It might be a cliché, but becoming a mum is the single most important thing that has happened to me. Nothing has changed me or shaped me as much as the responsibility, love and just absolute fear that comes with being a parent. Because it is scary, and do not let anyone else ever tell you differently. It is an absolutely terrifying feeling to live in the knowledge that you are in a position whereby it is your responsibility to not just get your children through the day somewhat clean, fed and alive, but actually raise them into being decent human beings.
When I had my daughter, once I got past the initial utter terror that is, what was initially reinforced in my mind was just how important it would be for my daughter that I raised her to know that she could do anything. You are treated differently in life dependent on whether or not you have a vagina and I very much doubt that I have any female friends or acquaintances that has not at one point or another been treated differently because they are female. It might have been something just dumb and ignorant like being accused of being on your period because you were upset or angry about something or it might have been something life altering like not getting the promotion you wanted because you have ovaries and might at some point reproduce. The sad part is that we as parents will often start the trend of treating our children differently based on gender.
I have a brother that is 11 years younger than me and it used to infuriate me that he was treated much more differently than my sister and I, his curfews were later, there were excuses for his actions because he was a boy, he wasn’t expected to do chores the way we did, or it wasn’t reinforced with consequences if he decided not to do something. As a society that is probably where my parents went wrong, where a large part of their generation went wrong, and perhaps where parts of my generation continue to do it wrong.
The damage doesn’t lie as much in the expectation of what a girl should do, but in the expectation of what she cannot do. Every time a dad yells across a sports field for their son to stop “crying like a girl”, every time someone teases the boy who comes in last in the race that he “runs like a girl”, every time you watch cricket (or baseball if you’re across the Atlantic) and you proclaim to your son who is watching next to you that the opposition “throws like a girl” you reinforce that being a girl is something lesser, that it is an insult. Men being genetically built stronger than women, physically speaking, does not mean they are in any shape or way superior to the point where being a woman is somehow a derogatory term. We don’t accuse a girl who is not as in touch with her emotions as some women might be to “emote like a boy” or if a woman is single we don’t proclaim that she is a “commitment-phobe like a man”. Stereotyping is ignorant whether it is based on race, religion or gender, and it is not something that we should be teaching our children.
Too often such comments are brushed off as being jokes, as something that doesn’t have an effect on anyone and thus should not be taken seriously. The truth is much different. I get asked on a weekly basis by my now 8 year old daughter whether the reason for a, b or c is because she is a girl. I have to reinforce to her on almost a daily basis that she can do whatever she likes with her life, not because she is a girl, not in spite of her being a girl, but because she is a child that lives in a country where her rights are supposed to be equal to the boys that she is growing up next to. I am telling her this in spite of the fact that I know that there are people out there who may not take her as seriously as her male counterparts. I am telling her this knowing that even in the 21st century she will be expected to settle down and be a mum, and if she chooses not to she will be some kind of an outcast. I am telling her this in spite of the fact that the so-called leader of the free world feels it is appropriate to express that when it comes to women you can just “grab them by the pussy.”
There is a misconception that equality between genders is something that is just lacking in countries such as Iran or Pakistan. Yes we are so incredibly lucky because we live in a part of the world where our basic human rights are protected, but that does not mean that we stop fighting for complete equality, and it is not something that we should just talk about once a year on the 8th of March.
Having a daughter reinforced my stance on the importance of equal rights between genders. Having a boy made me realise just how important it is to teach our sons what they can do to make it a reality. If my son has a girlfriend one day I want him to treat her with respect, I want him to see her as his equal in every way, because that is what she should be. If my son works alongside a woman, doing the same job as her, for the same amount of time as her I want him to be absolutely outraged if she does not make the same amount of money as he does. Quite frankly, if my son is out at a club and he sees a man grope a woman who clearly does not want some drunken idiot to put her hands on her then I want my son to grab the man’s penis and ask him how he likes it (although that situation might be better dealt with slightly differently). More than this I want both of my children to grow up to be decent human beings who recognise that what we do is what makes us, not our skin colour, religion or reproductive organs. More than anything I want both of my kids to grow up and be given the same opportunities to accomplish, laugh and love.