It’s a girl thing

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.

#takeithome

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

Mum’s the word… that we need to stop bloody using

Like many couples that I know, Andrew and I headed towards parenthood with ideas and intentions of equality fairly well assumed. We have been equal in our relationship in every way up until now. Why would anything be different?

The first major challenge, of course, that we and many others faced is parental leave. I got some, Andrew did not. And so, naturally, being with the babies all day while he was not, I learned more about how to care for them and kept up with their changing needs.

The other challenge to equality in parenting that we faced is one that each and every one of us can influence in our daily lives. It is the pervading use, instead of the word parent, or carer, of the word mum.

I have come to hate the overuse of the term so much that I sometimes forget that I actually am this thing, a mum. When someone makes a comment about being a mum, and my scorpion brain reacts expecting them to be making a statement that could just be made about parents, I sometimes have to remind myself that it is true that I am a mum. Even if I might often prefer the word parent.

It’s about more than just a word. Groups are set up, often through WhatsApp or facebook. It might be that these groups get set up for a group of women that are on maternity leave. Or it might be that these groups are set up as general support for parents. Sticking the word mum on it, as so often is what happens, has an impact.

Stick the word mum on a group, and you are telling female parents that it is their responsibility to take on the bulk of the parenting work. Stick the word mum on it and you tell dads that they are not welcome.

Parenting, while of course wonderful and gratifying and awesome, is also really hard work. Made much much harder if living with a partner who is unable, somehow, to contribute to that work.

Loads of groups are set up, beautiful, creative, well intended groups, to help with just that – to help with the hardship that comes with parenting. And here again, so often, it is “mums”. Can’t we see that this is perpetuating the problem?

A lot of shops and businesses get set up with “mums” in the name. It is because, I’ve heard some say, that is what makes up 95% of their customers – it’s the simple fact. That may well be. But if they want to expand their business to a new and broadening group of involved dads, perhaps they should think about a rebrand!

In a heterosexual relationship, dads have their female partners to lean on. “I didn’t manage to pick up that thing today” they might say, “because that shop is just for mums”. Maybe said with a lazy shrug. Maybe said with genuine embarrassment. Either way, seeing the guy go into mumsworld would be much easier if it was called parentsworld.

If you think about a family with two dads, it becomes even clearer how overuse of the word mum is not only perpetuating gender inequality in parenting, but is also creating an exclusive culture. Are gay dads only supposed to talk to other gay dads about parenting? Or are they supposed to act as honourary women to get into the women’s group? Yikes.

No one should have to declare their sexuality in the context of expressing an interest in parenting. Any parent or carer that expresses an interest should be welcomed with open arms to get involved. Wouldn’t that be made all the easier if these spaces and places were named in a more gender neutral way.

It goes further again than those groups, networks and businesses. It is in everyday usage too. “We mums”, someone said to me in a work context recently, “we tend to take on everything.” (I’ve learned to tidy up my reactions quite quickly these days, over zoom barely perceptible at all.)

It’s true that we don’t ever hear about the plight of working dads. It’s all baked into our common assumptions that they are simply not as burdened with the child care as a working mum would be. These may be assumptions that, yes, we see played out before us very often. But when we continue to speak only about that visible majority, the minority is stifled and when it’s a minority that would benefit us all to see grow, then let’s give it a little air.

There are some things that truly do only pertain to women. Bodily stuff, of course. And the reality of being in relationships in the reality of today’s world – yes, that all needs its place.

Very often people say something to me about mums, and I reply just gently replacing the word with parents instead. Shops that sell baby clothes and paraphernalia being called Mothercare – why? These are the things that I’m taking about, the instances where the word could easily be replaced by parents.

So as we head towards 2022, and wave 2021 bye bye, if you’re looking for the easiest New Years resolution ever, simply challenge yourself to stop saying “mums” if you could say “parents” instead. It’s a small thing, but it’s important. Parenting is a huge part of our world, and it’s one where gender inequality is at its most palpable. We can all change that a little bit. #takeithome

We Can’t Leave it Up to the Lesbians

I was born on the 15th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. They happened 52 years ago today, on the 28th of June 1969, following the funeral of Judy Garland in New York City. The LGBTQIA community experienced a watershed movement towards activism.

We have had 52 years over which pride celebrations have been evolving into the rainbow festivals of colour that we know them as today. It is in this same time that feminist communities and activists have also been speaking out and taking a stand. Many of those feminists have also been gay and part of the LGBTQIA world to boot.

In writing about gender equality in parenting I generally refer to cis-gender, heterosexual parents. I write, mostly, about mums and dads. I am very much aware of all of the parents and families that this leaves out. But I do it on purpose.

Most families across the world include parents made up of one woman and one man. As the majority, it is us who are then responsible for setting the standards. As the majority, we can choose to continue doing things the way they have always been done, regardless of how absurd that may be. Or we can choose to call bullshit and to make things change.

Actually, being a member of the majority is a type of privilege. And I would say that it is the duty of those that count themselves a part of the majority, of those that are privileged, to speak out and challenge the status quo.

Nobody should have to explain their sexuality or their gender in the context of being a parent. When we carry forward the notions that women have to do mum things, and men have to do dad things, we are making things less inclusive.

The more we challenge things, the more we subvert the norms, the more we can normalise dads doing things that they may not have historically done. We can make dads be more present in the parenting scene. And by doing this, we are laying the ground for any parent, regardless of their sexuality or their gender to be as involved in parenting as they want, no explanation needed.

There’s another reason that I write about mums and dads. And that is this: when it comes to achieving this equality, we are talking about a delicate and a tender negotiation that has to happen between loved ones. These are discussions that need to happen between men and women in their homes. When it comes to getting over this part of the feminist struggle, we straight women can’t leave it up to the lesbians to fight for us anymore.

We have to #takeithome.