old rules of gender that are so common in our society? These are rules we don’t support and even reject. “Breaking down stereotypes” is an expression we use so often in the mechina, it’s already become a joke.
But the joke is at our own expense if we choose to remain in the same place, combatting the difficulties simply because there is no choice. And not because we choose to confront them, because there is a choice.
Because it’s easy to let Matan and Itamar, two boys, carry the kilogram of flour and the two liters of water.
And because it’s easy to let them, the boys, build the stone wall that will protect us against rain and wind at night.
And while they boys are building the wall, Gili (a girl) and I will start working on the food, and of course, then it will come out tastier. And anyway, why should we lift such heavy stones?
The second time we went out on a navigation, I went with three other equally amazing people. We were two boys and two girls. We all agreed that we would not fall back into this comfort zone, that we would force ourselves and one another, that we would choose for ourselves. And that’s exactly what we did.
We dragged our backpacks and we carried rocks, we walked many long kilometers together, together we built our covering for the night, we cooked tasty (sort of) food and we navigated in the bewildering desert.
And wow, at the end of this navigation I felt equally amazing, perhaps even more so. Avoiding dealing with a problem is not really coping. Separate groups by gender is not breaking down stereotypes.
This year we had two navigation seminars. In the first, we broke into groups based on gender; in the second, we were mixed boys and girls. The experiences were totally different from one another. There is no doubt that the gender-based navigation was more challenging and more pressured. When we were only women, we depended on nobody else but ourselves, we survived with our own strength, we were totally responsible and independent, both in terms of survival and the navigation itself.
In contrast, during the co-ed navigation, I felt less responsible, less pressured. The boys helped us, the girls, overcome obstacles and challenges we met and on the whole, took on more than we did.
I think the gender-based approach is better. I felt that I challenged myself more and I did things I thought I could not do alone. My sense of self-worth improved and my feeling of satisfaction at the end of the program was immense.