THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE RULES THE WORLD
If you are the caretaker of children, you may be more familiar with this fact since, probably, you will have faced questions from these children about the differences between boys and girls. Perhaps you’ve had to teach a child about what is appropriate for boys and girls to do, or not to do, within your society. Often the first question asked about a newborn infant is, “Is it a girl or a boy?” Children are often treated differently based on sex from the very moment they are born. Indeed, with new technologies that permit the identification of a foetus’s sex prior to birth, different – and discriminatory – treatment may begin even earlier.
At birth the male child is not different from the female child in behavioural pattern. He openly shows his affection just like the female child. Over time, we (adults), begin to introduce gender discrimination and attitudes to them. We pick toys that connote this discrimination. For the boy child, we buy toys such as guns; cars etc for them and buy dolls and cooking toys for the girl thereby unconsciously teaching them what we perceive as the right way for a boy to behave and what part that the girl should toll. We the mothers are actually guilty of this crime. For instance, I never taught of buying garden tools for my daughter when she was growing up but I have bought her dolls, kitchen stuffs and even medicals toys as a little girl. All these are unconsciously teaching her that as a girl, she is the caregiver. Have you ever taught of buying a toy car or gun for your girl child? I’m sure that if you are asked to pick a career for her you never will want her to be a cab driver or cab station owner; probably you would not want her to be a crime fighter too just because you think these professions are for males. As a little girl I never knew that there were male nurses. I just assume that the profession was exclusively for the females. Even in my country today, there aren’t many male nurses. I have come across only a few.
Masculinity and femininity are characteristics, habits, traits, behaviours, thoughts, beliefs, and ways of being in the world that are commonly believed to belong to men and women respectively within a given society. For instance, physical strength is a trait commonly believed to belong to men more than women, while the ability to empathize emotionally is a trait commonly ascribed to women. In some Western intellectual traditions, men have historically been characterized as logical, while women are portrayed as intuitive.
Sex/gender socialization is all about how to be a boy or girl and how to be a man or woman. The dominant ideologies of masculinity expect men/boys to be independent, dominant, invulnerable aggressors and providers, strong and virile. The dominant ideologies of femininity expect women/girls to be subordinate, obedient and dependent; passive in sexual relations; virgins, chaste and monogamous; and privilege motherhood as the primary reason for having sex. What were the reasons, if any, behind this rule about why boys and girls are different, or why they could or could not do particular things? Did the rule make sense to you as a young girl growing up? Does it make sense to you today as an adult female?
I am an advocate of behavioural change as a means of ending gender violence and I believe that dominant ideologies can be changed. I know, surely, from my own life experience, that the effort to treat people equally is anything but simple. People are individuals; no two are exactly alike. Even genetically identical twins raised within the same family will develop different personalities, different skills, different strengths and weaknesses over time. If you have children, you know how hard it is to treat them equally at all times. Yet this may be precisely what they demand of us: they want the same number of gifts, the same privileges, identical amounts and expressions of our love and time. As women I know that we have the opportunity to bring up the children equally. Encouraging them to respect individual differences and never to use their strength as a weapon of oppression; women have an advantage over men in grooming the children right because our influence over them is absolute especially within the first trimester years, they spend greater time of their waking moments with us and they will become what we train them to be. The image of themselves that they develop and carry is based on what they were told repeatedly during their formative years. If they were supportive words then it helps to boost their self esteem and value in later years. If they are words of affirmation it can help provide a solid, positive foundation for their thinking. Let’s help them see others through the eyes of gender equality and not through the eyes of a male superiority over the females.