Two daughters, one son, one husband and one wife. With this new gaggle of girls we have in our household, the issue of sexism has arisen more often than I thought it would. For better or for worse, it is an issue worth talking about. Not only for our family, but for our society as a whole.
Lately, I have found it quite interesting that when Kyle takes the 3 kiddos out on his lonesome, he gets asked, quite often, if he needs help. He then has to force a smile and politely say “no, thank you”. I often ponder when he comes home with these stories if I would be asked the same question. Is it the difference in our personalities? My laid back-ness and his more type-A-ness? Is he just more aware of the comments than I am? Or does he get these questions when he has all three kids because he is a male, whereas I am a mother so therefore I am more ‘equipped’ for the task? He often wonders if these women seriously think he’s less capable of managing three children only because he’s a man, or if he’s really holding Meadow upside down and not realizing it.
And on the flip side, when discussing the comment “throw like a girl” I get annoyed that the term is still in our American vernacular. I keep thinking that we are past that, but the fact that my 7-year-old son understands what the term means proves to me that we are far from it. Women, on a daily basis still get cat-calls and sexist remarks about their brain, their body, and who knows what else. Many women in this country are told in various ways that they are not strong enough, or smart enough as men.
When contemplating these two issues while relaxing in the shower (while the hubster chases the kids around the house) the social studies teacher comes out in me. If you start thinking anthropologically and consider that for thousands, and I mean THOUSANDS of years if you were born a boy you would grow up with the expectation that you were to take care of the household through getting food, money, etc. Women, on the other hand took care of what the men could not, the kids, the cleaning and so forth. It’s understandable that a family structure couldn’t do everything themselves, they needed each other for help. So they created roles, and those roles began to define gender (hence the term “gender-roles”). I can see how it all got started in some cave: “Let’s make a deal, I’ll go find us some food if you can please keep our baby nourished and alive in this safe cave while I’m gone.” Obviously there are cultures out there where some of these expectations were reversed. But as a whole, most humans ever born in this world had very rigid set of expectations laid out for them because of they were a boy, or they were born a girl.
Now here we are, in the year 2014, and all of that has truly gone out the window. Except for the fact that science has not yet figured out a way for men to give birth (well, I don’t think they have) we now live in an American society where women have the opportunity to be the ones who “bring home the bacon” and the term “stay at home dad” is not an uncommon one.
We live in a beautiful time, people!
So why do we still have issues like the ones I stated above? Why is it always easier for the mother to gain custody of a child than a man? Why do men, in some areas of the workforce, get paid at a higher rate than their women counterparts?
I think it’s because our conversations concerning gender have become more negative.
People on both sides of the issue feel like they are being stereotyped and treated unfairly by others who believe differently than them. And typically, those are people of the opposite gender. I see through facebook, twitter, etc. people being passive aggressive about sexism issues. Many sit idly by watching internet memes that degrade the their own gender and privately get pissed off. This, my friends, is no way to make our country a better place.
Instead, I believe we need to have more open conversations about the gender roles, or should I say ‘lack of gender roles’ in our current American society. I believe we need to talk about this, and do it with utmost respect. To openly bring to light the sexism that we have in our American culture, and gracefully say, “Yep, that is wrong, and we should change it” without degrading or shaming the opposite gender is one way our society can shift towards a new understanding. If we can’t respectfully talk about it, how can we change it? We need all humans in our country on board with a new way of looking at gender. I think that discussion is underway, but may have gotten derailed a little too often due to the easy outlet of the passive aggressive Internet.
I am so thankful to now live in a world where being born a boy can mean so many things. It doesn’t confine my son to a life of hunting or building, or my daughters to a life of child-rearing and house cleaning. We live in a world of vast opportunity for everyone.
And I think, with some empathetic and respectful conversations, we may just get to a world where men are seen as respected and seen as equals in child rearing (and everything else) and women are respected and seen as equals in the workforce (and everything else).
***This post was written with the help of my thoughtful husband who does quite well at taking our kids out of the house without me.