I will be the first to say that I love all that is girl power. Whether it’s Dove’s real beauty campaign or Always’ Like a Girl or Lean In circles or A Mighty Girl or petitioning to finally getting a woman on some US currency or LEGO finally adding more female minifigures. I’m with it. I’m there. Sign me up. Count me in. Girls rock.
(Sorry. I think there is a but missing to these conversations. A big one. And I’m not body shaming here.) Most of these conversations are girls talking to girls. Or parents talking to girls. Encouraging girls. Telling girls they are as good as if not better than. That they are worth it. That they can be and do anything.
And they can. This is an important conversation. We, myself included, need to hear it. Again and again and again and again.
Where are the messages to little boys about girls? Why aren’t we including the next generation of boys so that they can finally break the cycle of misogynistic thinking?
Case in point: My husband is not a misogynistic thinker. If asked point blank, he’d tell you girls and women can do whatever they want, would vote for a political leader based on qualifications, not gender, would have no trouble reporting to women (not that he ever has in the tech industry) and certainly holds my professional and personal value as no less equal to his own.
He was surprised to watch me fight for an equal salary to a male colleague and lose. He never had to get off the Metro in DC and change trains because he was afraid of the handsy guy saying inappropriate things to him in a train full of people who all turned their heads instead of helping. He never had his ass grabbed on a Metro escalator. He doesn’t have to hold his keys like a weapon in a parking lot or scan a pathway for the blue emergency boxes. Being married to a woman who speaks up about these things helped him to hear all that he had been missing. Now he sees it. In a variety of places. It’s easy to say you support women, it’s another to understand what exactly it is that women are dealing with in a culture that demeans, objectifies and marginalizes them in big and small ways every day.
I don’t want my boys to be blinded to it. I don’t ever want them to think that a certain job is a boy job versus a girl job. I don’t want them to imply that certain tasks are for women and others men. I don’t want stereotypes and cultural bias to influence how they see themselves or others in this world. I don’t want them to consider a difference between women’s sports and men’s because right now, they only see sports. My greatest joy this summer has been watching them cheer for the US Women’s Soccer team – the five year old taking a victory lap through the house after the first corner kick score in the match against Japan only to be awed by the following 15 minutes of epic soccer. This summer, I have also watched them cheer just as loudly for the women on American Ninja Warrior as the men. Accomplishment is accomplishment. Period. The eight year old asked what we were talking about once when I was bemoaning the inability of equal pay for equal work to pass and his response was simple: “That’s not fair.” Nope. It isn’t.
I know it’s not that easy. I know they don’t live in a bubble. I know they see toy aisles separated by gender. I know our nation’s lexicon is biased and that the media they are exposed to is lazy, relying on stereotypes and base humor to create their characters and perpetuate a storyline. I know they could probably name 20 male superheroes before ever landing on Wonder Woman. I know they see me doing laundry and dishes and putting on make up and internalize those differences.
I will continue to talk to my boys openly about what I think is fair and unfair and unabashedly tell you I plan on raising two boy feminists with the support and help of their father. But I think the conversation to our boys needs to be larger. I think we can’t forget them in all our talk to girls. I don’t think it needs to be or should be at the expense of our girl power chatter. I think it needs to simply include them. All kids should feel able to realize their utmost potential and we need to teach our children how they can help each other to do that.
Let’s find a way to talk to our boys about girls. Let’s teach our boys how to work with girls. Let’s stop separating their play and thinking and teams. Let’s stop creating dress codes that punish girls for wearing leggings or shorts and start explaining to boys what their responsibilities are in the world as people of decency, integrity and fairness. I don’t know how we start doing that. All I know is that in my experience, it has started with simply talking about it with the men in my life. And so I will. I hope you do, too.
As women, we need to speak up. Not only because we have something worthy to say, but because there are a lot of men and boys out there who need to hear it. And, frankly, who else is going to tell them?