I wrote this a year ago and posted it on my old blog which nobody read, that is why you may notice the ages of my children are not current. First time this is being posted at From Playgrounds To Politics.
When I was brining my kids to school this morning and we were headed in the building, we came across a young girl struggling to open the heavy front door of the building. My two older kids were several steps ahead of me and I told my 5 (almost 6) year old son to help the girl with the door. We continued on our way to the classroom and while walking I reminded my son, “It’s always polite to hold the door for others. Especially girls. That’s called being a Gentleman.” This isn’t out of the ordinary of something I may say to him, I’m always trying to teach my kids about being polite and helping others. But I started to question if telling my 5 year old that holding doors especially for girls was the right thing to do or if it was it was odd or sexist? Usually when I tell my kids things, they usually ask “why.” This particular time, nobody asked why, but I was thinking in my head, maybe he would ask and I couldn’t come up with a great 5 year old answer other than,” because that’s what a gentleman or a good boy does.” So that got me thinking about other things we teach our sons that is along the same lines. Never hit a person, but especially a girl. When you walk in a doorway, let a girl go first.
Maybe 5 isn’t a good age to make this distinction, but then when is a good age to make this differentiation? When exactly does the gentlemen training begin? So now I turn to the feminist inside me and my question is: can we raise good little gentlemen without teaching them to be sexist? I urge my son to be helpful to anyone that needs help of course, but there is something in our society that makes it extra polite to help a girl and later on, a woman. I mean, we all want our sons to be good to women and I think it’s a common idea that a man who opens your door for you and pays for your dinner is a good catch, right! And obviously hitting a woman is absolutely wrong and terrible. And, although not right as well, hitting a man in society is much more accepted than hitting a woman. But at what point can we teach this to a boy? When can we say, “don’t hit little so and so on the playground, because she’s a girl.” So now I have to ask, can a man (or a boy) treat the other sex, like the fairer sex, without being sexist?
I have 2 boys and 1 girl in my house and I can say in our family we are just at the point of saying, “you can’t hit anyone.” No one doesn’t get hit because they’re a girl, no one gets to go first because they’re a girl, no one gets anything different because of who they are. When it comes to siblings (I have 1, 3 & 5 year olds) they don’t understand that kind of logic, and it would make an unfair playing field when I often have to break up wrestling matches and arguments if I was always favoring my daughter. With 3 kids close in age, when it comes to toys, everybody plays with everything. We never tell our daughter she can’t do something because she’s a girl and I will correct our children if they say, “that’s a boys toy or a girls toy.” I can’t say that we live in a gender neutral home because my daughter wears plenty of pink and has a million princess Barbies. That being said, my daughter would rather play with dinosaurs and dig worms out of the ground than anything else, and both my sons have played with dolls. I wouldn’t say I’m raising sexist children, but is that not really true when I teach my son to be good to girls.
I teach my kids that everyone is equal. We treat everyone with kindness. We help people, especially those who can’t help themselves. But where does the “ladies and gentlemen” part of all that come in to play. If everyone is equal and girls can do everything that boys can do, when is it fair to introduce the idea that as a boy, you will treat girls differently, and how is that fair in elementary school? If we want our girls to be strong and our boys to be respectful, how exactly does a feminist raise her boys, and can she raise a Gentleman?
I do think this whole Ladies and Gentlemen thing can be accomplished even with a feminist approach, and I do think that there is a balance.. but I want to hear how you raise your boys or girls to be “Ladies and Gentlemen,” or tell me, is that notion becoming extinct (or should it be)?