I was first introduced to the phrase, “Girls mature faster than boys” when I was 12. My mother was trying to placate my complaints about the boys in my neighbourhood who always teased me. At the time, she told me that the reason these boys refused to see my point was because they weren’t as mature as I was and that being the “mature one”, I should just let it go. Hearing this gave me a false sense of accomplishment – I felt like a grown up. It didn’t help that this was also around the time that I got my period, a time when everyone around me kept reminding me that I had officially entered ladyhood. Naturally, I was convinced that I had already done all the growing up that was required of me unlike the boys. Being responsible felt almost like my duty.
But here’s the thing: When we tell little girls that they mature faster than their male counterparts, we’re indirectly teaching them that the onus of being the “bigger person” will always be on them. That they will have to go through life having to pardon boys who don’t know any better. This is afterall, how we create a society where women are forced to look after the men in their lives in a way that will never be reciprocated. It’s funny how a “broken” man is romanticised. But on the other hand, a woman is always expected to have already reached the best version of herself when a man falls in love with her. Even the pop-culture we consume has always reinforced this idea of the woman spending all her energies in fixing the man in her life; just look no further than the plot of every movie that Imtiaz Ali has made.
Since childhood, I’ve seen this statement being paraded as an excuse to treat boys and girls differently. By the time I was 14, it was expected by most people that I would be helping out in the kitchen and around the house. During family get-togethers, I was expected to make myself useful; whenever we were invited to someone’s house, I would be discreetly nudged by my mother to keep the plates in the kitchen after everyone was done eating. My male cousins (even the grown-ups) were never on the receiving end of such nudges. I’ve never seen any of them offering to help out with chores, and neither have I ever seen anyone else telling them to do the same. They’re yet to be taught how to cook for themselves, let alone fend for the entire family. The ones who do perform the bare minimum are, of course, lauded as exceptionally good boys who will be an asset to whoever is lucky enough to marry them.
In essence, the mentality of “girls mature faster than boys” has far-reaching consequences than we’d like to believe. It teaches us to infantilise men when it comes to domestic responsibilities, and teaches women to bear the burden of sexual, physical, and emotional labour in a relationship. The statement then, functions both as a justification for gender discrimination, and also serves as a way of invalidating other genders.
A Metro.co.uk article terms this whole theory of “girls maturing faster than boys” as benevolent sexism that does not benefit either girls or boys.
“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. Not the nicest thing to hear about yourself.”
When we teach children that girls mature faster than boys, we’re failing as a society to encourage the values of sensitivity, and emotional maturity in our boys. It’s how we sow the seeds of toxic masculinity that abandons any scope of the growth of emotional sensibilities in men. It explains why most men tend to have difficulty in expressing their feelings or articulating their inner thoughts. They were never taught to practice these skills, because they’re given a free pass when it comes to emotional maturity.
In 2019, it’s disheartening to see that this phrase has still stuck around and is employed is insidious ways. If a woman refuses to put up with her husband’s abuse, she is told that she is incapable of “handling her man”, or that her mother hasn’t taught her how to hold a family together. When girls are told they are grown up, it sounds like a compliment to them, but in the long run it just does disservice to them.
Maybe what we need to do in 2019 is retire this phrase. Not just for the future generation of women but also for the generation of boys who will be men.
This article was originally published on Arre