How can kids learn about Gender Equality if mum and dad don’t show it?

In liberal societies at least, we claim to champion gender equality; we want men and women to be treated equally. We want men to grow up to have a good understanding of what it means to respect women and, like wise, we want our daughters to grow up and see men as equals, they should not feel inferior, alien, nor superior to men. Ideally, we want our kids to grow up in a society that treats people absolutely equally based on merit, behaviour, intellect, personality and whatever else we use to evaluate a person, without ever letting this evaluation be influenced by gender.

The evidence is encouraging in the sense that there definitely is a shift away from tolerating what used to be considered acceptable sexism, and towards a society where any form of sexism is not acceptable. As a father of two daughters, I welcome this shift. I want my daughters to grow up feeling they will be appraised and judged according to their achievements, behaviour and personality, but not according to their gender.

This all makes for a lovely bit of reading that should make us feel good about how far we’ve come, at least in liberal societies. However, there is still ample evidence for concern. Boys and girls in school still feel as if they belong to different clubs. Adults still feel as if some men are just not learning; they put on a progressive image when in the company of women but their true sexist attitude often surfaces when mixing with male friends. There is another cause for concern rearing its head which is that flying the flag for equality can sometimes be misunderstood as a conspiracy to empower women at the cost of emasculating men. You can certainly find a sizeable amount of support for this belief from many men, but first they need to be reassured that it is safe for them to express, that they will not be negatively judged, nor outed on social media as being anti #metoo.

The dangers of opening such a debate are clear. Even as I write this post, I’m wondering how many men are thinking “I wouldn’t go there if I were you, why are you opening this can of worms and inviting trouble to yourself?” I’m sure there are also women out there that may be thinking “Is this just another case of a man not being able to deal with the fact that women are now equal?” As with many topics in our new age of policing through political correctness and finger pointing via social media, if we just all take a breath, put down our armour and think clearly, we’ll find that the source of this issue may lie elsewhere.

For us to truly tackle this problem, we need to define our objectives:

  1. We want women and men to judge each other based on character, behaviour, mindset and personality, not based on gender.
  2. We want women and men to both feel empowered to stand up for themselves and express their opinions rather than both, or either, feeling that they cannot.
  3. We want to replace misogyny with equality, not misandry (man hating).
  4. We want our children to learn these objectives while growing up so that by the time they are young adults, these objectives become an intrinsic part of their thinking.

The most important of these objectives is the fourth. Abolishing gender inequality amongst adults will become far easier if these adults grew up in homes that taught, and lived by, these objectives. We do not want children to hear their dad say “don’t trust a women, at the end of the day, most of them are money grabbing manipulative devils and all they want to do is rule the nest and put their man on a leash”. Equally, we do not want children to hear their mothers say “men are idiots, they can only do one thing at a time and they only have one thing on their mind; if you want to do something right, don’t ask a man to do it”. Now I appreciate that my examples are extreme, or at least may seem so, however, no matter how much we’d like to deny it, making generalised statements about all men or all women are very much part of home life vocabulary.

Children must not hear one parent belittling the other by using derogatory terms or by continually accusing the other of being immature or incompetent. With such an attitude, sons grow up to either resent women or fear them; and daughters grow up to either disrespect or patronise men. Similarly, if a child goes to a parent and asks: “can I …….fill in the blank…………..”, and the reply is “don’t ask me, ask the other parent, I don’t want to make the wrong decision and get in the bad books”, I ask you, how does that teach gender equality? What if one parent is playing with the kids and having a good time but the minute the other parent is heard entering the house, the parent who was playing games says “shhhhh, quiet kids, dad/mum might be in a bad mood, we don’t want to upset him/her with noise and laughter”. How about if one parent seems to always be apologetic whilst the other is constantly angry? We cannot sit there and accept such behaviours in the home and then wonder why do many adults have negative attitudes towards the other sex. It is not a mystery, if we truly want to fix this, we need to check that the homes are ready to demonstrate a loving friendly happy full of laughter and friendship between the two main actors on stage, before they invite an audience in the form of children.

This is the very reason why the first of Compass4Couples’ 5-a-day of Relationships is: Kill the Mars vs Venus Myth. If we truly agree on the objectives above, then we have to start with our children. Children have to witness two equal loving friends exchange the words and actions of two people who feel they are lucky to be with each other. This is not what most children see. What most children see are two bickery co-workers both feeling as if they do more and get less than the other parent. Children far too often witness their parents putting each other down, or they witness dad feeling neutered and therefore leaving all decisions to mum, or that mum feels she must always be careful not to upset the boss of the house, dad. Such scenes are wrong and damaging to kids. Children of such parents will not grow up to truly appreciate the liberating and empowering effect of gender equality. They are instead fed some outdated justification for their parents lack of friendship based on the fact that they happen to be of a different gender.

We need to wake up and realise how damaging lack of love between the parents can be to kids. The best way to achieve gender equality is if kids see that look of love and joy and warmth and play and laughter on their parents faces. A look that leads the children to conclude “These two are so lucky to have found each other; furthermore, these two are a) not cleverly faking in order to maintain an illusion of harmony in front of us – they know kids aren’t dumb; and b) that this feeling is reciprocal.” Can you imagine what a society we would have if all todays’ adults once were children raised in such homes?

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