Sometimes I wonder at the things my sons say. To listen to them, you would think that they were being brought up by a male chauvinist and a real girly-girl SAHM. I’ve started to wonder if their apparent sexism is inborn.
OK, so their Papa is a big, strong man who fishes and shoots and their Mammy is petite and likes to cook and craft. But their Papa also does the dishwasher, puts the kids to bed and irons his own shirts. Mammy does DIY, mows the lawn and (until the current bout of parental leave) works a 30-hour week as a project manager, travelling Europe and holding a reasonable amount of responsibility.
Number One, a couple of weeks ago, when I mentioned being tired: “You can sleep all day. You don’t have to work. Well not important work like at an office”. Because cooking, cleaning and doing the laundry aren’t important, are they?
Number Two, a few weeks ago, about my dark grey t-shirt: “That t-shirt is a man’s t-shirt. It is not for girls. I would get you a t-shirt with a photo of the baby or a picture of the kitchen to remind you to cook”. Later on he said he was joking, but I don’t believe him.
Number One, recently when I was annoyed: “Why don’t you ask Papa to mind us and you can go to the shops and buy shoes and make-up”. Em, excuse me? I am not a shoes and make-up kind of lady. I mean I wear both, but I buy them when I actually need them, not as a kind of cheer-myself-up activity. I have never been one for retail therapy and even if I was, I am much more likely to buy a book.
Number Two, while we were shopping “I’ve found something that you’ll like!”, a sparkling toy fairy. Again, not me.
I am at a loss as to where they get this attitude from. Their ideas of how girls and women are doesn’t reflect my life or that of their aunts or grandmothers. So where is it seeping in from, this notion of the perfect housewife who can be placated with a new lipstick or a glittery toy? While I don’t spend much time investigating the portrayal of gender in their books, I do pay attention to what they are exposed to on television or in films. It has got me wondering whether there is such a thing as inborn sexism. I don’t believe there can be, but where else is it coming from?
So far, the only conclusion I have come to is that they are absorbing and reacting to real life – the radio ads they hear in the car, the jobs they see people doing (female teachers and male headmasters, female shop assistants and male managers), the things they hear from friends, the things they see at the playground. All of that is influencing them every day. As parents we can try our best to be positive role models, but the outside influences remain.
So what should I do about it? With a household full of boys, it is important to me that they grow up knowing that girls are strong, determined and clever. We have sent them to a mixed school and they have friends who are girls. But it looks like I am going to have to take a stronger approach against sexism and stereotyping. What that approach will be, I have yet to figure out.
Is there such a thing as inborn sexism? Have your children fallen into this?
[This post originally appeared on HerFamily.ie where I was guest blogger for a week in June.]