You can’t scroll on Tumblr for five minutes without seeing the equality tagline 21st century :
“Raise boys and girls the same way.”
It’s printed on a short sleeve t-shirt, bags, posters… you name it. It feels empowering- a fist in the air feminist quote demanding gender equality.
At 18 scrolling through Tumblr- when I first saw it- I knew that my parents had. I could see it in everything they did with me; the choices they made.
Of course girls and boys have different genetics, but science says the differences in behaviour are usually small yet are exacerbated and exaggerated by how we’re raised.
So, i’ve been pondering… what things do parents do -even from a loving and nursing standpoint- that make girls feel powerless and boys feel invisible?
Far too often, we hear about fathers being protective when their daughters start dating. This idea stretches all the way back to the story of Rapunzel being kept in a tower away from potential suitors, and to a time when daughters were actually the property of their fathers (jesus christ).
The media may exaggerate by showing dads threatening to kill their daughters new boyfriend’s in a schmorgazboard of american sitcoms, but in real life it’s way more subtle than that. The point is, a father worrying about his daughter dating men is something she can sense. It’s something that on a very subconscious level, makes her think “I need my father’s protection from men”.
Now, if he like this it’s probably because he’s witnessed, first hand, men ‘joking’ about woman they’ve slept with being ‘sluts’ or ‘easy’. Men letting the whole side down by seeing woman as objects, so it’s understandable that he just wants to protect her… but it does more damage than good. It does the opposite than to empower her. It makes her think that hey, men are scary and she can’t make decisions about herself and her body without the male in her life helping her. She can.
I wrote a post about the pressure boys feel to be macho growing up and why that needs to change. Maybe this need for a boy to grow into a ‘real man’ is the reason boys end up getting used to making off the cuff sexist comments with their mates to assert their masculinity. Maybe if it was totally normal for men to be defined by softer adjectives as well; lovely, kind, sensitive, without them feeling uncomfortable with it, we’d be bringing up more men who respect women’s qualities and don’t feel as much of a need to be dominating and strong. Read the post here if you fancy it.
In the words of Reagan, a mom of two “[My son] jumps off high things and [my husband] doesn’t flinch,” she says. “[My daughter] goes to do it and he runs to grab her.” We’ve covered protecting your daughter from men but what about protecting your daughter from the every day?
Women do encounter dangers in life that men just don’t, but grazing her knee isn’t one of them. A dad worrying about her hurting herself like she’s some precious flower does, however, put into her head that she’s more “fragile” than her brothers. Does a dad worry that if his little girl falls over in the playground and he doesn’t rush straight to her that he’s not a good dad? Maybe, but shouldn’t little girls with scars be just as cool as little boys with scars?
As a kid I felt like my dad let me have as much fun with me, as my two boy cousins. And that’s what makes an energetic little girl into a strong grown woman who believes she can do just as much as her male coworkers can.
Gender equality needs us to let boys be sensitive and girls be rough. Bring up your kids as similarly as you can. Because male or female, we’re all capable of the same emotions. Let’s raise our kids to be people. Not men or women.