Every day my Facebook feed is full of great ideas for empowering girls. There are lists of books with strong female protagonists, biographies of women who have changed the world (usually by succeeding in a traditionally male enterprise), specially designed engineering toys, inspirational images, girls only science and coding classes where girls can learn without boys’ voices dominating….Some of these things are great but I think we are in danger of targeting the wrong audience.
The thing is, unless societal change happens a lot faster than it currently is, today’s boy are, through no act of malice, going to ride to manhood on a wave of gender privilege and may find themselves in the position of keeping the gates that their female counterparts wish to enter through. What will make a difference at that point is rather less how the woman sees herself and rather more about what roles the man at the gate can picture her in.
It’s our boys who need those stories of powerful women and capable girls (not to mention nurturing men and gentle boys) so they grow up with a vision of a world in which gender does not determine which role anyone is suited for. They need to play alongside girls, with toys designed to be inclusive, so they always see that boys and girls can work together on the same team. They need to learn to listen as much as they talk, to ensure that no one is overlooked and no single voice dominates discussion.
All this comes, I believe, with a corollary that we must be careful what we give value to. Just as it is important that we carve out a place for women in those traditionally male fields of science, business and government, it is also important to raise the status of those fields which are coded female. Time spent parenting should look as good on a CV as time in any other demanding job. Girls who want to make a career as a nurse should no more be told to raise their sights than boys who wish to become kindy teachers should be eyed with suspicion.
I am raising two sons and, like any parent, I wish nothing more than to see them grow into a world rich with opportunities, where they can fulfil all the glorious potential within them. But it is vital that they find a path to success that doesn’t rely on the oppression of others and that they learn to speak out against injustice even, perhaps especially, when that injustice is to their benefit.