Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Myth Busters

I hate stereotypes and stereotypes regarding gender roles really get me steamed. Before becoming a parent, I made myself a promise that I would raise my children, regardless of their sex, to not associate everything with a specific gender. I wanted them to see that both men and women can fulfill any role they set out to achieve. It sounds great, doesn't it? But then there is the reality and as of late, I have been forced to confront it head on.

Whether I like it or not I am surrounded by gender stereotypes on a daily basis. Living in an overseas military community the vast majority of the military members are men. They are the ones who get up, don a uniform and go to the office every morning. That leaves us trailing spouses, who are predominantly women, to get our children to school each morning, shop for groceries, care for the house and any deal with any other assorted issue that arises. What I consider to be antiquated roles are even more difficult to break out of since as a non-Belgian spouse, finding employment of any kind is next to impossible for me. I knew this coming here and (for the most part) have accepted it since I can see the bigger picture. But an impressionable four year old who sees the world in terms of black and white? He just doesn't interpret it in the same way.

Sidney notices everything that goes on around him and from his first day at school he started asking questions. The first was why there were only mommies dropping their kids off in the morning. (There are a few dads as well but not many). I explained that the daddies were at work so the moms did drop off in the morning. He nodded and didn't say much until the one morning when he noticed a dad dropping off a classmate. He quickly turned to me and announced that the child must not have a mother if his dad was bringing him to school. I quickly corrected him otherwise. But a few days later he announced that another classmate didn't have a father so his mother had to go to work. That lead to Sidney asking if I went to work. I explained that my job at the moment was taking care of him and his father. But even as the words rolled off of my tongue (and as I sit here typing this) I cringed a bit. Reality or not, it just sounds so antiquated and a throw back to another less liberated era. This Sidney took to heart since he started chattering about how my job was to take care of him. He extended this to food and cooking and reacted in horror when I suggested that perhaps his father could go to the store to shop or could even cook dinner. In his four year old world this violates his norm and he informed me that it simply wasn't possible for his father to perform those tasks. So much for my goal of raising a liberated son.

And these stereotypes continue and are reinforced by his surroundings. From toys ("boys play with cars, girls play with dolls") to choice of colors (pink is a "girl" color) my son is picking up on and verbalizing the very stereotypes I had hoped he would never experience. According to the all knowing four year old girls don't play baseball or football either. Boys grill since girls don't like fire just as they mow the lawn and girls sweep the kitchen. Just yesterday, after meeting Glenn for lunch, Sidney informed me that his father had to go to work to earn the money that his mommy spends. I can only surmise that he has picked up on these things at school since I know these words have never been uttered in our household. So what is a mom to do?

At the moment I counter his girls don't work statements with reminders that I did have a job outside of the home when we were in Albania and that when we return to America I will once again be working. Both concepts are a bit hard for him to grasp since his mind operates in the here and now. His one question was who will take care of him if I have a job so I reassure him that I can really do both. He seems skeptical. I remind him that Glenn cleans around the house just as much as I do and that he does all of the vacuuming. My son's smart response? Girls don't like the noise of the vacuum so boys have to do it. But I'm not completely without hope. Sidney does love to help me cook and even has his own play kitchen where he whips up pizza on a regular basis. He has recently become enamored with the movie Frozen (I know, its a sad day when I am relying on Disney princesses to break gender stereotypes). But he loves the music and readily watches what his classmates call a girl movie. He may be all rough and tumble but he recently converted an Easter basket into a purse (his words) since it is so much easier to carry his toys (matchbox cars) in a bag instead of his hands. (This is the European influence coming through). So all is not lost.....

Is this enough? Absolutely not. Is it a start? Maybe. But in reality I know this is going to be a life long struggle and all I can hope is that we model the right behavior at home and that someday it all clicks.

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