A couple of weeks ago, shortly before Toronto schools let out for the summer, my ten-year-old son talked to me about an older boy who was bothering him in the school yard. This kid was trying to take his basketball and saying things like, “You’re such a woman.”
We helped my son through that situation, and the last few days of the school year passed uneventfully. That incident didn’t stop bothering me, though. With all of the gains we like to think we have made when it comes to gender equality, we still live in a world where boys use the word “woman” as an insult.
What message does that send to any girls who happen to be standing around listening? How are they supposed to feel about themselves and their roles in society?
What message does it send to boys like my son? How can I raise him to be respectful toward women when the attitude that men are superior is already present in elementary school?
This morning, something else happened that concerned me. My son and I were part of a cluster of parents and kids waiting for their summer school bus to show up. The adults were chatting and drinking coffee; the kids were playing hopscotch and kicking soccer balls around. It was all fun and games, until a little boy ran up behind a little girl and bonked her lightly on the head.
Now, the little boy was just goofing around, but the little girl was very upset. She ran up to her mother and told her about the mean boy bonking her on the head. Another parent standing nearby said, “Oh, that just means he likes you!”
This may seem harmless to many people, but it really isn’t. It plants the seed in our kids – boys and girls – that abuse is an acceptable demonstration of affection. It teaches girls that in order to be liked, they have to put up with people treating them badly. It teaches boys that they can be jerks and get away with it.
As parents of young kids, we often try to avoid thinking of our kids eventually dating. But the reality is that eventually, our kids will date.
And they way they will treat their boyfriends or girlfriends – and the way they will expect to be treated in return – will be based on the interpersonal skills they are learning now, at the ages of eight, nine and ten.
We live in a society where, in spite of enormous progress when it comes to gender equality, women are still routinely discriminated against. We are told what we have to look like in order to be considered beautiful. We are blamed for injustices that are committed against us, like rape or domestic violence. We are paid less than men in equivalent positions, and even though so many of us work outside the home, we still bear the brunt of household responsibilities.
As the mother of sons, I feel a responsibility to do my part to turn the tide. As they navigate their school years, I want my boys to treat the girls they encounter with respect. I want them to speak out against injustices that they see, and to stand up for girls who find themselves in difficult situations. The school yard incidents that I have seen are the reason we have a problem. I want my sons to be a part of the solution.
Are you the parent of boys or girls? How do you teach them about gender equality and fairness?
This is an original post to World Moms Network by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Jonathan Rhodes. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.