The holidays are a wonderful time to gather and celebrate with family. But they're also one of the most likely times for oppressive gender norms to creep in -- and, possibly, one of the most dangerous times of the year for your daughter's (and son's!) psyche.
Growing up, the holidays were a time of joy ... but there was always something a little depressing about them. Gender norms and expectations became obvious. The male cousins and uncles would go outside and shoot hoops or play football, and the female cousins and aunts would stay inside and cook, clean, or do indoor activities.
But I wanted to play basketball! I wanted to play football! So I would go outside and have a ton of fun -- I come from a pretty gigantic, athletic family, and I love the physical challenge of playing sports with them. I love sprinting across a grassy field. I love the smell of leaves. I love getting thrown in the dirt or diving for a loose ball.
But when I got back inside, the smell of fresh air still clinging to my hair, my mom would pull me aside and say, "Aunt So-and-So commented that you're not helping enough."
I'm not helping enough? "Cousin John didn't help. Uncle Matthew didn't, either. Did anyone complain about them?"
"No," my mom would answer, reluctantly.
"So why is it a problem if I don't help, but it's fine if they don't? It doesn't make sense!"
My mom knew that saying, "Because they have penises," wouldn't fly with me, so she would mutter something non-committal, and I would spend the rest of the holiday either feeling resented on the basketball court, or resentful in the kitchen.
Many years ago, I asked the feminist men of Quora, "Why is feminism important to you?"
Most of the men who answered said something along the lines of, "I had a daughter, and suddenly realized how shitty the world is to girls and women. I don't want her to miss out on opportunities because she is a girl."
Intuitively, you'd think that having a sister would produce a similar effect. Wouldn't boys (and men) want the world for their sisters, and therefore become more feminist if they had female siblings?
The answer, according to researchers at Stanford and Loyola Marymount University, is no. In a study of over 3,000 women and men in their 20s and 30s, men with sisters were 8.3% more likely to "identify as Republicans because they developed more traditional views of gender," and 3.8% more likely to agree with the horrific statement, "a woman's place is in the home."
Moreover, the study, led by Andrew Healy and Neil Malhorta, found that men who grew up with more women in the family were less likely to get involved in stereotypical female tasks, like cooking and cleaning. In families with more boys, there was more gender equality, because chores were not divided up by gender. The avoidance of "female" chores continues into adulthood.
In other words, watching their sisters do chores "teaches" boys that it's totally cool to watch TV or go play sports while the women do the cleaning. Which, I guess, shouldn't be that surprising -- as I wrote in 10 Things to Remind Your Daughter to Do Every Day That Are More Important Than Brushing Her Hair, parents are accidentally surprisingly sexist. Raising a girl is definitely harder than raising a boy -- but only because parents raise girls differently from boys.
At some point in my young life, I decided to just do what makes me happy, regardless of the resentment it may cause. As a result, I've developed courage and independence. I've traveled around the world alone. I've remained an active basketball player, and learned to whitewater kayak and surf.
I've learned that it's okay -- no, necessary! -- to be "rude" when your boundaries are disrespected. (This is something a lot of women struggle with.) And I've decided that, if I'm proud of myself, if I've worked hard to accomplish a goal or I'm talented at something, I'm going to own it. I'm not #blessed. I'm not a #luckygirl. I'm just awesome.
But at the same time... saying "fuck you" to gender norms has probably made me less popular among the ladies. I probably miss out on important bonding time when I skip out on the whole kitchen thing -- though, much to my surprise, I successfully baked an amazing cranberry-sausage Christmas quiche, and shall try my hand at these top-recommended zucchini frittatas tomorrow. I'm probably still judged on some shitty double standard (I don't "help enough," but my brother, who helped even less, is fine). And, moving forward, I'm not sure how this will play out.
As more of my guy friends get married, is it suddenly going to be "inappropriate" for them to hang out with me -- even though they're still "allowed" to hang out with their other (male) friends? Will my lack of ability/interest in cooking become more noticeable? Will my absence in the kitchen become more despicable?
Probably, right? Or maybe not. I don't know -- but doesn't it suck that that's something I even have to think about?
And that, my friends, is the dark and sexist side of the holidays.
About the Author
Eva is a content specialist with a passion for play, travel... and a little bit of girl power. Read more >
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