Sexism: learned early, learned well

My almost-10-year-old daughter wore her pink, white-polka-dotted bowtie to school this morning. Why? 

But after the day was over, she came to me, perplexed, sans bowtie because her friends (male and female) had told her that girls can’t wear bowties, except in their hair or on a belt. 

I looked her straight in the eye and told her they were wrong. Girls can wear what they want, and so can boys. 

It continues to amaze me how much children compartmentalize, and I know it’s partly biological. Our brains do it because it’s a survival instinct. Opening up the box to look at other possible ways of being doesn’t come naturally to everyone — I think it needs to be nurtured. Sexism is a learned attitude and behaviour as much as racism and other negative -isms. The question is: who is going to have (or has had) the most constructive influence on my daughter’s understandings of social roles, appearances, and acceptance of others — us, or her friends? Because I’m well aware of the power of friends’ opinions and judgements at that age, and the hits they can put on a tender, growing sense of self. And it seems lately that more than a few times, Bridget has come home saying that a friend told her she can’t do this or she shouldn’t do that, when her decisions and actions were perfectly valid, such as including her bestie (who goes to a different school) to her birthday party. 

I’m going to continue as I’ve always done for the last decade: celebrate both her feminity and her power as a girl, build her confidence in her knowledge of herself and what she likes, encourage her to explore, and never mind what kids might say to try to rein her in or pull her down. I will keep reminding her of and offering her the choices that our mothers and grandmothers fought for, and help her to tie her bowties. There is no way in hell that I’m going to let grade 4 sexism confine my amazing daughter to a box.


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