I seem to have come across The Gender Issue a few times recently. Whether in conversation, or material I’ve read, or comments I’ve overheard.
It seems especially significant for me at the moment as I am looking at my little girl and the world around us and wondering what her future will be. What kind of girl will she be, what kind of woman?
The other day, as I was leaving the doctors surgery, there was a mum with her little boy- I would guess he was around 2 and a half. And he had the cheekiest little face and was running around from side to side of the waiting room. His mother held him firm as I walked past with Little One and said to him ‘look how good the little girl is, not running around.’ I smiled at her.
As I walked out, however, I heard her say to someone else ‘why can’t he be good like that?’ And the answer she got was… wait for it… ‘oh, it’s because he’s a boy.’
I wanted to march straight back in there and challenge her. Did she realise what she was saying??? I was offended on behalf of my daughter that it be assumed the only reason she was quiet and good was because she was a girl. And I was offended on behalf of my friends with sons, the implication being that boys are naughty and wild.
I was asked recently if I thought that males and females are essentially the same? And I answered that no, I don’t think they are. I think that men and women are completely equal, not not necessarily the same. I’ve been mulling over this a lot in the weeks since then and maybe I want to change my answer. Maybe it’s not that males and females are intrinsically different but society conditions them to be so. Or maybe that conditioning has arisen because there are some generalised differences between the sexes. I’m not sure.
It’s the old ‘nature or nurture’ debate, but essentially I think that regardless of which it is, there are serious problems that occur when boys and girls, and men and women are treated differently.
I heard a brilliant talk by Reshma Saujani this week (here) entitled Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection. She talks about how little boys are taught to run, jump off things, climb high. Little girls are taught to sit, smile pretty, colour, make things. And in that one simple difference, boys learn to take risks, and girls play it safe. Girls don’t do anything unless they know they’ll be good at it because girls are expected, by themselves and society’s conditioning, to be perfect and not to fail.
I know this is true because it is me. I am not brave. I struggle constantly with perfection because I can’t stand to fail. I can’t stand for people to see that I can’t do it, and I can’t bare to admit to myself that I’m not good enough.
I think about all of this, and I talk about all of this, because I want to teach my little girl to be brave. I want her to climb high, and try things just to see what it’s like- whether she succeeds at them or not. I want her to know, deep down inside, that she has nothing to prove. It’s a tricky one, because I was encouraged to run and jump and reach as high as I wanted. I was told that I could do anything, and yet still I have this struggle and this need to be perfect.
I read a great statement this week from the singer and entrepreneur Clare Bowditch (and I’ll omit the profanities!)
“We can torture ourselves with, I’m not enough, I’m never enough. I don’t have this bit together, I don’t have that together. What if we’re already perfect? What if we’re completely, exactly where we’re meant to be and the only challenge is to have the inner courage to be ourselves, to be real?”
It is complicated and very not simple to raise a boy or a girl without any of the stereotypical influence from our society and our history. But I think that if it all boils down to growing children who become adults who have courage to be themselves then that’s half the battle won.