It seems to me that almost daily I see something on the internet about gender equality, feminism or equal rights. I feel like the world is a changing place. A more accepting place. And then I accidentally start reading the comments, or assume someone I am talking to shares my views and find myself horrified and surprised with the resulting discussion.
So maybe the world is not quite as revolutionary as I once thought. Perhaps I am just lucky to know a very diverse range of passionate people. And just a few ass hats.
But last week, I found myself reeling with frustration after my daughters swimming lesson. During the class, she was involved in a warm up which included two other children. A girl and a boy. Lets call them Daisy and Max. The three children (who are all under three, I might add) were on a mat together kicking around the pool. Max was not kicking. He was in for a cruise around the pool. And Mum said ‘Come on Max, the girls are doing so much better than you’.
At this stage, my inner gender equality activist is already like ‘other children lady, not girls’ but I’m like, chill Stacy its a pretty standard comment.
Max still is not kicking.
‘Gosh Max the girls are way better at this.’
‘Max are you really going to let the girls beat you?’
‘Surely you can do better than them, Max.’
‘Look at Isabella and Daisy, Max, kick harder.’
‘I can’t believe they are letting them beat you’.
By this point, regardless of the gender stereotypes there I also just think it is time to stop heckling the kid. The extent of my feedback to Isabella is ‘kick kick kick kick kick’ in time with her kicking (or excitedly if she isn’t). And statements like ‘the mat won’t move forward if you don’t kick, we need your help to move it’ and the like. I am not like ‘Isabella you suck all the other kids are better then you see?’
And I’m sorry, but why is it so essential that he be better than the girls? Because boys have to be so much better at sports?
I know some of you are still thinking, whats the big deal? But it is a big deal. And I am not finished.
I was taking a shower after class, and Max and his Mum were in the cubicle next to me.
And Max was crying.
And he was told off because of it.
By this time I was really trying not to listen to the interactions between him and his Mum, so I don’t have a play by play for you. I can say for sure that the words ‘Boys don’t cry’ did not leave Mum’s lips, or I would have been all over that in a flash. But the sentiment rang loud and clear.
Maybe I am sensitive to it.
Maybe you had to be there.
But the message that I received from Max’s Mum was ‘Boys are supposed to be better at sports, Max, and boys don’t cry’.
Now let me just take a second here to defend Max’s Mum, because I don’t feel like I have done her justice.
She seems like a nice, kind person, from the brief interactions we have had. And I don’t believe that her intention was to make her son feel horrible, or to set unreasonable expectations for him. I believe that in the pool she was trying to motivate him.
As for the crying in the shower, I think its important that we validate our children’s feelings, and allow them to cry. Nurture them. Not tell them to just stop. But that is a whole other blog post right there.
But getting back to my point. I don’t believe she set out to cause a gender divide.
And that is the problem.
It happens to seamlessly.
With little comments.
And small influences.
It starts right from birth
And it doesn’t stop.
And without a change in approach starting right from the beginning, we are going to have another future generation of boys who think that they can’t cry.
Of boys hiding their feelings.
And then these boys grow into men, one in eight of whom will be diagnosed with depression. Do you think that they will talk about it to their mates?
Did you know that 75% of suicides in Australia are men?
I am saddened, but not surprised that there is such a significant difference between the number of women, and the number of men, that devastatingly, take their own lives.
Because we have a generation of men on our hands who have been told to HTFU. Who have been told to get over it. Who have been told to be strong. Who have been told not to cry.
And that is not okay.
Mothers, fathers: Lets raise a generation of humans who have been encouraged to share how they are feeling. Honestly.
Lets stop the future generation of men from living a life of sadness behind closed doors because they are too ashamed, or embarrassed to talk about it and seek help.
Mental health is important to everyone. Men and Women alike.
And we start learning about it right from the very beginning of our lives.
You CAN make a difference.
Boys are people.
Boys DO cry.
And if you need help. I promise you it is out there.
Lifeline: 13 11 14