Thursday, June 9, 2016

To protect our daughters, we absolutely MUST educate our sons - A ReadItDaddy Editorial

So many things triggered this week's editorial. Raging angry tweets from a repentant dad describing how a culture of 'bants' and braggardly locker-room sexism continuously leads boys and men to consider the sexist treatment of women acceptable (and, ugh, harmless) normal everyday behaviour.

His impassioned tweets were thought provoking. Not least of all because the man had a daughter, and realised that at some point in her life she would be on the receiving end of such behaviour herself.

The other trigger was being the only male at a female-only table at a pub, listening to mums talking about their own fears of walking down a street - even in broad daylight and the fears they had for their own daughters.

Needless to say, these things strike a chord with me. A dad, writing a book blog with my daughter who is the apple of my eye and from the moment she screamed at the top of her lungs when she popped out of her mum, I swore to do everything in my power to look after her, care for her and nurture her.

Naturally there's only so much you can do to bring up your daughter to be strong, wary, worldly-wise and non-accepting of any sexist behaviour but the real effort is in educating our sons, not our daughters, to buck a trend and become a stereotype that has existed for far, far too long.

On a daily basis, I see women being harassed, getting unwanted attention, having to deal with 'harmless' flirting from men who have absolutely no idea what wretched arsehats they're being (apologies, I will try to keep my language under control). On one hand it's pathetic watching these idiots somehow dream their way through life believing that they're some sort of 'catch'. On the other hand it's menacing, because there's absolutely no doubt that men like this still hold a belief that it's a fine, fine way to assert their measly level of power over women, who are intelligent and wary enough not to respond.

Listening to the mum's anecdotes was spine chilling - more so than reading the tweets from the guy mentioned at the top of this article as these were people I know, kids I know. I sat silently listening, feeling like I needed to interject to apologise at every given opportunity for being male but too terrified to do so.

What can be done? Where can you start to tackle such a gigantic and all-encompassing problem that stems from childhood behaviour not addressed or discussed, that continues to grow like some festering rot, that leeches into practically everything that has impact and influence on our daily lives?

It has to start with boys - there is absolutely no reason why mums and dads cannot raise children who understand what it means to treat everyone with respect and as an equal. There is no excuse for that sleeveless beer-gut sexist caricature of the male species to continue to exist this far into the 21st century, no more than it was acceptable for that caricature to exist beyond the last few decades of the 20th. We see so many cases where fervent denial is quite often followed by aggression whenever high profile examples of everyday sexism become loud enough to hit the press or the media.

I've never understood the mentality of someone who thinks that they're somehow being charming by being overtly (and quite often sexually) threatening to someone they perceive as 'weaker' or an easy target. It disgusts me just as much as it disgusted the guy and the mums who inspired this blog post. Teach your sons that the modern world has no place for this crap any more.

1 comment:

Jo Dearden said...

Well said that man!

Thank you so much for highlighting this issue. But there's something deeper we can do sooner.

As a mum of two girls (aged 8 and 11) I've noticed that, when it comes to studying fiction at primary school, the default setting is always to choose books about boys (presumably because teachers think - however consciously or subconsciously - that boys are harder to engage in reading and having a story about a boy will be of more interest).

My eldest daughter leaves primary in a few weeks. In seven years she has only studied ONE book where the main protagonist is a girl - Charlotte's Web. Other books have included The Witches, James And The Giant Peach, Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Boy (Roald Dahl's autobiography), Holes, War Horse, Tin Tin, Alex Rider, Stig Of The Dump.

I'm not saying these books aren't good - they are all great stories (well, I haven't read the Alex Rider one) but, year after year, what message is this sending out to girls and boys?

It's saying: boys and girls are different; the experiences of boys and girls are different; that boys are exciting/active/dynamic/adventurous/interesting; that, whatever it is that girls do, is of no importance.

This is doing primary-age girls a massive disservice. They need funny, clever, strong, quirky role models in fiction too.

This is also doing primary-age boys a massive disservice too. Girls do not figure in their imaginative/creative life - they are not on the radar at all. How can boys relate - how can they see girls as fellow human beings (as opposed to different AND lesser) when they are older if the foundations aren't being laid in these formative years?

I'm not here to have a pop at teachers (their job is hard enough as it is at the moment). And I don't think it's some insidious, obvious policy. Of course it isn't, but, when many teachers subconsciously adopt this view, it becomes a worrying trend.

Surely all primary teachers should be aiming for a 50/50 split when it comes to the gender of the main protagonist in the books and novels they read to and with the class. Yes Charlie And The Chocolate Factory is an amazing book - but so is Matilda! and so is the BFG! Want a 'classic' story? You could choose The Borrowers or The Secret Garden. Throw in something more contemporary? The Illustrated Mum is great. Something funny? Try Mr Gum or Mabel Jones.

Great stories with female heroes do exist. If the stories are good enough, kids don't care whether or not it's about a boy or a girl... to them it's about 'a kid'...

We need to nurture the notion that stories about girls are just as valid, entertaining and fun as stories about boys. That way, when they're older, boys and girls, men and women (ie. human beings) will understand each other better because they will realise we are not so different after all.