I recently read an article about how the gender wage gap actually starts in childhood. Not only do girls do more chores per week than boys, they also earn less allowance money. What the…?! I always knew that bump on my head throughout childhood was from knocking on that damn glass ceiling! Who can I sue?
All jokes aside, as I’m prone to be hyper aware of gender roles, I think often about how we are raising our kids.
My parents, as progressive as they are now, tried their best to indoctrinate us to traditional gender roles. I remember the pivotal moments clearly. I had discovered the exhilaration of playing soccer during recess when I was in the third grade. I was the only girl and I was running with the boys, keeping up with them not because I was fast, but quick. I recall vividly getting the wind knocked out of me by a ball to the gut. Just a few minutes before that, one of the boys told me that girls shouldn’t play soccer. It was that moment that I had to decide to either let the tears fall or to walk it off. So I ran it off. My parents were unaware of this newfound passion of mine until I started coming home with bruises on my shins. I was a tomboy (coincidence that I married a Tom?). They tried to talk me out of it in their oh-so-subtle ways. For example, “Don’t get bruises. No one will want to marry you if you have bruises.” Then, later, “Make sure you marry someone older than you. And has more education. And makes more money than you.” Real subtle. Of course, it all came from a place of love. [Great opportunity for a shout-out to my brother who managed to convince my parents to let me play middle school basketball after I failed to convince them myself.]
Then there was the “sex talk.” I use that term loosely because we never really did understand these very long-winded, riddled talks. In fact, I don’t think the Vietnamese language has a word for “sex.” I tried looking it up in a Vietnamese-English dictionary when I was in high school – no sex. Perhaps many of those vague, ambiguous fortune cookie soothsayings were actually written to help Asian parents with their sex talks? Well, our “sex talk” went something like this:
To my brother: Men are like bees. You must smell many different roses until you find the right one. Don’t stay on the first rose you find. Now go study for your SAT!
To me: You are not allowed to date. You are not allowed to have a boyfriend. Your pride and honor are the most important things you own and you must guard it like a temple. Now stop playing sports and iron the clothes!
My brother and I got the same allowance every week. I was praised for doing housework (and I DO love me some praise); my brother, however, had no use for praise, nor housework. Hence I worked more than him, and for the same amount of allowance. So, in fact, I did earn LESS than my brother. In all honesty, however, our allowance was probably more for earning good grades. And had our family had the financial means, my brother probably could have retired as a teenager with a healthy Roth IRA.
Recently, through some events that required me to do some deep introspection, I’ve come to realize that I subconsciously feel like I need to prove myself– specifically at work , in an academic setting, or on an athletic field. At the same time, I’ve been quick to do more work for less, missing opportunities to be an advocate for myself. I carry a chip on my shoulder and always seem to be overcompensating for something I really haven’t been able to identify. I think it’s more than just a part of my gender identity, but I can’t help but have a hunch I’m not the only woman feeling this way.
Fast forward a few decades later and I find myself with a son and daughter, and a renaissance husband who does the dishes and is a hands-on dad. DT has always admired strong women and he treats Quinn and Kien pretty equally. What a difference a generation makes, right? However, I’m finding myself overcompensating for society (and perhaps for that chip on my shoulder). When any kind of princess-related anything comes on television, I quickly change the channel. When she falls down, I don’t baby her any more than I do with Kien. I am mindful to compliment her on things she does and not how she looks. Her toys are all the same toys Kien had at her age. She plays with trucks and plastic animal figurines. I try to avoid pink clothes. In fact, a large portion of her clothes are Kien’s hand-me-downs (with her stunted hair growth, she is often mistaken for a boy anyhow). I don’t mind. Now that I’m writing this, perhaps it’s less about gender equality and more about being too cheap to buy her new things.
But I want her to love superheroes and football.
My dear friend TNT, who’s studying child development at Columbia, has done some interesting work on girls and the princess obsession. She asserts that little girls’ fascination of princesses does not necessarily teach them to value appearance and daintiness, or to be saved by a prince. She asserts that the critical piece is the dialogue around a princess’ role. It is, afterall, make-believe, an important component of imaginative play. I’m starting to get it and I’m learning not to be so hyper-sensitive. I get that it’s really our responsibility to raise her to have the confidence to express her gender in whatever way she chooses. It is our responsibility to raise her so that she understands that her contribution to the world is just as important as her brother’s. I get that this mindfulness is equally important to Kien as it is to Quinn. I also get that we really don’t know what the hell we’re doing, as my parents didn’t really know what they were doing when they were talking about bees and roses.
I’m still holding off on bringing anything princess-y into the house. At this point though, I’m hoping she takes a liking to dragons– we do, after all, have all this abandoned dragon stuff lying around…