When my son looked at me like a deer caught in the headlights, I knew I had to take a good hard look at myself. I had told him to iron his pants, a simple request or so I thought. As a middle schooler, he had no idea how to use an iron. How could that be? I knew for a fact that I had taught him how to iron properly, hadnít I?
I thought back and realized that not only had I not taken the time to show him how to use an iron, but I hadnít bothered to teach him very much in the way of any household chores. By contrast, I had made sure that my daughters were well acquainted with all areas of domestic duties beginning at an early age. My sonís main function was helping his Dad with yard work and taking out the trash. By defining these roles so starkly, was I engaging in sexist behavior?
Thatís a great question for every parent to ask themselves. Are your expectations for each sibling based on their gender? When you need help with dinner, do you ask your daughter rather than your son because she likes to help in the kitchen or because it feels more natural? How about when you need a dirty mess cleaned up, is your son more capable than your daughter or do you just feel like it should be his job? Here are a few more questions parents can ask themselves:
ē Is there a disproportionate number and frequency of chores between genders within your household? For instance, do your girls do kitchen chores at least once a day while your son does yard work at the most once a week?
ē Do you pressure your siblings for success in certain activities because of your gender based expectations? Ask yourself: Do you expect your daughterís room to be kept cleaner than you sonís room simply because sheís a girl? Do you expect your son to be better at sports simply because heís a boy?
ē Do you have gender based rules in your household? For example, are there differences between your son and daughterís driving privileges? Punishable deeds?
For parents raising siblings of both sexes, you understand that there are some gender based realities that you must acknowledge, after all boys are different from girls. However, itís the gender based mindsets that we must identify and then abolish. We will be doing a great service to society if we do and a great disservice to our children if we donít.
I imagine my sonís future wife shaking her fist to the sky, cursing my name as she picks up socks and gathers dirty dishes, wondering if I had ever taught him about the existence of a hamper and dishwasher. I remember the early days of my marriage, and it still brings a tear to my eye. From now on it will be equal opportunity for all in my household.
My son now has his turn at doing the dishes and cleaning bathrooms, just like his sisters did at his age. My daughters are quite capable of taking out the trash and doing yard work. I want them to know that they should not be defined by the roles of gender inside the household or outside in the world.
I watched my son slowly and painstakingly follow my instructions as he ironed his jeans for the first time. I resisted the urge to push him aside and do it myself because of my own impatience. I felt like a small breakthrough had been made, not for him but for me. Perhaps because of its subtle nature, I didnít recognize that gender bias begins at home with the parents. And thatís exactly where we should end it.