Being female and experiencing sexism in various guises over the years, I’m acutely aware of things that affect my daughter. I don’t want her thinking she has to play with dolls, avoid physical activities, or adhere to certain expectations just because she happens to be a girl. I’d love for her to grow up feeling strong and courageous enough to be herself, and to stand up for herself when facing sexism or sexual harassment, etc. Until I wrote my first Bending Gender post, though, I hadn’t really thought about the sexism that my son faces.
I’m talking sexism in it’s milder forms – comments and assumptions – that are not intended to harm, but could probably play a role, or a support role, in shaping how kids act and what they choose to play with.
For example, in one day I noted various comments that were made to, or in front of, him from a couple of different people:
“You’re such a mummy’s boy, aren’t you?” (in response to him wanting a cuddle from me)
“He’s such a boy – climbing up everything, little trouble-maker” (even though my daughter did the same thing at that age)
“Don’t forget he’s male – he can only do one thing at a time” (I found this one a bit insulting!)
“No, you don’t want that, here, play with your truck” (phew! that princess dress would’ve tainted any future manliness for sure)
Now, I’ll admit, they’re tame comments that certainly meant no harm. My son’s not going to seek therapy for them down the track. Yet they do buy into the role that males are supposed to play in our society, and at a very early age. These little comments, and all the other influences around him, help to shape what toys he chooses, what games he’ll play, how he’ll treat other kids, and his own view of what it is to be a male.
I guess this is all very “well, duh” to people. I don’t know. Battle of the sexes differences has always irked me. I don’t like to just identify myself with being female – I feel part of a bigger community. I guess I feel protective of my kids – I want them to be the ones that do the choosing for themselves, who decide what they enjoy, rather than feeling they have to fit in with other people’s expectations. To have generalisations and societal labels describing them at such a young age just seems wrong to me. Especially because kids are so impressionable & eager to please.
Maybe it’s because I’ve never really felt that I’ve managed to work out what I’m about – I hate pigeon-holing myself as a certain personality type, or having particular characteristics, because, really, they change depending on my mood. Maybe it’s because I resent other people telling me what they think I should do with my life, or those of my children. Maybe it’s because I just enjoy watching these beautiful little personalities discover and learn and I know I’ll love them no matter how they turn out.
Parents react differently when their babies are mistaken for the other sex. Some are indignant, some are fine. Strangers are apologetic when they ask ‘boy or girl?’ Most babies under one or two could really pass as either, though, couldn’t they?
Isn’t it more interesting to observe their personalities grow, rather than put them in the girl or boy box? Or are we too lazy to pepper small-talk with anything other than generalisations about boys and girls?
And, hey, I’m guilty of generalisations, too! It is an automatic conversation-filler sometimes. How do we break out of it, though?