‘Girls are more mature than boys’ is a phrase that is commonly used to explain the differences between these two genders, but is this a biological difference or is it one that our society has created? And why is this stereotype so harmful, especially for girls?
From a young age, I was taught that girls will always be more mature than boys. Naturally, girls physically mature faster as they go through puberty earlier than their male counterparts. Therefore, a false correlation between physical maturity and emotional maturity is created and consequently used as an excuse for judging girls and boys with different expectations. When I was first told this, by my primary school teachers nonetheless, it made me feel accomplished, wrongfully instilling in me a sense of pride. I was mature. I was grown-up. As such, being responsible became a priority for me.
However, this duty of being emotionally mature can become a heavy burden that falls onto the backs of young girls and remains a weight they carry for possibly their entire lives. Early on, it can manifest itself in school, where within the first few years of education a double standard is already created. Young boys are often given the opportunity to be messy, attempt different things, failing and trying again, whereas girls are punished for these similar attitudes instead being taught orderliness and composure. In adulthood, it can manifest itself in relationships where women often bear the burden of maturity whereas men are applauded for displaying minimal emotional attunement. It can even be seen in phrases like ‘boys will be boys’, a statement that directly pardons boys or even grown men for ‘not knowing better’ because of a lack of maturity that is naturally unexpected from women.
These examples demonstrate the harm of this double standard by which we judge women and men, one that has been completely manufactured by the patriarchal society in which we live.
Gendered stereotypes, such as this one, are examples of benevolent sexism that harm both girls and boys. In an article by metro.co.uk, the term ‘benevolent sexism’ is unpacked: “‘Benevolent sexism is when we make assumptions about girls and women which seem nice but are still sexist. Calling girls mature because of their gender is sexist because it turns what might be an achievement (maturity) into a gender characteristic. In this case, the benevolent sexism also hurts boys, as it means they are being covertly told that they are immature.”
As mentioned in the article, this gender stereotype is not only harmful to girls but also negatively impacts boys. By teaching girls to constantly bear the burden of being ‘responsible’, we are also teaching boys that they are not required to develop emotional maturity. A lack of this maturity means it becomes harder for boys to become attuned with their emotions. This inevitably plays into toxic masculinity as, over time, a lack of emotional intelligence has become a gender stereotype, just like emotional maturity is one attributed to women. This means boys may never become equipped to understand and express their emotions, which can, in turn, be very harmful to them as they grow older.
So where do we go from here?
Gendered stereotypes like this one are engrained in our society. To attempt to eradicate this double standard, we must focus on changing the way we teach young girls and boys in order to give them equal opportunities to develop their sense of maturity on their own instead of forcing it onto girls prematurely. By explicitly teaching boys to understand the importance of emotional attunement and by allowing girls to develop their maturity on their own through experience, a more balanced dynamic can be created in which maturity becomes universal for all young people regardless of gender.