Imagine if, when we were expecting a child, that the main question people would ask was… say… are you hoping for a blonde or a brunette? Are you going to find out the hair colour in advance, they would ask, or are you going wait for it to be a surprise?!
If, for some reason, we as a society felt that this one trait was the most defining thing, there’d be tests available too of course. Science would have figured out a way to find out in utero what hair colour the baby was likely to have. And then we’d be able to start imagining our lives ahead with this little blonde or brunette in it. We could start shopping and decorating accordingly.
We would have these clearly defined notions, deeply seeded in our consciousness, of what blondes and brunettes are like. If it mattered so much, it would probably be because we had somehow gotten to a point where our society was built on these notions.
Blondes are more bubbly and social and chatty, we would know, it would just be common fact. So all of those jobs, like presenting and tour guiding and negotiating would all be owned by blondes. It would be the natural order of things. Brunettes on the other hand, as everybody knows, are more serious and quiet and intellectual. They would be our accountants, our scientists and our philosophers. The world would thus be split.
If you were expecting a blonde baby, you’d probably decorate the room with yellows and cartoons. You’d buy lots of dolls and musical instruments. For a brunette, more dulcet tones would be appropriate, an avocado green perhaps. You’d stock the shelves with books and building blocks.
For even the most woke among us it would be impossible to be without some deeply embedded preconditions. We’d have grown up seeing the world this way, seeing blondes centre stage and talking, seeing brunettes working industriously behind the scenes. It would be the reality of the world around us, so we naturally would see the future for our little ones panning out accordingly.
Clothes shops would be separated into blonde and brunette sections, and so, we’d most often go with the grain in our own shopping habits. Our friends would pass us on the clothes of their appropriately hair coloured child. To give us the other, well, it might be just a bit weird or challenging. Probably best and smoothest to stick with the norm.
When a birthday present needed to be bought, we’d think about the hair colour of the child in question, and ask amazon what the best gift for a blonde/brunette child aged 7 would be. Amazon would duly reestablish the status quo and an uncontroversial gift would be bought – easy peasy.
Out in the world, in nursery and in school, our little ones would meet this division of character by hair colour. They would be assigned to their category and learn what they are supposed to be. They’d be inducted into their clubs. Their natural will to survive and thrive would guide them into doubling down and framing their identities through reinforcing those traits that ensure their place in their team.
How many children do you have? Oh I have three – two blondes and one brunette. Though I do worry a bit about one of my blondes, bley seem to have some very quiet tendencies, you know, sort of brun-ish. It’s probably just a phase, bley adore bleir older brunther.
We would imagine the activities that our kids would be interested in. Oh a little blonde, we’d think, it will be so much fun seeing blem taking drama classes. We’ll sing together! If it’s a brunette, well, my brunband is very excited to have a pal to talk about the intricacies of trains with.
Ok, ok, this has been fun, but of course we know that the world is not split according to hair colour. When a blonde author emerges they are not told that blondes can’t be writers. And brunettes are welcomed onto the centre of all sorts of stages. In this society, this actual real one, from within which I am writing this blog post, we don’t determine so much based on hair colour. What we do is determine all this and more based on which genitalia our babies are born with.
But, you might say, there really are differences between boys and girls. You might know, you would tell me, because you see it all around you and in your own life. But how much of those differences are created through the ways that we reinforce preconceived notions, and how much is innate? According to Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue, the reading of which has been the inspiration for this post, the best analysis shows that very very little difference between the sexes is innate in children.
Picture a big fat pie. It’s bursting with delicious contents, and at the edge there is the tasty crust. All of those delicious contents include all of that great juice of life that each of us brings in our own, uniquely individual characters and personalities. Scrum-didilly-umptious! In one side of the crusts, defined by some characteristics, there is a higher portion of boys. On the other side, a higher portion of girls. That’s it. Inside the pie, where most of us live, is all the variety and range of being that each of us has.
What I find most interesting in all of this is to understand better the predicament that we find ourselves in today – those of my generation, my peers and particularly my peers that are and will be parents. The fact of the matter is that we have been brought up in a society that attributes certain things to girls and certain things to boys. We’ve been placed in separate camps from very young ages, we’ve been treated differently, and we’ve been taught different things.
Here we are and here I am. A mother of 37 years of age, in a time where we have apparent equality in many things, but at a time where women have been raised to be better at and to manage all that is entailed within emotional labour. It is part of our gender construct. This construct and the effort that it entails is an important thing to increase awareness of in the workplace. When it comes to the home, and once children are introduced, is where the matter really explodes.
Women have been raised to be aware of and look after the needs of others. Perhaps unsurprisingly, having a kid brings a whole lot of looking after work into the fray. All of the monitoring emotions, watching for cues, and planning planning planning to have the right things in the right place at the right time. It turns out we were raised for this shit. Even those of us, like me, who have often denied many of the tropes of femininity that didn’t seem to resonate. It looks like this one’s gone real deep.
Meanwhile our male counterparts have been raised with a more singular focus. Be kind and good, sure, the good ones, the ones many of us have married and had children with, for example, have been raised like that. But while being good and kind, mainly, know what you want and get it, make it happen. It can be a bit jarring, to be trying to go about your business, and to be confronted with the neediness of others. Suddenly a whole new mentality is needed.
You can’t just decide, ooh I’d like a hotdog, then make a hotdog, and eat a hotdog. Life doesn’t work that way anymore. Now you gotta think, when will they be hungry, when will they need me to get them down to sleep, and what would they like to eat. If you’re eating a hotdog at a bad time, and they obviously come looking for a bite (as of course they would), then you’re disrupting their routine. If you’re eating a hotdog and they’re begging for your attention, because they’re tired and they need you to get them off to sleep for their nap, come on dude what are you doing eating a hotdog at nap time?! I know you’re thinking, whimpering now, I just wanted to eat a hotdog in peace! Well, tough titties man, it’s time to get with the programme. The only way you’re eating that hotdog in peace is when you work around the needs of others.
The most frustrating thing of it all is that because men have not been raised to be aware of the emotional labour, like women have, that they don’t even then notice it. They hear their wife singing at bedtime, and they assume she’s doing it for her! So they don’t see the effort, and they don’t learn from her how to do to it themselves
Yes, it’s quite the predicament and it does run deep. The best thing we can do is to talk about it. Keep building our vocabulary. Highlight the effort and make sure that it is recognised. And lo, oh yes, invite others to take on some of the responsibility. Yes indeed, it’s time to get womansplaining.
This post was inspired by what I learned from Parenting Beyond Pink and Blue; how to raise your kids free of gender stereotypes by Christia Spears Brown.
This article by Rose Hackman was also very informative https://amp.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/08/women-gender-roles-sexism-emotional-labor-feminism