My middle child, Taylor, recently completed an expressionist painting titled “Every 15 seconds,” depicting an image of an abusive man and his battered wife (pictured above). I have spent the better part of my kids’ lives trying to teach them the principle of equality of the sexes, when messages all around them speak so loudly to the contrary. To say this has been a difficult task is an understatement; in truth, it has been one of the most challenging jobs I’ve ever undertaken. It wasn’t so difficult to accomplish when they were in the household, constantly under our care. Once they began their journey outside the walls of our home; however, I discovered that inevitable push and pull between ideals established in private and those imposed within the public sphere.
I have three children, two boys and one girl, and each has experienced their fair share of gender biased messages, some subtle and some blatantly obvious, but all negative toward females. For example, when my oldest son, Tre′, was in fifth grade, his teacher, who happened to be female, said that women cannot be leaders because they are to be under the authority of their husbands. I found this comment to be quite interesting since the teacher, by virtue of her position, was functioning in a leadership role. I’m not quite sure how she reconciled her perspective with the fact that teaching is one of the most significant leader positions children can experience during their formative years. My son took note of this as well, stating, “I don’t understand; if women aren’t supposed to be leaders, why is she leading our class?” Another notable comment came when Tre′ was in high school and one of his male teachers said, “Give me your best female sports team and your worst male sports team and the boys will still beat the girls every time.” Since his sister, Loghan, plays basketball, this comment was one that really struck a nerve. In fact, in his senior year, after observing the special treatment the boys’ teams enjoyed at homecoming and the girls’ teams being completely overlooked, Tre′ emailed both the principal and the administrator to inquire about the inequity.
My middle child, Taylor, has had similar experiences, though somewhat more subtle in nature. His 10th grade P.E. teacher regularly made comments to his all-male class, such as, “Stop being such a girl” or “Okay ladies, let’s go; you can do better than that.” The obvious intent here is to imply that “acting like a girl” is something for the boys to be ashamed of and that they ought to be motivated to do better so that such a comparison would be out of the realm of possibility. Taylor, upon hearing the comment, “Stop being such a girl,” said to his teacher, “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” Just recently, in one of Taylor’s classes, the male teacher was commenting on two presentations, one given by a female and one by a male. To the female, he said, “You did a great job.” He then proceeded to spend half of the class discussing the boy’s presentation and all the things he liked about it, going in depth about the value of the content. This is not the first instance of this behavior; it has happened numerous times with the same favoritism toward male students.
The comments my boys have heard over the years have been substantial, but have really been in their favor as males. Nonetheless, because of their upbringing, they are acutely aware of the problem with this type of thinking and both have, on occasion, been called feminists – not in a good way, of course. On the other hand, my daughter, Loghan, has been the direct recipient of blatantly biased comments that have certainly left their mark on her thinking. When she was a little girl, I encouraged her, along with the boys, to play with whatever toys they found enjoyable. Consequently, all three of them played with every toy imaginable, from pretend vacuum cleaners to dolls to trains to magic kits to video games… So, when Loghan entered pre-school, where there were both dolls and cars/trucks to play with, she naturally thought it was okay for her to play with either. The teacher; however, had other thoughts. On one particular morning when Loghan went to play with one of the trucks, her teacher redirected her attention to the dolls, admonishing her, “Girls don’t play with cars. You can play with one of the Barbie dolls in the other box.” In middle school, one of her teachers told the class that, “Males and females aren’t equal; males are superior.” It’s hard to believe that kind of bias is still around, particularly given the fact that this teacher was in her 20s. Recently, Loghan, now a first year high school student, decided she wants to be an obstetrician. Whenever she talks about it, she is met with all kinds of negativity; “How can you do that and be a mother too?” “That’s pretty ambitious for a girl,” “Why don’t you become a teacher?” “You’re seriously going to go to school for nine years?” My hope is that Loghan will realize her own dreams, setting aside the skewed perspective of those who seek to bring her down and distract her from reaching her ambitious goals.
In my own life, I’ve experienced both blatant and subtle forms of sexism, most of which I believe to be rooted in ignorance. Nonetheless, ignorance or not, gender bias carries with it significant consequences. The devaluing of women in our culture has created numerous problems. From wage inequity to sexual harassment to domestic violence, women have experienced their fair share of damage and injury because of attitudes that continue to oppress.
Denying women equal rights with men legitimizes the lessening of women’s status and, ultimately, places them in a position of weakness that makes them vulnerable to those in positions of power. Every 15 seconds…