Let’s raise our sons and daughters the same

An+original+illustration+by+Pace+Buchan+representing+the+idea+of+raising+our+children+in+gender+neutral+ways.

Pace Buchan

An original illustration by Pace Buchan representing the idea of raising our children in gender neutral ways.

I was around eight years old and sitting in a comfortable position on one of my family’s living room chairs, with my feet on the chair and legs bent on either side of my torso.

“You should close your legs,” my father said.

“Why?” I replied.

“Because ladies don’t do that.”

“Why?”

“They just don’t.”

I spoke to my father recently about what he said to me that one time almost ten years ago. He, of course, had no recollection of said interaction but wanted to make a point that he would never say that now. It was probably the influence his mother had on him as a child. He said that his mother was quite conscientious of what was proper of a female and what was improper.

As I grew older, my dad’s words chimed in my head often as I became aware of the gender roles and stereotypes placed on those who identify as male versus female. I would look for women who would sit with their legs like mine that one afternoon. Then I would also watch for men who sat like me. I noticed that women nearly always had one leg crossed over the other, while most men sat with their legs spread plenty wide. Why are women expected to take up as little room as possible, while men can take up more room? Why are men allowed to do things that women aren’t? 

I noticed how, between myself and my brother, I was asked to iron my dad’s wrinkled Tommy Bahama shirts when Mom was busy. I was asked to help fold the laundry while another, fully capable person, played “Grand Theft Auto” on our PS4. I was asked to help in the kitchen on Thanksgiving while the men and boys chatted over appetizers in the living room. What were the prerequisites that made me so alluring to do ordinary housework and not my brother?

When any physical activity was involved, I was finally given a pass. However, this further fueled my desire to question my roles as a girl in my household. Recently, I remember my mother asking for my brother’s help with moving an old bed frame. At this point I was fifteen or so and was fully capable of carrying a bed frame fifty feet. 

“Why didn’t you ask me?” I asked my mother.

“Oh, I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t even think about it.”

It’s not that I was offended that my mom thought my brother was stronger than me, it was that she, a distance runner who championed female strength, looked mindlessly past my strapping biceps and to my brother for help. 

Growing up, the subtle disparities my brother and I experienced are the same that adults experience. Moms are still in charge of the snacks at soccer games, and dads still don’t teach their daughters how to mow the lawn. According to statistics from the Bureau of Labor, even though 46.8 percent of women are part of the workforce, on an average day women do 28 percent more housework, 27 percent more food preparation and cleanup, and six percent more household management than men. 

Many of the differences men and women face begin with their first breath out of the womb. The first step in teaching gender equality is modeling it in your own household; it’s up to the next generations of parents to discontinue the ongoing cycle of male and female inequality. 

Parents, teach your sons how to do their laundry and let your daughters learn how to jumpstart a car. If we start challenging stereotypical gender roles in the household, imagine how they could be challenged in schools, in the workplace, in public. Sexism begins in your home; you have to choose to end it.

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