A picture is worth a thousand words -- pink and blue graduation gowns. Need I say more?
By Mutryce A. Williams
Navigating "Island" Parenting is a submission of insights, quotes, tips and parenting advice that I have gathered over the years as a source of inspiration and as tools to deal with the daily challenges of parenting. This week’s issue: IWD 2017 -- Gender Equality -- Raising Boys and Girls to Be Feminists. The hope is that this submission would cause you to reflect on your parenting skills and also make the journey of parenting a bit easier or brighter.
“A feminist is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men.”
“Gender Equality not only liberates women but also men from prescribed gender stereotypes.”
Teaching Gender Equality -- The Dialogue Must Begin
Close your eyes and come with me for a brief moment. Let’s take a trip to the playground. Listen. “Go away. You can’t play with us. You are nothing but a dumb stupid little girl.” She persists. He pushes her to the ground. Although six years old, he stomps and tries to bellow, the intent is fear and intimidation. He continues, “I said to go away. You can’t play with us. You are a dumb girl. Girls aren’t fun. Why don’t you leave us alone and go play with your dumb little dollies. You can’t play with our trucks and cars. Trucks and cars are for boys. Dolls are for girls. Leave us alone.”
Hold my hand. We are not done. We have a few more trips left. We are now in a fifth grade classroom. A science quiz is in full gear. There are two teams. It is boys against girls. Jane despairs, “We are never ever going to win. We always lose to the boys. They are much smarter than us. Science is very hard. Girls are not good at science or math. Why do we even bother?” The boys chide, “The girls are the losers. The girls are they losers. Boys are stronger, smarter and better than girls. We are going to win."
Let’s make another stop. Do you see what I see? Do you hear what I hear? Listen, “Did you buy him a pink shirt? Are you serious? What got into you? What do you mean it is the style and boys can wear pink now, not my son! You better go and burn the shirt or I will burn it myself. He isn’t wearing a pink shirt?” Listen. “Take that doll away from him he shouldn’t be playing with dolls.” Listen. “Don’t let him behave like that; he is behaving like a girl. Boy stop behaving so, only girls behave so.”
Listen. “She needs to learn how to sit and behave like a young lady. She needs to realize that a girl should be seen and not heard. If she keeps up that having an opinion thing, it’s plenty ‘buss’ mouth and back hand she will get from her man when she gets older and if she continues on this path, this path to thinking that she is the same as a man, mark my words somebody will look to chop her right down. I am telling you that you need to cut this nonsense out of her right now. You need to bridle her. She is a little girl who will one day be a woman. She needs to know her place. There is no place in this world for a woman with an opinion.”
One last trip, we are at the domino table. She is in the middle of a heated political debate with some older men. One of the older men said, “But George the young lady has a point you know, she is making sense. She win you man. She win you man.” Two other men agreed. George sucks his teeth and waves his hand dismissively, “What does she know anyway she is a woman.” There is complete silence before she responds, “I am a woman and I am damn right. The fact that I am a woman does not make me wrong and you right. Your argument holds no more water just because you are a man.”
Gender inequality, bias, misogyny and stereotypes loom large in our society. It was only this past week that the Polish nationalist member of the European Parliament Janusz Korwin-Mikke made the following statement: “Of course women must earn less than men because they are weaker, they are smaller, they are less intelligent, they must earn less, that’s all.” It is a problem. The dialogue must begin.
Mommy, boys are the best. Boys are better and stronger than girls!
With a degree of certitude, he said, “Mommy, boys are the best. Boys are better and stronger than girls.” I must admit that I cringed at the utterance of those words. I closed my eyes and took a long deep breath before responding. As a feminist, I swore to myself that no child of mine would grow up thinking that men were superior to women.
My parenting manifesto begins, “I want to raise sons who are good people. I want to raise sons who hold women to the highest regard/esteem. I want to raise sons who view women as their equals.” Hearing those words from my son’s lips was a bit searing because I thought that I was being a good model for him. I beckoned him to me. I asked, “Who said told you or where did you get that idea?” His response, “But Mommy everyone thinks that boys are better than girls, everyone does.”
I was quite taken aback. I kneeled before him, looked him in eyes and said, “Sweetie, I am sorry, everyone doesn’t think that boys are better than girls. I don’t think so. I think that boys and girls are the same.” Very concerned by his declaration, I continued, “Do you know how we don’t say bad words like dumb and stupid in our family. Mommy has just realized another bad word that she hasn’t taught you as yet. I don’t want you to ever say that boys are better than girls again. Boys and girls are the same. We are all people. We may have different private parts, but we have the same heart. We have the same blood and we have the same feelings.”
His response, “Mommy, do mean like when you told me that all people are the same, that it doesn’t matter the colour of their skin? Do you mean like when we sang Jesus loves the little children of the world and the Michael Jackson song Black or White?” I responded in the affirmative. He smiled.
I continued, “Sweetheart, I really want you to understand that boys and girls are the same. My feelings are a bit hurt when you made that statement because Mommy is a girl does that mean that you or boys are better than me?” He laughed, “But you are different. You are my Mommy!”
Newsflash -- herein lies one of the problems in getting boys to understand gender equality. I gazed into my son’s eyes and I asked him to repeat after me “Boys and girls are the same; no gender is better or superior to the other. We are all equal.” As heartbreaking as it was to hear those words from my son’s lips, it was a great teachable moment.
As parents we try our best to teach our children many vital lessons. We teach the importance of character development. We try to get them to understand the importance of a good education. We tell them that regardless of their nationality, creed, or colour of their skin that they are equal and that they can accomplish anything. How many of us as parents, actually take the time to discuss gender equality with our children. This is a discussion to be had not only as a form of empowerment for girls but also for boys who need to view and respect the female as his equal.
Here are a few books that may help in driving home the importance of gender equality.
Recommended Reading for Children – Books about Gender Equality
Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls
Hardcover by Elena Favilli
No Difference between Us: Teaching children about gender equality, respectful relationships, feelings, choice, self-esteem, empathy, tolerance, and acceptance
by Jayneen Sanders
Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World
by Rachel Ignotofsky
I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark
by Debbie Levy
Girls Think of Everything: Stories of Ingenious Inventions
by Catherine Timmesh
Pearl Fairweather Pirate Captain: Teaching children about gender equality, respect, respectful relationships, empowerment, diversity, leadership, behaviours, and the prevention of violence
by Jayneen Sanders
Wonder Women: 25 Innovators, Inventors, and Trailblazers Who Changed History
by Sam Maggs
Rosie Revere, Engineer
by Andrea Beaty
Violet the Pilot
by Steve Breen
Grace for President
by Kelly S. DiPucchio
Marvelous Mattie: How Margaret E. Knight Became an Inventor
by Emily Arnold McCully
Malala Yousafzai: Warrior with Words
by Karen Leggett Abouraya
Look Up!: Henrietta Leavitt, Pioneering Woman Astronomer
by Robert Burleigh
by Will Osborne and Mary Pope Osborne illustrated by Giselle Potter
Recommended Reading for Parent
Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
We Should All Be Feminists
by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Recommended Children’s Movie with Phenomenal Gender Equality Lesson
The Lego Batman Movie
Although I am not a big fan of screen time, this movie is a must see for all children. There are so many lessons on family, teamwork and cooperation; however the lesson that struck a note with me was the one on gender equality. The takeaway; problem solving requires males and females. Boys and girls are the same. They are smart, strong and capable. Let me just say that Commissioner Barbara Gordon (Bat Girl-just a note-should be renamed-Bat Woman) my new hero is the epitome of strength and empowerment.
Quotes on Gender Equality
“Freedom cannot be achieved unless the women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.” Nelson Mandela
"Feminism isn't about making women strong. Women are already strong. It's about changing the way the world perceives that strength." G.D. Anderson
“How can we effect change in the world when only half of it is invited or feels welcome to participate in the conversation.” Emma Watson
“I raise up my voice not so I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” Malala Yousafzai
“A girl should be two things: Who and what she wants.” Coco Chanel
"In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders." Sheryl Sandberg
“I do not wish women to have power over men, but over themselves.” Mary Wollstonecraft
Men are taught to apologize for their weaknesses, women for their strengths.” Lois Wyse
"To all the little girls who are watching, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams." Hillary Clinton in her 2016 concession speech
"Whether I am meant to or not, I challenge assumptions about women. I do make some people uncomfortable, which I'm well aware of, but that's just part of coming to grips with what I believe is still one of the most important pieces of unfinished business in human history -- empowering women to be able to stand up for themselves." Hillary Clinton
"Women belong in all places where decisions are being made... It shouldn't be that women are the exception." Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“There cannot be true democracy unless women’s voices are heard. There cannot be true democracy unless women are given the opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives. There cannot be true democracy unless all citizens are able to participate fully in the lives of their country.” Hillary Clinton
"There is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish." Michelle Obama
"The more I have spoken about feminism, the more I have realized that fighting for women's rights has too often become synonymous with man-hating. If there is one thing I know for certain, it is that this has to stop." Emma Watson
“I know enough women who are totally patriarchal, who are totally anti-women; who do nasty things to other women, and I have known men who have worked for women’s rights their whole life. Feminism is not biological: feminism is an ideology.” Kamla Bhasin
“We shouldn’t be afraid to use the word feminist. Men and women should use it to describe themselves.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Mutryce A. Williams, a native of St Kitts and Nevis is the mother of 7-year-old Daniel and 6-year-old Nicholas. She not only values the many facets of West Indian parenting but also thinks that there is vast room for improvement. A former educator and a child/youth advocate, Mutryce firmly believes that children should not only be seen but heard. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org