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International Women's Day: Sexism at recess

Canadian Living
Culture & Entertainment

International Women's Day: Sexism at recess

I am writing this on my smartphone in a medical office (sandwich generation!) with a bottle of fresh, clean water beside me. All over the world, women are struggling: To care for themselves and their families, to feed their babies, to access education and to be respected and valued for the human beings they are. I am among the very privileged few from a global perspective. I am taking a minute to appreciate that and to recommit to making sure that a portion of my time and energy goes towards creating change in the world. Because this is International Women's Day, after all. (We're celebrating here at Canadian Living!) That said, I'm really feeling the sexism in my own backyard -- or more to the point, the schoolyard. In the last few years, my son's come home with so many messages about boy things vs. girl things. Girls don't play Beyblades. Boys don't wear lavender. His best friend can't be a girl. Beezus and Ramona is a girls' book. The kids are trying to figure it all out, and they definitely have Rules About Girls And Boys. My first reaction is pretty much always the oh-so-mature says who???!!! But my second is confusion. I was a geeky, eccentric kid whose parents dressed her funny and sent her off to school in the mid-to-late 70s saying that a true friend doesn't care what you wear. That is something I do actually believe, and yet it doesn't change that I cried in the bathroom at recess pretty much every day for a couple of years. Would it have killed my parents to conform a little, or at least help me to? I think on the big questions of equality for women (and men), we are pretty good in our family - as good as it gets in 2013. What I don't know, though, is how to figure out the medium or small ones. I am wary of turning my child into my foot soldier in the culture wars. Yet. I have to say, this stuff drives me crazy. Why on earth can he not wear lavender in this day and age? He went through a phase of wearing nail polish a couple of years ago, and one day he informed me as I was painting his nails "Hulk green" that boys don't wear nail polish. "That's true," I said, "Most boys don't wear nail polish, but some do." (I had been thinking about this one for a bit.) "Well William* says they don't," he said. "Well..." I said, and fell back on my play for time, "What do you think? Do you want to take this off?" "No way," he said. I thought the mission was accomplished right then, but the pressure on boys and girls alike is relentless. Well okay, I'll say it: I actually think the pressure on boys to conform to standards of boys-town is higher. Check out the range of girls' clothes vs. the boys. (Although I am kind of glad I don't have to deal with some of the girls' clothing choices.) Right now, my son won't wear anything perceived as girly. If he still likes nail polish it is news to me. The process of socializing as a boy is well underway and I don't think his answer would be the same today. I am letting him work the small things out (although I left the lavender shirt in his drawer, it's fine with me if he leaves it there.) Maybe one day he'll have the answers I don't. Meanwhile I'll just talk to him at dinner about the easy one: International Women's Day. Let's support women all around the world in accessing healthcare, education and equal rights. How are you handling big and little issues around gender roles in your family? *Name changed, because this could have been any kid in the class anyway
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International Women's Day: Sexism at recess

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