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Commentary By Katisha Frederick: The Gender Gap Is Still Wide

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American women have enjoyed the right to vote for nearly a century, have had access to birth control and workplace rights protected by law for decades and now earn more college degrees than men. But as commentator Katisha Frederick notes, the battle for gender equality is far from over. Katisha is part of WAMU's Youth Voices program in partnership with Youth Radio and D.C's Latin American Youth Center. She attends McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C.:

So I'm texting a guy at night. You know, having a general conversation about nothing.

And somewhere along the way he asks a very simple question: "Do you smoke?"

For a second I'm stuck -- why is he asking me this? But then I decide not to put too much thought into it and just respond with the truth: "No."

Then comes his next text: "Good. It's not ladylike."

There's that annoying word again: ladylike. Every time I hear it, I picture this imaginary woman. She wakes up in the morning and puts on a skirt, a pretty little blouse, a pair of heels and make-up. She crosses her legs when she sits and speaks in this soft, gentle voice.

If my image of being ladylike seems outdated, that's because it probably is. I've never met anyone like that and probably never will. And even though I don't really want to be that woman, sometimes in small ways I find myself trying to live up to this standard.

If I'm talking to a guy and he tells me he prefers me to look more feminine, I'll choose a skirt and flats even though I'd rather wear jeans and tennis shoes.

But if I step back for a second, I find it strange that I -- and people my age -- still care about being ladylike, considering how far we've come in other ways. Like in school -- we're all equals, and we're all taught to dream big.

As a high school senior, I've already sent out my college and scholarship applications, and I'm now waiting for acceptance letters.

My family, friends, and mentors expect me to succeed so that I can live out my dream of becoming a graphic designer.

Planning for your future career can be overwhelming, but at least I know I'm in the same boat as many other seniors -- female and male.

It's somewhat comforting to know I'm going through the same process as my guy friends, but why is it that we're still holding onto some old-fashioned definition of femininity?

To be honest, it's not such a big deal right now, maybe just a little annoying. But I can't help but wonder how this standard will affect my future.

Fast forward seven years and I'll be 25. Maybe I'll have my career and a family -- and what will being "ladylike" mean then?

Will it mean I'm expected to cook, clean and practically raise a child on my own while also holding down a full-time job?

That's definitely not a standard to which I want to hold myself.

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