Today I watched Emma Watson’s speech to the U.N. and it made my cry. She put a voice to an issue that I have been trying to articulate for years: gender equality must apply to both women AND men. If you haven’t seen the speech, watch it here:
I have two young boys. One doesn’t really like sports, and prefers board games or creating new worlds in his stories and drawings. He has a mind like a steel trap, a good sense of humour and is one of the most interesting people I know. The other will throw a punch if he needs to, but mostly loves music and to dance (and is very good at it). He will melt at the sight of anything cute. He can enter a room and immediately size up the emotional state of everyone around him. He likes the colour pink because “lots of good things are pink like raspberries and cotton candy”. Both of my boys have been raised to like what they like, not what society tells them, but I discovered recently that my youngest doesn’t tell his friends that he goes to dance class. You know why. Sadly you know why because society has conditioned us to see dance as a “girl” thing and sports as a “boy” thing, just as pink and blue are so determined.
I am not a feminist. I’m not, not a feminist either. I don’t think women should have equal rights, I think everyone should have equal rights. I have seen the rise of “Girl Power” in my generation. Girls in our society are raised with a pervasive expectation that there is nothing that they cannot aspire to achieve. If you want to be a welder? Go for it. A CEO? You can do that. I was certainly raised that way. The education system caters to girls, with learning systems designed for the way that they learn most effectively. Mandates to teach math and science to girls are flourishing, but what about your son? What if he has a hard time sitting at a desk in a classroom all day? What if he wants to be a nurse? A dancer? What if he doesn’t want to play hockey or football? Education systems that help boys optimize their learning are lacking in our society. Nurturing roles for boys are generally frowned on and, shockingly, it is often their own peers who do the judging and from a very young age.
I’ll confess, I’m pretty old fashioned. I like it when my husband buys me flowers, when he pulls my chair out for me at a restaurant. Do I think he thinks I’m somehow less of a human being because I’m a woman and so he pulls my chair out for me or holds a door open for me? Absolutely not. Would I pull his chair out for him at a restaurant? I wouldn’t. That’s not to say that I think it is a man’s job. What I’m saying is that up to now, women have been seeking equality at the expense of men. Our roles in society have changed as trail-blazing women have gone before us to fight for women’s rights. But along the way, society has not changed its view of a man’s role. The problem is, that role has slowly been disappearing and men are left lost in a society where they have no role anymore. There is a whole generation of “lost boys” out there. My mother used to say “they need a war to find their place” but that’s wrong. They need to be accepted, just like women, for WHO rather than WHAT they are.
Society needs to allow boys to be sensitive, intelligent, nurturing as well as strong and protective (after all there is the issue of biological imperatives handed down through 100,000+ years of human evolution).
Women have risen up to fight for equality, but now we need to reach out and help to correct the void left by that shift. We mothers need to raise boys who are allowed to be who they are just as we encourage our girls to be. Strong, compassionate, intelligent human beings.
My boys are growing up with parents who share the responsibility of parenting equally. They see Daddy wash dishes and vacuum, they see Mummy do repairs and take out garbage and vice versa. They see us both support them and encourage their strengths. My only hope for my boys is that we give them strength and wisdom enough to stand up to what society says they should be and remember the lessons we have tried to teach them: that they can be anything they want to be.
We cannot all be the same, so why make us be? Gender equality is about equality not just for women, but for men as well. It isn’t about what you are, it’s about who you are. Society needs people to fall into specific roles: protector, nurturer, teacher, healer etc. it is time that we begin to see that these roles just need humans. Women, men, gay, straight or pink with blue polka dots…
To quote Emma Watson “if not me, then who? If not now, then when?”