Gender Wars


It is my son's fifth birthday party this Saturday, so I took him to the bakery to pick a cake.

"What decoration would you like?" I asked. "Last year you had the trains and the year before you had the dinosaurs. What would you like this year?"
"Princesses!" he shouted excitedly.
"Huh...really?"
"Yes!" he confirmed with unwavering enthusiasm and then added: "Can it be pink?"

 I ordered a chocolate cake with pink icing and princesses on top.

While he likes to wrestle with his Dad, wear Batman and Superman shirts, and go to jiu-jitsu, he also loves Elsa, Astrid and purple sunglasses with flowers.

I have a daughter, too. She will turn two in a week. This birthday party is a joint one, as a matter of fact, even though she's being left out of making any major decisions, mostly due to the fact that she is...well, not even two.

I am well aware of the disadvantages that women face comparing to men. Worldwide, women don't have equal access to education and jobs, their pay is lower, they are more often victims of human trafficking, they suffer physical and sexual abuse more often - the list goes on. And I am more than happy to see the effort behind empowering the girls.

I want my girl to be strong, confident, happy and able to do whatever she chooses to do with her own life. I want her to be in charge of whether she wants to be a CEO, artist, professional boxer, gardener, mathematician or a stay at home mom. Or a combination of those. And even though marketing for girls is still all about pink, purple, glittery and sexy, when she puts on a firefighter outfit or plays with a garbage truck, she gets encouragement that comes more naturally than the one for my son's pink princess cake.

I am glad that the tide is turning for the girls and women to finally be acknowledged for what they have been all along - strong, smart, innovative, capable and fearless. But at the same time, I would like us to acknowledge the boys for what they have been all along - sensitive, empathetic, caring, imaginative and gentle.

Even though we all experience a range of emotions - shyness, anger, sadness, geniality, tenderness, passion, hatred, tranquility - we still teach our kids to react with the one that according to our society belongs in their box.

Nobel laureate and scientist Tim Hunt was criticized after saying that the problem with women in laboratories is that they "fall in love with you and when you criticize them, they cry." The uproar about this comment made him resign from his position at the University College London. But the backlash was focused on arguing whether women truly cry more, and whether their personal feelings get in the way of professional achievements.

My question is - what is wrong with crying? Yes - women do cry more. So what? Men are more aggressive and violent, yet we focus on tears as the sign of a failure. Why?

Why is it that we encourage our girls and women to be stronger, braver, and - to put it in a simplistic term - more manly, but fail to encourage our boys and men to be softer, gentler, and - to put it in a simplistic term - more womanly?

The answer is probably because we still perceive the feminine as a failure, and so if women want to be equal to men, then they'd better play by their rules, instead of embracing the wholeness of the human nature and celebrating all of the qualities across the spectrum.

Do we need strength? Yes. Do we need gentleness? Yes. Do we need logic? Yes. Do we need love? Yes, yes, yes. Does it matter in which package each comes? Why?

A girl can wear make-up and be a car mechanic. A boy can be a policeman and cry. A girl can be an astronaut and like wearing high heels, unless she is playing soccer, which happens to be her other passion. A boy can be a tattoo artist and his favorite movie can still be Love Actually. 

Instead we insist for girls to be Barbies and for boys to be Hulks.

My son, like most kids, went through an obsession with Frozen. But when we went to the store to buy him a T-shirt with Elsa, they only came with pink flowers, glitter and puffy sleeves. Olaf and Sven came on T-shirts for the boys. Why can't a boy have a female character as his hero? 

I am optimistic about my daughter's future. I know she has battles to fight that my son will never have to, but I see the change in the world happening and I know her path will be easier than the path of our Grandmothers. At this very moment, it's my son's future that bothers me. I don't want him to be molded into the "boys don't cry" form. I don't want this, because it will impact not only his life, but my daughter's one as well.

We can't empower the girls unless we teach the boys that feminine is not a flaw. Feminine and masculine are equally important to embrace, whether you are a woman or a man. Tears are not a failure and pink cakes with princesses are just as delicious as the ones with dragons.


4 comments:

  1. Thank you for this post. After 2 girls we are expecting a boy, and this is quite exactly what I fear most about having a boy. It's (quite) easy to support girls in persuing all their dreams but for boys it's a lot harder if they favor more "feminine" things.

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  2. Courageous, honest post. Thank you.

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  3. Courageous, honest post. Thank you.

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  4. Courageous, honest post. Thank you.

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