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The Challenges of Parenting the gender gap

I have always been a bit of an under the radar, almost subconscious feminist. It never occurred to me that there would be anything I couldn’t do just because I was female, although there are certainly things I chose not to do. I never really gave it too much thought. I went to an all-girls school that regularly touted the old Girls Can Do Anything phrase, and we all just took it as a given. Stand up straight girls, be proud. Sapientia et Veritas. Wisdom and Truth. I owe that school a lot.

Things always change a little when you have children though. Suddenly, I am responsible for teaching these beautiful little people how to become good human beings, and how to carve out their own place in this crazy world we live in. Perhaps if I had two girls I would be giving this all a little less thought, but am lucky enough to have a girl (age 9) and a boy (age 6). They are best friends, and I am blessed. The thing is though, as I naturally want to repeat all those cheerleading feminist phrases to my daughter that were drummed into me at high school, I realise this doesn’t really sound like equality in motion when my six year old boy asks, “But what about boys, Mum?”. I bought a really fantastic book called Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls – a collection of stories about famous women who achieved great things against often mountainous odds. We read that whole book together, the three of us, two stories a night until it was finished, and my son asked if we could read the boy one next. Guess what? There isn’t one. Nothing even close.

I wonder if in our efforts to bridge the gender gap (a worthy cause, and I realise the gap is more of a canyon, don’t get me wrong) we need to be mindful that as we raise girls up, we do not push boys down. Instead of saying ‘Girls Can Do Anything!’, I now say ‘Anyone can do anything if they work hard enough’. Not quite as snappy, but much more accurate and a lot more impartial. I have come to the conclusion that rather than denying the differences between the two sexes that goes far beyond the anatomical, that we celebrate those differences as just differences, unique beautiful qualities that are powerful attributes and never weaknesses. Confusing concepts for anyone to grasp, let alone children. This parenting caper is hard.

It’s not that the feminist movement is a job that we can tick off the list. Far from it. I have dealt with a bucket load of sexist remarks and mansplaining in my life time, but I think we need to choose our language and the way we convey these messages a little more carefully. The impact on the next generation of boys if we get this wrong will affect their sense of place in the world, which should always be right beside their sisters, never above them on the ladder and never below them.

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