Rejecting traditional gender roles
I do not have a Y chromosome. Somehow, without that, I can still use power tools, change my tires or oil, install a car stereo, and do all sorts of other useful things.
As a young child, I was offered the opportunity to learn anything I wanted. There was no talk of not being able to do something because I’m a girl. Until I had my own child. Now I hear that from my son.
I have been shocked and perplexed as to why my son would think I can’t do something, simply because I’m a girl.
There is literally nothing I believe I can’t do or show him. Except that whole peeing standing up thing. His dad can take that on with my blessing.
If he’s growing up in a house with a strong, capable mother who believes she can do anything, what’s the deal?
The influence of broader society
My son is 8 and already being taught, in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, that there are things girls do well and things boys do well. In spite of my (rather direct) influence and teachings, he’s hearing it and seeing it from many more people than what he’s hearing from me.
If volume and frequency of voices drives his reality, I’m a pretty lonely voice out there.
Recently, he had a homework assignment to work with his parents to build a robot. He immediately went to his dad and asked for help. Dad’s response was “work with Mom. She’s the engineer. I’m the parts guy.”
Over the weekend, we got started. My son designed the robot and I made suggestions on what types of supplies we might have to bring his design to life. Once we figured out what we needed, Dad was off to the garage to get the parts and then left us to our work.
Showcasing diverse talents
Partnering on this project allowed my son to see my skills in action – engineering, project management, problem solving, and maybe a little bit of crafting. It also reinforced an important lesson – just because Dad is king of the garage doesn’t mean a woman can’t build.
I have built things before. He’s seen me build furniture and other solutions for the house. Unfortunately, the message has to be reinforced so it becomes natural.
He sees Dad in the garage at least once a week – once a day in the summer. If he sees me do something once a year, it’s a fluke. If it’s regularly, then it’s the way things are.
While I enjoyed the time spent problem solving and building with my son, there was a more important part of the entire process. When we were done, my husband congratulated us both on our hard work, and called me out specifically for my contribution.
My son wondered why, and my husband responded “because Mom did a great job helping you and figuring out how to make your design work. It was really good engineering and we should be thanking her.”
Dad’s impact on how Mom is viewed
That endorsement, from a guy my son looks up to like the sun, is as important as me actively challenging societal norms regarding “what moms can do.” My husband modeled respect for a woman’s ability to do something my son had seen as a “dad job.”
If my son grows up wanting to be like dad, then it’s important for dad to call out his awareness that mom can do anything he can do. In some cases, better.
While I think it is critical for moms and dads to raise daughters who are self-confident and believe they can do anything, I think those of us raising boys have a job that’s just as important.
Our boys are going to be influenced to believe that moms can’t protect the house, pay the bills, or be handy. If we do nothing, that’s what they will learn. Even if we do our part to teach them something different, it has to be more than words.
Modeling the change we want to see in our boys
I’m not suggesting that all women start using power tools or build robots. We all have different skills. However, figuring out how we can demonstrate talents that may be considered more traditionally male, or exposing our sons to women that have those talents, can go a long way to setting them up for future success.
Sites like A Mighty Girl are focused on teaching girls to challenge gender stereotypes. They offer insights to the accomplishments of women, past and present, including books to enhance learning. Why not share those stories with our sons as well?
Dads, I’d encourage you to openly speak about the talents and contributions of mom, or other women you know and work with. You are the best model your boys have for how to grow into manhood.
If you say women can do anything, they will believe you. If you don’t, they will also believe you.
Ultimately, more and more girls are growing up the way I did. They believe they can do anything and are keeping their voices and confidence as they grow into adulthood. If I don’t prepare my son for the types of women they will grow into, it’s unlikely he will find a willing life partner.
Unprepared, he may be living in my basement for the rest of time. I love you kid, but at some point, you’re moving out.