It’s marvelous raising boys. No drama. No moods. Everything is easy. Feed them, give them space to run, kiss their knocks and scrapes and if you do manage to catch them smother them in kisses and hugs.
It’s the basic formula of food, affection and freedom.
It’s worked a charm so far. That is until my five year old said very matter-of-factly the other day, “Mama, you don’t know anything about rugby coz you’re a girl”.
I’m sorry WHAT?
And in that split second I knew it had begun. The fork in the road. The spiral into irrelevance. The moment when our interests diverge and there begin to be things that he understands but I don’t.
And even worse than that, the moment when my son realizes: I’m a girl.
He’s right, I don’t know anything about rugby, but it’s got nothing to do with the fact that I’m a girl and everything to do with my complete lack of interest in barbarous contact sports.
I’ve always felt that it’s important for me to be relevant to my kids, for me to understand their jokes, interests, to know what’s cool and what isn’t. Especially when they’re teenagers and into weird and crazy stuff. If you speak their language you can relate to them. And so in the name of maintaining my cool factor I’ve made an effort to keep up.
I know dozens of nursery rhymes.
I know what most airlines’ tail colours are.
I can sing the Frozen song and do pretty awesome actions.
I can recite whole scenes from Ice Age 1, 2 AND 3. With voices.
I know all the Ninja Turtles names and what weapons they use, and that Splinter’s real name is Hamato Yoshi.
My cricket lingo is up to scratch: Ooh going down leg side! Silly mid on. LBW. Googly.
I also know that Ricky Carmichael is the best motor cross dude EVER. But that no-one in any sport can ever be as cool as Lewis Hamilton.
Nope. Not a clue. And this is a problem because I live in a rugby-obsessed house. It’s on the TV all weekend, every weekend. How is it possible that there is SO much rugby on ALL the time? But the boys love it. They sing the national anthem, shout at the TV just like their Papa and know all the players by their numbers. Sawyer stages his own imaginary matches and as such has perfected the imaginary player side step. Sometimes he ropes Noah in, but he inevitably ends up being given a red card and is sent off.
But here’s the thing: I’ve decided it’s OK that I don’t have a burning passion for rugby. What’s not OK is that my son thinks the reason is because I’m a girl. I’ve tried so hard to keep prejudice out of their lives, even innocent accepted daily prejudices that most of us don’t realize we are perpetuating. If they want to paint their toenails, fine. If Noah wants a pink Barbie toothbrush, awesome. Boys can like pink, girls can love blue. There are no such things as boys Lego and girls Lego. I’ve resisted and rebelled against our gender polarized society, and I thought it was rubbing off on my boys.
But a few months at school and Sawyer started saying things like ‘pink is for girls’ and he wouldn’t wear his favourite t-shirt because it was pink and he said the other kids laughed at him. So it became his favourite weekend t-shirt and he wore it happily. Such is the power of peer pressure, even at 4 years old. And such is the depth of gender discrimination. It makes me so sad.
But. But. That’s our world, right? Gender defines our roles in society. Women do fewer sports, hold fewer positions of power, earn less than men, and yes, in many many places are held to be less than a man.
Obey. Serve. Don’t question. Pink is for girls.
Get married. Take your husband’s name. Have kids. Stay home. Pink is for girls.
I reject it all. Strongly. And so does Papa B (good thing or I suspect we’d have a problem!). But don’t label me as a feminist. Feminism in itself suggests that we are not on the same level as men. And in my mind and in my life we are absolutely equal. And that’s what I am trying to instill in my sons. Respect women as you respect everyone. Value women as you value everyone.
Do not mistake won’t for can’t. ‘Because you’re a girl’ is never an excuse or an explanation.
But I am also careful not to strip my boys of feeling physically strong and powerful. They do boyish things, and they must do those things because they are biologically programmed to behave in certain ways. So I ooh and aah at ninja moves, I marshal hundreds of races in a day, I feel bionic muscles that come from eating broccoli, I endure bum and fart jokes and willie obsession because that’s what boys do. All I’m saying is that boys can also watch Barbie Mermaid, or colour in quietly for hours, or want fuchsia toenails.
And if I had girl I’d hope that she’d have a fast right hook, scabby knees and love rugby.
So how do I answer my 5 year old son who thinks all girls don’t like rugby, who is starting to understand that boys and girls are different, that he is supposed to like some things but not others? How do I tell him that our world is full of generic prejudices that need to be challenged, and that his innocent observation is just the tip of the iceberg of gender discrimination?
Well, I remind him that Mama loves trail running just like Papa.
That Papa can cook just like Mama.
That Mama doesn’t like roaches and Papa doesn’t like spiders.
That Papa and Mama make the rules together.
That Papa is stronger but Mama isn’t squeamish.
And that Papa’s favourite t-shirt is pink.
How do you deal with gender discrimination in your child’s life?