Walking past road works the other day I was informed by my three year old that only boys can fix pipes, not girls. I was outraged of course and after putting him right I was left wondering where he acquired the notion that girls did not ‘fix things’.
When discussing my child’s restlessness during a 40 minute bus journey a friend suggested that his inability to relax for 40 minutes was down to him being a boy and that girls were much better in these situations.
One of my sons favourite books is named ‘Stories for Boys.’ It was a gift and of course he cannot read and is therefore unaware of it’s entirely sexist title. The book contains a pirate story, an alien story, a space story, a dinosaur story and a football story.
As a ballet teacher I know that the ratio of boys to girls in your local ballet class will be approximately 1 to 15 and in some schools even less. In my sons football class the amount of boys far outweighs the amount of girls.
So what’s my point?
My point is that we live in a patriarchal society that sees women as the ‘other,’ less than, the weaker sex. This is infiltrated in to our every day living and is being passed on to our children in ways we have not even considered.
Hearing that my son already categorises work into female and male is quite shocking. I am a working professional and the roles within our household are divided by talents rather than gender. I tend to do the DIY and my husband does most of the cooking. I can only assume that his view on ‘pipe fixing’ is the result of TV eg. Bob the Builder and not Roberta the Builder or the fact that it is all boy Teddys that are taking on the DIY workload in his Bizzy Bear book. The idea that women are not capable of certain jobs is in the air even at the youngest age.
With regard to my bus conversation, people attributing behavioural traits to gender is not uncommon. On many occasions I have been told that my son is a ‘proper little boy’ because of his physicality. The language we use ‘boys will be boys’ for example and the way society seems to expect boys to endure a little more rough and tumble sends a message saying that boys are stronger, louder and more present whilst girls should be quiet and unnoticed.
The ‘Stories for Boys’ book I can’t actually believe exists. There is also a ‘Stories for Girls’ book full of princesses and the like. I mean, seriously?????
Ballet class vs football class. The reason that there are more boys in a toddler football class and more girls in a toddler ballet class is because we as parents choose the path for our children. Some of us will take the route of trying everything regardless of stereotypes and some of us will take the safe route in this gendered society and send our girls to ballet and boys to football. Encouraging the notion that females are demure, beautiful ethereal creatures and boys are strong athletic masculine, dominant beings.
So we live in a world that very much views boys in one way and girls in another, and us girls haven’t faired too well out of the situation. We are aware of this but how do we change it?
Well, you don’t have to change it. It is not my place to tell you how to parent so I will tell you how I will change it. Firstly I will take responsibility for any level of gendered upbringing my son has already experienced. He has had a great upbringing so far and has fantastic female role models in his family, a solicitor, a doctor of Criminology, two powerhouse grandmothers and a very feisty mother. This however does not mean that I cannot analyse my parenting skills with a view to how I can further shape his view of the female.
Of course in this world it is almost impossible not to be affected by gendered views. I have not pushed him into activities that are considered to be ‘boyish.’ He used to attend a weekly music class with singing and dancing before he started football and whilst he enjoyed it at first, he soon lost interest. He loves football but, if he were to suddenly become averse, I would have no problem in changing activities.
Lately he has shown a great interest in dance, something that he wasn’t too keen on in his younger years as I previously mentioned, so maybe now is the time to try that ballet class.
As my child is biracial I am very conscious in providing books that have characters of different ethnicities. In the same way I want to increase the number of books he has with strong female characters, shaping his view of the feminine one strong woman at a time.
I do of course have a husband that is equally responsible and our relationship is painting a picture in his head of how men should view women and vice versa. Now my husband is an ardent feminist himself and I hope this belief in equality translates in to our every day practice, demonstrating mutual respect and care between us. I sense that his father’s respect for equality will filter down.
This is just a skimming of the subject at hand. However we are all very much a product of our own environment and the smallest incidents can shape that ‘product’. Paying attention to the finer details of parenting may help our children take us that little bit closer to equality. Time will tell.