Every school morning, my elder daughter and I are up together in the pre-dawn gray eating breakfast, making lunches and gearing up for the day. She’s in middle school now, so she has one less hour to hang out in the morning. Even in that abbreviated time together, we can sometimes get some good communicating accomplished.
We follow a routine when I see her off in the mornings. I go out and strap her violin to her mountain rack and give her hugs and kisses and well wishes. We perform our secret handshake and then she heads off across the yard. I walk down to the driveway to get the newspaper and watch until she’s crossed the street a half-block away.
One morning, before pedaling across the grass, she stopped to tell me about some comments she’d heard from boys at school. They’d seen her with her bike and mocked her for riding a ‘boys’ bike. Hmmm, I replied. I explained to her the tradition differing designs for men’s and women’s bikes. The bike she’s riding now is my hand-me-down mountain bike, and most all of those have the “men’s” design.
I asked her how she responded to the boys. She told them that this was her bike and she’d gotten it from her Mom, so there’s no way it was a “boy’s”. Pretty good response, I’d say, given they were trying to make fun of her.
She needed to get on her way, but I told her I thought it was funny that people assigned gender to things. I said, “You could always tell them ‘I don’t see a penis or vagina on that bike, so I don’t think it’s a male or female’.” This got a chuckle and a shake of the head from my sixth grader, “Oh, Mom… ” She rolled her eyes and said good-bye.
And really, gendering things and activities? Shouldn’t we have grown out of that childishness by now? I remember having a conversation about this, somewhere, and questioning the idea that cooking is women’s work whereas working on an engine is men’s work.
“I dunno, I’ve never seen anybody cook with their vagina before, and I sure wouldn’t recommend repairing a car with your penis, so I don’t know what gender has to do with any of it.”
Yeah, yeah, I understand about tradition and about expectations and about what we were raised to believe about what men can and should do and what women can and should do. Something I am very conscious of modeling for my daughters and anyone else I can influence is the idea that gendering objects and activities is something we should leave behind as a species and society. As we’ve seen since Title IX, sports prowess relies on certain physical and mental attributes, not on the equipment between a person’s legs. I encourage my daughter to consider the abilities and inclinations required for success, rather than seeing any kind of gender predisposition.
She gets it, I know she does, she’s strong and independent in her thinking most of the time and talks about doing her own thing, regardless of what other people think. And she may laugh and blush a little at my idea of bikes with penises or vaginas, but I know the message is getting in there and it will make a difference for her.
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