As International Women’s Day approaches – that single, solitary day to remind people that women are humans and would quite like to be treated as equals (if that’s not too much to ask?) – I’m thinking about why my sons need to understand its importance.
When I first became a mother in 2013 I didn’t realise I’d one day be running around after three energetic little boys. If you’d asked me to look into my crystal ball, I’d have told you I could see a couple of dark-haired girls who loved reading and playing the piano. You know, mini me’s?
But the universe had other plans, and I am grateful for my beautiful, boisterous, funny, silly, unpredictable boys.
Friends of mine who have girls talk about their fears and hopes for them. Raising girls can be a worry – the world is still not a safe or equal place for women, even though we are afforded many more freedoms and opportunities than we were 50 or 100 years ago.
A report this week from the UN Development Program (UNDP) found that 9 out of 10 people globally hold at least one gender bias against women, as reported in The Guardian Australia today. Data from 75 countries (representing 80% of the world’s population), found that 91% of men and 86% of women hold at least one bias against women in relation to politics, economics, education, violence or reproductive rights. Things like assuming a man will be a better political leader or business executive, or has the right to beat his wife.
So my friends who have daughters have a right to be worried.
But, being a mum of boys can be worrying too. Already they are exposed to so much gender bias on a daily basis. People expect them to be energetic, physical, rough and rowdy, and they are all of these things, sometimes. But they are also sensitive, thoughtful, worried, playful, affectionate and kind.
I already see them questioning the roles of gender in their world, and bringing home things they’ve heard while out in the world: boys like blue, girls like pink; boys play football, girls are dancers; boys are strong, girls are soft.
They’ve been told to ‘be a man’ or to ‘not cry like a girl’.
Clementine Ford explores the issues of ‘toxic masculinity’ in her book Boys will be Boys, and asks us to imagine a childhood for our boys in which being sensitive, soft, kind, gentle, respectful, accountable, expressive, loving and nurturing are no longer framed as incompatible with being a man.
I want my boys to know it’s OK to feel and express emotions, to be gentle, to take part in whatever hobbies or sports that take their interest.
Now that I’m running my own business, I reiterate to them that women have choices, and they contribute to society and do important things – whether that’s working, creating, volunteering, or raising children.
I hope that by the time the boys are my age, there won’t even be an International Women’s Day. It’ll just be globally accepted by then that women are people, and deserve to be treated equally and with respect. To feel safe. To live freely.
Until then, I’m going to do all I can to raise three boys who see women as equal humans with equal rights and opportunities. Wish me luck.
Happy International Women’s Day 2020 everybody.