In my short lifetime, the way we think of gender and the way we rely on gender roles in everyday life has changed tremendously.
When I was a kid, I was told that if a boy at school was mean to me it meant he liked me. Now, we know that this is an extremely problematic thought pattern to instill in young girls.
When I was a kid, being friends with a boy meant constantly facing jokes from the adults in your life - “Ooooh, is that your boyfriend? Are you gonna get married?” Now, we realise that we probably shouldn’t be assigning sexuality to children who just want to play ‘Stuck in the Mud’ with each other.
When I was a kid, those pervasive ideas that girls were princesses and boys were soldiers still hung thick in the air. Now, we raise girls to wear whatever they want and aspire to be whatever they want - from princess to Prime Minister (or both at once).
But are we comfortable with boys being princesses? With boys wearing dresses? Growing out their hair? Wearing nail polish or make-up? Playing with dolls?
As feminism has bled into the mainstream more and more in the last few decades, we have changed the way we raise girls significantly. We want to empower our daughters. We want them to be allowed to do whatever boys can do. We want them to be given every opportunity that boys are given. We want them to know that they are just as valuable as anyone else.
Girls today are given Barbie dolls and Tonka trucks. They can shave off all their hair or grow it out like a mermaid. They’re taught to aspire to be anything - an athlete, a scientist, an engineer, a doctor, a nurse, an astronaut, a politician, a superhero, a mother, a tree-dwelling pixie.
The problem is, for the most part, we haven’t really changed how we’re raising boys. While generations of empowered young women are now going into the world believing in their self-worth and right to be whoever they want to be, generations of boys are still going into the world thinking that boys should be boys, and that being a boy is the best thing anyone could be.
Yes, we’re raising girls to be empowered young feminists - but we are still also training them for a life of parenthood and household labour, something we are not doing with boys. We’re giving girls kitchen sets and matchbox cars, but we’re only giving boys matchbox cars. So how can we be surprised that while more and more women have moved into the workplace, the amount of housework done by men has barely increased since the ‘80s? How can we be surprised that the majority of childcare still falls to women when every girl was given a Baby Born for Christmas and every boy a Nerf gun?
A girl who styles herself as a “tomboy” is seen as cool. In fact, by not being a “girly girl,” she’s elevating herself. She’s taking a step up. A boy wearing pink tulle or fairy wings is seen as quite the opposite. Girliness weakens him. It’s beneath him. Being a boy, liking boy things, that’s power. Anything that’s not masculine is less than.
The message we’re sending young boys is clear: femininity is inferior to masculinity.
And if we’re teaching boys that femininity is inferior to masculinity, are we not also teaching them that girls are inferior to boys? That women are inferior to men?
Are we not then sending out a new generation of empowered women to put up with another generation of traditional misogynists? Are we not setting up women to do more and more labour than ever before, now that they’re expected to somehow be CEOs and housewives?
Could we solve a lot of issues by buying those adorable kitchen sets for little boys, too? I don’t know for sure, but why not try?
As the great Gloria Steinem said: “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons – but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”Support Villainesse