I first noticed it this summer. While watching American Ninja Warrior, the boys consistently rooted for the women competitors to fall and didn’t believe that a woman could ever complete the very physical obstacle course. I ignored it, knowing that, eventually, a competitor would prove them wrong. When she did, and she roared in celebration, the youngest said that she was rude and obnoxious, despite the fact that the men in the competition crowed all the time. Uh oh!
Then, while watching an interview with a female politician, I told the boys to pay attention as she “might be our next president.” They laughed. Laughed, because, “Mom, a woman can’t be president.” Oh no!
Finally, the last straw. In a conversation about their grandparents, both boys fervently believed that their grandfather was “much smarter” than their grandmother. Maybe they valued practical knowledge over book smarts, or they responded to the authoritative way in which my father states his beliefs. Or, maybe, we have a problem.
Hmmm… Let’s try this experiment…. “Boys, who’s smarter? Mom or Dad?” Without missing a beat, with barely a pause, they both said, in unison, “Dad. Of course.” Well. There it is. Because, while I have no desire to besmirch my very bright husband, I have no idea why the kids would think he’s smarter than me. I write, I read, we help with homework equally, we solve problems together. The kids watch me work often, and have seen me be honored for my professional endeavors. I rarely ask my husband to do something I can manage. And, we generally eschew the traditional gender roles in our household.
Now what? I’ve written a lot about being a Mom of Boys. I think hard about the responsibility of raising young men in this world. I’m conscious of the things we say and do, and the messages that the boys receive. And yet, the sexism still seeped in.
Media is a huge part of it. How do you counteract the Brains vs. Babes episode of Wipeout? And, how do you fight the basic conceit of Big Bang Theory; smart boy loves hot girl? And cartoons, and graphic novels, and Disney, and princesses, and princesses, and princesses? And maybe, subconsciously, there’s tons of messages that they receive at home and at school and in the world.
Sexism is everywhere. Misogyny is everywhere. How do we fight it? I need to look harder for images of equality, and I need to share those images with my friends and with the school and with my community. And, I need to continue being a role model to the boys, I need to continue to walk the walk. I need to show them, often, that girls can do anything boys can do.
Most importantly, I need to continue the dialogue, and I need to ask my husband, and my father and the men in my life to do the same. It’s so important for all of us to point out inequality in the world and name it. We need to help the kids see how the messages we see are often untrue. We need to continually remind all the little boys and girls that gender does not determine worth.