Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Sexism at the playground

"Skinned knees are just part of life with boys."

"Girls make such good older siblings.  I mean, I guess not all of them have that mothering instinct?  But...you know what I mean?  Boys are just so wild."

To my daughter: "Wow, what a brave little girl you are!"  Turns to her own daughter. "Don't you get any ideas, ha ha."

"This is what little girls do!  You wear hair bows.  Stop taking it out of your hair please."

I really didn't expect to hear things like this, not in the twenty-teens.  I guess, now, I'm not even sure why I didn't expect it, beyond a vague idea that the cohort of parents I'm in is determined to do better for their kids, try to let them be who they are more than previous generations of parents have. But apparently in middle-class neighborhoods self-expression is limited to what instrument a kid wants to play.
This is hurting our boys, yes.  Expecting them all to be rough-and-tumble leads parents of shy boys to constantly feel the need to apologize.  "He's so shy!  I don't know why.  *nervous laugh*  Sorry!  I'm sure he'll warm up...."  It's such a silly attitude to have, that you need to apologize if your son isn't rowdy "the way boys are", or if he wants to wear pink or a dress.  Who cares?  Seriously, don't you have anything better to do with your day than worry that someone else's son is gay?  Because let's be honest for once and admit that that's what people are really freaking out over when little boys wear dresses and do "girl things".  They might be gay.  Or, they might just not GAF and want to play around with who they are, but if adults thought of it that way they wouldn't be freaking the fuck out about it.  Seriously, "Parents are often more likely to be worried if their son wants to wear dresses than if their daughter wants to wear" pants.  WTF, people?  Why would you worry about either of those things?
Even more than boys, though, this kind of bullshit is hurting our girls.  I'm going to say it again: it's hurting our girls in so many more devastating ways.  Why do I say that?  Because not only are we telling little girls who and what they should be, we're limiting their world in even more restrictive ways than we do for boys.  I am so livid at the number of parents I see who are deliberately holding their daughters back.  "Oh, don't climb any higher than that, honey!  No, no, that's too high--all right, I'm taking you off of that now."  You might think it's a safety issue, but I've never seen a parent speak that way to a boy.  Not once.  Not even those same parents, to their sons.
Head first.  She likes to be bold,
even in a pink dress.
The very fact that many parents use different tones of voice for different genders--syrupy sweet for girls and firmer for boys--grates on me.
It's not just my imagination or this area.  A recent study found that parents were far more likely to caution girls than boys.  (The study itself is here, but requires payment or membership to read.)  So my big question is, why would we do this to our daughters?  Why would we continuously tell them they can have the world, that they can do or be anything they want, and then just as frequently hold them back when they go for it?  WHY?  It's so maddening, and I don't have an answer.  I'm just pissed that this crap is starting so young.  Girls, right from the start, are being molded into what their parents think little girls should be like, rather than what their little girls think they should be like.  It needs to stop.
I remember understanding and internalizing this injustice when I was young.  My brothers were given pocket knives and, through their Boy Scout troops, got to go on epic adventures.  Building snow caves to sleep in, multi-day canoe trips...I was jealous.  Okay, I still am jealous.  What did my Girl Scout troop do?  Make paper dolls.  I quit when I realized that I wasn't going to be given a pocket knife and learn how to build fires.
But of course the mothers of the Girl Scout troop were horrified that that's what I expected.  I mean, that's just not what little girls want to do, right?  Am I right?  It's a bullshit attitude and, parents, you are kidding yourselves if you think your daughters don't see it and understand it.
I was very girly in many ways.  I loved dresses and dolls and ballet, but that didn't mean I wanted to be left out of the camping and the Learning How To Do Stuff.  I'm just thankful my parents were so supportive, so that I did learn to do cool "boy" things.  (Unfortunately, no matter how I begged, they could not get me into my brother's Boy Scout troop.)  But even with my progressive parents, they never thought to give me a pocket knife, even though my brothers had them.  (The Munchkin will be getting a pocket knife of her very own when we feel she's ready.)
I don't want my girl to encounter the same sexist crap that I did, especially not at home.  I don't want anyone's daughter to experience that.  When I saw how differently people treated me from my brothers, in a way that gave them special privileges for being male, that was the moment that I realized how much grownups lie to kids.  I was told I could be whatever I wanted...but I couldn't really, could I?  If I couldn't even get a grownup to teach me the same skills my brother was learning at the same age, would they really let me grow up to do the same things boys could?
Playing on ice, learning just how slippery it is.
I don't want my daughter to think that even her parents, her biggest supporters and cheerleaders in life, will try to hold her back because of her gender.  No one deserves that.  I am very lucky to be friends with people who feel the same way I do, so my girl will grow up with lots of friends who were also encouraged to explore and grow wild, no matter their gender.
So here it is, all laid out.  My Mother of a Girl Manifesto, if you will: My job as a parent is to give her wings, not to clip them.  I will point out when she's brave, while reassuring her that it's all right to have fears.  I'll be there to hold her hand when she needs it, and stand back when she doesn't.  I'll kiss those scraped knees and encourage her in activities which will earn her more of them.  I will help push her to her limits, because how can she find them if she doesn't look?

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