Gender inequality is dead—long live gender inequality

My mother once confided that what she had always wished for her kids was that my brother would be successful and rich in his chosen career… and that I would marry a loving, wealthy man who would take care of me.

Illustration by J. Howard Miller for Westinghouse, via Wikimedia Commons

Illustration by J. Howard Miller for Westinghouse, via Wikimedia Commons

“How come you didn’t wish for me to have a successful career so that I could get rich on my own?” I asked.

“Oh.” The question genuinely seemed to surprise her. “I don’t know… I guess it never occurred to me.”

This is not to say that I was discouraged from excelling at school, attending college or finding gainful employment after graduating. My mom, after all, is a Tiger Mom, and me doing poorly academically or with my post-college endeavors would no doubt have reflected badly upon her, and that would have been unacceptable. But whatever excellence I may have been able to attain on my own, apparently my parents would never have been able to rest easy had I not found a spouse who would provide for his little woman.

It would never occur to Ted or me that the pinnacle of Billup’s life would be to find a man who’ll take care of her. When I imagine my kids as adults, I wonder what careers they’ll pursue and where they’ll live, not who they’ll marry. (I do sometimes muse whether either of them will find anyone willing to have them, but that’s a topic for another blog post.) I dream about the adventures they may encounter and hope they’ll be fearless enough to embrace them. I wish that they’ll grow up to be self-sufficient and fully confident in their abilities, but not so arrogant as to turn away help when it’s offered or to turn down opportunities when they come up. And I desperately want them to understand that they don’t need a significant other to feel complete.

Oddly, I wish all of this much more fervently for Billup than for Boof.

The reason, though I hate to admit it, is because I don’t worry about my son as much as I do about my daughter. Both my kids are smart, personable, and funny. On their good days, they are also hard workers. But where I assume Boof will naturally leap over whatever hurdles he’ll encounter in his life, I worry similar hurdles may stop Billup in her tracks. Where I figure Boof is self-sufficient and will get himself out of any scrapes—of his own doing or otherwise, though let’s face it, they’ll more likely be of his own doing—I almost assume that Billup could end up defenseless and unable to fend off trouble.

While some of this is because of their personalities—and, frankly, their birth order—I do wonder how much of it comes from the fact that Boof is a boy and Billup is a girl. Wait, I didn’t phrase that right: I wonder how much of it comes from the fact that Boof is a boy and Billup is our little girl.

There is a parenting book that espouses the belief that, because no two kids are alike, parents should never aim to treat their children equally. Different kids call for different parenting. For better or for worse, Ted and I certainly do not treat our children equally. But just how much of our unequal treatment is because of what our kids are, rather than who they are?

I recently confessed to some moms that I am much more protective of Billup than I was of Boof when he was her age. Letting go does not come easily to me with either kid. But I’m pretty sure that by the time Boof was his sister’s age, I was pushing him to take the dog out for a walk. And if we had errands to run on the weekend and he didn’t want to come along, we let him stay home.

Billup doesn’t get quite the same allowances. When she volunteers to take the dog for a walk, I usually insist that her brother accompany her. If Boof has a basketball game any time after 2 on a weekend afternoon, more often than not we’ll drag Billup along, even though she has no desire to watch her brother play hoops.

Now that Boof is 14, we encourage him to take the public bus if he wants to get somewhere with his friends. We have also begun allowing him to hang out with his friends in the downtown area of our town until 8 or 9 on a weekend night. When Billup is 14, will we allow her the same freedoms? You can guess what my gut reaction is on that one.

“Well, of course,” acknowledged my friend L., who has a son and a daughter the same ages as mine. “There’s just much more to worry about with girls. There’s a lot more to have to protect with them.”

And maybe that’s the unfortunate truth of it. Maybe I worry about Billup’s future because she’s a girl and because I think of her as my little girl—but perhaps that can’t be helped. Most parents do want their daughters to know they are strong and powerful individuals. We wish for them to be courageous, independent, ambitious and successful. But we don’t really trust society to cooperate.

So we end up trying to shield our girls, even if they don’t ask to be shielded. We go out of our way to protect them, even if they don’t need protection. And yes, sometimes we end up coddling them.

But maybe one day, Billup will have a daughter of her own. And maybe, instead of assigning her daughter a provider or a protector, Billup will lsimply et her daughter be—because she’ll know without a doubt that her daughter will be able to handle anything that comes her way.

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One thought on “Gender inequality is dead—long live gender inequality

  1. I think you hit the head on the nail: The underlying problem is that, “We don’t trust society to cooperate.” It seems that everything points back to the village.

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