[Some additional context: https://sleeplesswhispers.online/guest-blog-post-has-now-been-published/]

When it comes to gender equality and gender equity, there’s one word that you will always hear: feminism. And in some regards, I’m not opposed to it. Being a female can have negative consequences. However, truth be told, this is far more applicable to women than to young girls. As a girl myself, I have a very good life, in fact, much better than many boys of my age. This is the part where many people go silent, realizing that it is not as simple as they believe.

When it comes to girls, there exists a gender bias in certain countries, particularly in Africa and Asia, but also prevalent in the Americas and Central and Eastern Europe. Girls are often expected to conform to traditional gender roles, prioritizing motherhood and homemaking over pursuing education. To address this issue, numerous commendable initiatives have been launched, such as the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), aiming to bring about positive change and empower girls to receive an education and pursue their desired paths in life. While these efforts are undoubtedly beneficial, they have also given rise to unintended challenges.

When it comes to boys, the problem of lacking education is just as prevalent, if not more so. According to another United Nations organization, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 132 million boys are out of school. One might assume that this number is higher for girls, but the reality is quite the opposite. According to UNESCO, only 127 million girls are out of school.

And the disparities continue. According to UNESCO, boys are more likely to repeat grades in primary school in 130 countries and have a higher likelihood of not obtaining an upper secondary education in 73 countries. Furthermore, at the tertiary level, there are only 88 men enrolled for every 100 women. These statistics can be verified in UNESCO’s report titled ‘Leave no child behind: global report on boys’ disengagement from education,’ published in 2022 and accessible through the UNESDOC digital library.

But what these organizations fail to address is the situation at the local level. I can only speak about the circumstances in Poland and Belarus, as those are the areas I am familiar with. In both countries, being born a girl comes with distinct advantages compared to being born a boy. While the stereotype of motherhood and child-rearing still persists, there is also greater acceptance for girls to pursue education and aspire to higher ambitions. The key distinction lies in the fact that girls do not face as much pressure to excel academically, whereas boys experience an immense amount of academic pressure.

And this perspective extends to various other aspects of life as well. Reflecting on my family, we consider ourselves fortunate to have young parents. The advantage lies in their progressive mindset and understanding nature, especially when it comes to dealing with disabilities. In the case of my brothers and me, our parents don’t impose any particular expectations or pressures on us. Instead, they embrace and encourage us to be true to ourselves in every possible way. Unfortunately, from conversations with my friends, I’ve come to realize that this level of freedom and acceptance is remarkably rare in their own family dynamics. Our parents’ only expectation is for us to behave well, without forcing us to pursue specific achievements.

Does that mean we don’t achieve anything? Absolutely not. We do achieve, and I’ll give you an example. My younger brother, Aleksander, loves dancing even more than I do, and he has accomplished several awards with his dancing partner. The difference between him and many other boys who dance is that he genuinely enjoys it; he is not compelled or forced into it. It’s astonishing how often I converse with friends online who don’t have a genuine passion for anything they do. This holds true regardless of the country; the number of individuals in this situation is remarkably high.

And that brings us to the world of online activity. It has become almost obligatory for our generation to have a strong presence on social media, with a large number of followers and interactions. Your social status is often judged by it. However, there is a noticeable discrepancy that remains: accounts belonging to girls tend to attract more interactions. But whether this imbalance is truly beneficial…

A common occurrence is girls being followed by adult predators, yet they often disregard them because it boosts their follower count. They willingly trade their safety for popularity… Personally, I would never compromise my well-being for such superficial gains. It only takes a few seconds to check someone’s account and see if they are followed by such individuals, allowing us to realize that a portion of their followers holds no value. However, the reality is that most people do not conduct such checks. Assessing followers tends to be something that those who prioritize your popularity might do, but by then, the desired goal has already been achieved.

However, what many people fail to acknowledge is that this also happens to boys. While we are well aware of the dangers faced by girls, there is a significant silence surrounding the experiences of boys. This silence, in turn, increases the risks they face, as many boys remain unaware of the existence of these predators, assuming that such incidents only happen to girls.

Taking a step back to what I mentioned about boys and dancing, I recently published a poem on my own blog discussing the topic. I shared my admiration for a boy who does ballet, emphasizing that there’s nothing wrong with it. In fact, ballet offers numerous advantages for boys, much like rhythmic gymnastics. However, it’s disheartening to see that not many boys pursue ballet these days. And before you assume that this only applies to Western countries, let me show you an example:

gender equality, Unveiling the overlooked: challenges faced by boys in pursuit of gender equality, SnowCalmth

That’s in Minsk, Belarus, the country where I was born. As you can see, the ballet class in the picture comprises only two boys, although the boy in the back is nearly impossible to see. It happens to be one of the extremely few stock images available that features boys in ballet. The situation is even worse when it comes to rhythmic gymnastics, as I intended to include a stock image to empower it. However, across all the stock image platforms I use, I couldn’t find a single image of a boy performing rhythmic gymnastics… Not a single one. There is certainly a gap for stock photo authors to fill, although I doubt it will happen anytime soon.

I mention this for two reasons. Firstly, it speaks to the stigma surrounding boys pursuing activities they genuinely enjoy, rather than conforming to society’s narrow expectations. Secondly, it underscores the fact that it’s precisely in Eastern countries where sports like ballet and rhythmic gymnastics still have some level of societal acceptance, with a great emphasis on ‘some’. The problem is that even in these countries, there are actions being taken that jeopardize this acceptance. Take Russia, for instance. It’s no secret that Russia is increasingly militarizing its children. In the coming years, Russian boys might be reduced to mere cannon fodder, much like the Russian army already is. And the arts, an area where Russia has traditionally excelled, will suffer as a result. I just hope Belarus will take a better direction before they cross that bridge, but with the dictator in my home country, I have no true hopes.

And what’s even more disheartening is that these societal expectations are perpetuating the very ‘problems’ that people complain about in these countries. As a girl, it’s increasingly difficult to find a boy who aligns with our current standards. In the past, boys were expected to be strong and powerful, serving as breadwinners and protectors of the family. However, this outdated image has long faded. Today, we understand that such individuals often exhibit excessive aggression and can become a source of terror within the family, rather than a nurturing figure and protector.

gender equality, Unveiling the overlooked: challenges faced by boys in pursuit of gender equality, SnowCalmth

In light of these circumstances, many girls, including myself, now desire kind and gentle boys as partners. However, the chances of finding boys willing to enter into relationships with girls are slim. Most of them fall into the category of what Eastern countries often label as ‘problems’—meaning they identify as gay. And if we’re honest, this isn’t surprising. Coming out requires immense courage, just as it does to defy societal stereotypes. Consequently, many boys who don’t conform to the stereotypical view are also more likely to be gay. By highlighting this, I want to emphasize the courage exhibited by gay and bisexual boys, as it applies equally to those who identify as bisexual. It’s almost becoming an unwritten requirement for boys in these countries to be either gay or bisexual, as otherwise, they struggle to fit the mold imposed by societal expectations.

On the other hand, if I, as a girl, were to pursue something like boxing or another fighting (“self-defense”) sport, it would receive overwhelming support. Society often views it as an act of greatness when a girl participates in such activities. But why does this perspective change when it comes to boys engaging in sports like ballet and rhythmic gymnastics? Unlike fighting (“self-defense”) sports, it would actually make a lot more sense for boys to embrace these two disciplines. Ballet, for instance, requires male dancers, but it remains relatively rare to see boys signing up for ballet classes. The hesitation may arise from doubts about their own masculinity being taken seriously afterward, or perhaps it’s influenced by the concerns of their parents.

Why do people associate ballet with being ‘feminine’ or ‘less manly’ for boys? When I asked my Western friends about their perception of ballet boys, many held an inaccurate image. There’s a belief that boys also wear tutus, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Fortunately, when discussing this topic with friends from Eastern countries, and also France, there seems to be a better understanding. However, conveying this perspective to others can still be challenging, as it brings us back to the subject of gender norms and expectations.

For instance, if I mention tights, most people immediately think of them as women’s clothing. Even a simple Google search confirms this: ‘a woman’s close-fitting garment made of nylon or other knitted yarn, covering the legs, hips, and bottom.’ However, the true definition of tights is different. According to the dictionary, tights are ‘a piece of clothing made of very thin material that tightly covers the feet, legs, and lower part of the body.’ There is nothing inherently female about it.

Now, let’s talk about the fact that boys often wear leotards while dancing ballet. This is where many people struggle to comprehend the distinction between a female and male leotard. In my research for this blog post, I discovered that a British store sells ‘boy leotards,’ which are essentially slightly customized girl leotards with a boyish print and incorporated shorts. To ensure I provide accurate information, I consulted a friend of my little brother Aleksander.

The primary difference in a male leotard lies in one specific area: the crotch. The region of the leotard tends to be more spacious, preventing any visible outlines. This eliminates the need for additional shorts, which can be cumbersome during ballet and gymnastics. It should be noted that improvements could be made to girls’ leotards as well to address similar concerns.

That being said, the misconceptions surrounding ballet for boys extend beyond clothing. Consider this: What is the male equivalent of a ballerina? There is a specific answer to this, but most people are unaware of it. The reality is that ‘ballerina’ is of Italian origin, and the male form is ‘ballerino.’ However, it is rarely used in English. In fact, when referring to male ballet dancers or male dancers in general, we often borrow the French language and use ‘danseur,’ while females are referred to as ‘danseuse.’ Although it is lesser-known, this is a common practice among those with dance experience in various countries, including the USA, Canada, and the United Kingdom.

This illustrates one of the major problems surrounding the issue of boys’ rights—misunderstandings. Here’s another example: By this point in my writing, some may assume that I want all boys to abandon what we perceive as stereotypical masculinity. However, that is not true. In reality, I believe it is important for boys to be assertive. But let’s look closely at the word I’m using—assertive.

The truth is, when a boy enjoys activities that we consider traditionally masculine, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. However, there is an important caveat—a limit. This is where things often go awry in relation to masculinity. The term ‘toxic masculinity’ exists precisely because this limit is easily crossed.

Just the other day, I was walking with my little brother Ilya on our way to the local grocery store. Suddenly, I heard Ilya exclaim, “Ouch!” A boy slightly younger than him had hit him out of nowhere. The parents came rushing over to apologize and quickly moved along. There was no discussion with the boy about how wrong his actions were, and it’s disheartening to realize what kind of person he might become. In contrast, Ilya’s response was assertive—he firmly said stop and didn’t retaliate with violence.

gender equality, Unveiling the overlooked: challenges faced by boys in pursuit of gender equality, SnowCalmth

The reason why toxic masculinity is so prevalent these days is the fact that, at crucial ages, parents don’t stop their children from engaging in wrong behavior. And let me be clear, I’m referring to children, not just sons. The issue here is that this doesn’t only apply to boys but also to girls. We’re in a generation where many girls aren’t prevented from behaving aggressively, leading to a whole generation where there are plenty of girls who are even more likely than males to exhibit all the signs of toxic masculinity. This can already be observed on social media, as quite some women are now displaying behaviors akin to toxic masculinity, which can be concerning at times. When both men and women display toxic masculinity, where can we still feel safe?

Which is the whole reason why I started this article about the fact that there’s a difference between females and males, as well as between men and boys, and women and girls. It has become crucial to either move away from gender classifications altogether or include age as a factor in these classifications. While I understand the importance of women striving for equal pay, which has seen significant progress, it has created a significant problem for children. Girls are not being treated worse than boys; on the contrary, they often receive preferential treatment. We need to bring more attention to this issue, including at the United Nations.

The reason I included the United Nations is because UNESCO aims to raise awareness, but the United Nations itself hinders this through initiatives like UNGEI. It could have been the United Nations Education Initiative or the United Nations Children’s Education Initiative, but the emphasis on gender creates unfair treatment of boys, which UNESCO is working to resolve. To be blunt, it’s discrimination and a violation of Article 2 of the United Nations’ own Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

This is the core of the problem. Movements advocating for equality still discriminate themselves. Feminism does so on gender, and the United Nations does so on gender, age, and national origin. It shouldn’t matter who or where you are; everyone deserves equal treatment. The neglect of boys’ issues in the pursuit of women’s rights and educational opportunities for girls has contributed to a more fractured world. Being born male often means conforming to outdated societal expectations and hiding one’s true self, a reality that is frequently overlooked. To create a future characterized by genuine gender equality, it is crucial to dismantle these barriers and work collaboratively. Only then can we establish a society where every person can live authentically and achieve their full potential. The transformation towards this inclusive world is a pressing need that requires our collective efforts.

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