Nearly every day I hear of some case of sexism in the world, why it should end, and how we are to combat it. The adult world shuns this sexism. But after being surrounded by kids the past few months, I realized that it is no wonder adults are often sexist. We raise our kids that way. We teach them differences between genders that are not innate. We encourage boys to play with construction toys and discourage them from princesses. In this light it seems no wonder that engineering schools are flooded with males. I hear a sexist comment nearly every hour in my life surrounded by children and their parents, and yet no one acknowledges it, or is even aware of it. Prepubescent children are nearly identical biologically and the behaviors that we tie to them and differentiate with them are almost completely trained. I wonder too how much of these ties later in life are due to this sexism ingrained in them from birth.
We segregate toys into “girl’s toys” and “boy’s toys.” I remember when I was a kid picking up a doll and being discouraged from playing with it because it was not the toy that was supposedly designed for my gender. I didn’t know the difference. But someone taught me. At work, we separate the stickers into the boy’s stickers and girl’s stickers. On the boy’s side are construction toys, cars, superman, fire trucks, and Mario. On the girl’s side are Winnie the pooh, Tinkerbell, Dora, Brave, and Disney princesses. Not only does is there no rhyme or reason to these differences, they truly do not exist. All it does is makes boys ashamed of enjoying watching Brave, embarrassed about Winnie the pooh, and girls upset they can’t get dirty with construction toys or aspire to be a firefighter. We segregate men and women from the gun. To me it seems obvious that guys like playing with cars, not because there is something biological about a Y chromosome and cars, but because we teach it. I also remember feeling insecure as a kid because my soccer team’s color was purple. The world taught me purple as a girl’s color alongside pink. My peers harassed me for it. I don’t see the trouble I experienced as a burden. As a kid I was smart enough to realize what I am saying here, and that is what I told the other kids. I didn’t care that I wore purple or pink. To me these colors were not, are not possessed by either gender.
As reluctant as most people would be willing to admit, these simple differences that we teach to children expand much further and can maybe explain a lot of the behavior of adults. Guys are typically very self-contained, have only moderately close friendships, refrain from talking about their problems, and are dominating over women. We get railed for these things as adults but are we really that surprised. When a boy is hurt or offended we teach them to suck it up. They become more afraid of their parents’ reaction than of the actual incident itself. We train insensitive boys. It makes it hard to get close to people when our culture teaches us that guys don’t give hugs, guys don’t cry. These assets, while great back when humanity was on the brink of surviving in prehistoric times, are pathogenic now. Men don’t need to go to war and die for the women and children and success of humanity or of the nation. We can afford to have women die now. Some women seem to want strong and brave men but are resistant when they find their man dominating, reckless, and cold. We can’t have both though. These directly conflict with each other.
We pamper little girls on the other hand, not because their skin is softer or they are weaker, but because we were taught that they are softer, that they are weaker. When a girl is hurt, we care for her gently and sensitively. When a boy is hurt, we tell him to toughen up. That is the family that raised me and that is the family model I see in others every single day. Little girls are not born whinny brats, believing in fairy tale marriages, incompetent in mechanical skills or problem solving. And of course not all of them are like this. But often we reinforce these traits from a young age.
To me none of the frustrations I have with the sexism and gender roles in our society seem all that surprising anymore. I wrote about my desire for gender equality, or equality in totality, across cultures, around the world. But I’m afraid none of my desires, none of our desires, are going to come true unless we stop raising our kids differently. Girls and boys, it’s okay to get dirty, it’s okay to play with dolls or action figures, it’s okay to talk about how you feel, to cry, but when you get hurt, you will be okay. If I can’t wear heels, then you can’t either. If I can’t wear makeup, then you can’t either. If I can have hair on my body, then you can too. If I can’t express my feelings, you can’t either. If I can’t cry, you can’t either. And vice versa for god’s sake. What I have witnessed is that these differences with sensitivities and behavior, with colors and clothing, learning and professions, are almost entirely trained and only mildly biological. If we step out of the next generation’s way, they’ll get rid of sexism on their own. Unfortunately, we feel the need to intervene and redirect them. Away from the dolls, towards the ninja turtles. Girls away from the mud and towards the makeup or easy-bake oven.