Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Raising a generation for the world we want, not the world we have

A few months ago, after experiencing a particularly discouraging incident of gender bias, I came home crying and frustrated. How can people not see this? I thought, probably asked out loud to myself. How often is this going to happen before people will call it out as wrong? How long until everyone, EVERYONE, stops discriminating based on gender? 

I had heard through my "kiddo grapevine" that one of my kids was not a feminist, or at least he had been saying negative things about feminists. My heart literally was in my stomach. He is MY kid! How could he NOT be a feminist? Hadn't he lived with me his whole life? I was in complete disbelief and that night at dinner, I asked him about it directly.

Here's how the conversation went:

Me: "I hear you've been saying negative things about feminists."
Him: "Well, yeah. I mean, I don't get how they want to be treated better than men." 
Me (seeing red, freaking out inside): "Feminists don't want to be treated better than men, they want women to be treated equally to men."
(at this point my husband and other kiddos made some excuse to leave their half-eaten food at the table...) 
Him: "I don't understand. Women ARE treated equally to men. These feminists want to be treated better."  
At this point, I totally broke down into a rant about how women are NOT treated equally, citing numerous examples of bias and discrimination of women in general, but also bias and discrimination that I've experienced personally. I then continued on to point out all of his privileged statuses (sex, gender identity, race, class, geography, able-bodied, apparent sexual orientation...he's at the top of the food chain, I made sure to point out...). My son sat there wide-eyed and in silence, finishing his tacos.  
I believe I ended with, "I can't believe you're MY son, you live with me, and you don't know that gender discrimination exists."

I've been thinking a lot about that conversation, and specifically my son's opinion of the world, since that conversation. The truth is, he's a really earnest, sweet kid and he'd be the last person who I would think would be perpetuating bias against anyone. When I thought about it, I realized that he wasn't. He HAD lived with me his whole life, and what he learned from that has been that women are equal to men. He TRULY, HONESTLY believes that. He couldn't comprehend what feminism is because in his world view, women are already equal to men and he treats them that way.

It was this same kiddo who, when he was five years old, got into a verbal argument with a cashier in a department store because he said, "I like your brown skin." and the man said, "I'm not brown, I'm black." My kiddo responded, "I can see your skin and I'm pretty sure it's brown." The cashier was NOT happy about it, and I had to explain to my 5 year old on the way home why the man was upset with him. I felt the same way, full of sadness and frustration and worry, explaining to him the meaning of and reasoning behind feminism.

I feel disheartened because my son sees the world the way I wish it actually was: where skin color is just a color and everyone is treated equally. I've shown him that through my example, through what I've modeled in my own behaviors and attitude. And now I have to teach him that's not what the world is really like. While the lessons have been heartbreakingly easier around race and sexual orientation because of tragedies and recent victories in the news that lend themselves to discussion at the dinner table, gender discrimination continues to be mostly invisible. It's not, of course, but besides catcalling, discussions of campus rape and sexual consent, and GamerGate, there aren't big news stories. It's just the everyday-ness of discrimination and bias that continues and continues and continues.

Even though I know I have to start pointing out reality, I wonder what it would be like for a generation to grow up taking for granted that people should be treated equally regardless of their sex. What if we succeeded in teaching our kids that all people should be treated equally and with respect? If all little boys were raised believing that girls could do anything they could do, how would our world change as they grew into adulthood and challenged and then changed organizational and cultural bias? I want to live in my son's world where we don't need feminism. I hope by showing him the world we live in now, it doesn't cloud his view of the way things should be and how he has already been living in this world where he is more likely the exception than the rule.