It was an unremarkable weekday afternoon when Zach, my three-year-old, started crying frustratedly. ‘What’s the matter, buddy?’ I asked, keeping my voice super cool and casual.
Frustrated crying is commonplace in our house (whether mine or the kids) so I was giving him my best, ‘it’s probably nothing, but if it’s something I’m here for you,’ vibes. ‘My spaceship is broken,’ Zach says holding up the door to the spaceship which he’s just yanked off. I don’t know what you thought would happen there mate, but OK let’s do this.
‘Well bring it here and I’ll see if I can fix it for you,’ I say, holding my hand out, knowing it just needs snapping back in.
‘No girls can’t fix stuff, only boys can fix stuff.’
Erm, sorry, what? Where has this come from?
‘You never fix my stuff, you always say that Daddy’s are good at fixing stuffs,’ he continues.
Whoa. OK, first of all, this kid breaks a lot of ‘stuffs’. Between laundry, managing a business, trying to keep the house in a livable state and trying to stop the kids jumping off the windowsills, I’ve got a whole lot of ‘stuffs’ to do myself. Scheduling in toy fixing time kinda messes with my schedule. Ain’t nobody got time for that.
Secondly, half the time the thing that has broken is not really broken, but just needs the batteries replacing. The point here being that the death of the aforementioned batteries is giving my ears a much-needed break, so replacing them is not something I am going to just offer out there.
But he was right, I always deferred to Michael.
Kids notice these things.
What I hadn’t thought about was that by always passing over to my husband when it came to fixing things, I was subtly telling Zach that I am not capable. He doesn’t understand that I just can’t be bothered because that’s not what I am saying. I am telling him that Daddy is ‘good’ at fixing stuff, and so in his mind, I am also saying that I am ‘bad’ at fixing stuff.
When I reference to gender equality in my post title, I am talking about it in a broader more childish form - ‘I can do anything you can do,’ type way because gender equality is actually defined as being ‘the state in which access to rights or opportunities is unaffected by gender.’ I, of course, have the opportunity to fix Zach’s broken toys but I often choose not to, admittedly because of my own laziness. If indeed it is my own laziness that is the reason I am not fixing something, then why am I using language that defines something as a gender-specific job?
I don’t think that by my simply not wanting to fix Zach’s toys I am affecting him for life. Of course, it goes without saying that some people just prefer to do certain things, and dislike other tasks; I can’t stand taking out the bins, Michael does it every time. I do also think that men and women’s strengths differ, but let’s not forget how important it is to speak to our children in a way that doesn't mislead them into thinking that something is specifically a man’s or a woman’s job. Every little thing that they learn at home, in the playground, in school and anywhere else all forms a picture in their minds.
What started in a child’s head as a simple idea that a female is not good at fixing things, is furthered by society through words or actions.
In primary school, it’s that girls aren’t as good as running; boys can't play with dolls.
In secondary school, it’s that girls aren’t as good at computer science; boys can't study fashion design.
In adult employment, it's looking over a more qualified person for a job because she is a woman; or a man being doubted over his motives to become a nursery teacher.
So what did my three-year-old teach me?
He taught me that no matter how much you feel like you are doing the right things to teach your children to treat genders equally, the language we use on a day to day basis is important. I want my children to know that they can do whatever it is they want to do.
'Parenting experts’ (whoever they are) will tell us that the best way to teach our children is through our example, so I guess my question to you is -
Am I going to have to start fixing Zach’s toys?
Or do I just need to start telling him that I simply don’t want to? And it’s not because Daddy is better at fixing things than me.
Because, obviously, he’s not.