One of the things that I’m most proud and happy about when it comes to my parenting experience so far is that thanks to our family’s really fortunate situation, our son grows up thinking it’s normal that both his mom and dad work and take care of him – almost equally, as we share in both these areas of responsibilities.
Feeling Emotional About Gender Equality
In the past few days, I came across a lot of news articles and blog posts about the double standards often used against women in public positions – when female politicians discuss important issues in a serious manner, she’s unfriendly, angry, or even aggressive. When her male counterparts show aggressiveness in their speeches, that’s strong, assertive, and “telling it like it is”.
Or when a woman is not expressive “enough”, she’s cold, aloof, unemotional (after all, she should be, as a woman, emotional!).
And our professional ambitions are often met with a completely different kind of scrutiny than our male colleagues in similar (and higher) positions face, if ever.
Humans of New York, which is one of my favorite things ever on the entire internet, has shared some stories of Hillary Clinton that really echo these frustrating feelings (see these photos from Sept 8th and Sept 9th).
Humans of New York post on Facebook
These stories made me feel fortunate to be living in a country where our female head of state – who is often considered “the most powerful woman in the world” – is perceived in a fairer way. She does receive criticisms, but for her policies and not for her being or not being ___ (whatever the quality a female leader is expected to have, or not have).
At least from what I’ve seen, for the most part this country takes her seriously, and judges her for her work as a politician and not for the tone of her voice or her fashion.
Things are, of course, not perfect, and “balancing work and life” is still a major challenge for many people, especially for women who have children. But at least, this is a country that has already reached a point where “can a woman be the head of state” is no longer a question, and where having female leaders making important decisions that impact citizens’ lives is ‘normal’.
That’s what we need, for every profession in all countries around the world: women treated and respected equally. Judged for the results of our work and our professional achievements and qualifications, without unfair expectations for meeting the stereotypical idea of how women should behave, speak, or dress.
My Own Double Standard?
And this morning, I was thinking about all these thoughts on my way to bring my toddler son to his daycare group.
In his group, there’s a new male teacher (who is working there as part of his apprenticeship process) who started just a couple of weeks ago. When I first saw him, I was really happy to finally have a male person in the whole daycare facility, let alone (luckily) in my son’s group.
For many different reasons, it seems that childcare is still a largely female-dominated field. But when you consider the experience that children (both boys and girls) have, it’s more natural (and better, I’d even say) to have both male and female caretakers / educators, because children learn from their experiences.
If all or most of the adults they interact with in their childcare places or in kindergartens are female, from what they see and experience, they learn and start to accept that those jobs are “for women”, which in the long term leads to reinforcing the gender stereotype in childcare-related professions even more, as it influences their decisions when these children grow up and choose their own career paths.
So I was simply happy to see the first male teacher I’ve seen in person at the daycare, and was also excited to see that our son liked to play with him. After a week or so, I got used to seeing him as part of the group, and started to notice things other than the fact that he is a man.
As with any parent, I’m of course interested in the skills and abilities of the childcare professionals who interact with my son. And as with any parent, I can at times be extra picky and even over-react to the smallest things, like how the teachers tie my son’s shoelaces and the kind of sunscreen they use for the kids.
(But these are mostly thoughts I have, some of which I share with my partner just to talk about them, and it’s never come to a point where I actually felt the urge to complain to the teachers directly.)
So this morning too, I was observing the new male teacher, just like I’d observed the other two female teachers in the beginning. I’m just interested in learning how he is as a teacher, and especially how he interacts with my son. That’s completely normal, right?
I then caught myself thinking to myself, “huh, he (the male teacher) actually doesn’t seem as energetic and enthusiastic as I expected.” I don’t remember what exactly it was that I saw him do (or not do) that made me feel that way. It could have just been the tone of his voice as he greeted us, or the expression on his face as he helped another child put on their outside shoes. It was just a split-second thing, but it made me somehow think, “hmm, interesting…”
And it is interesting, in a not-so-nice way, because as I realized immediately afterwards, that thought I’d had about the male teacher’s quality must have been tinted by my own biased expectations about how a male caretaker, based on the fact that he is male, should be.
This was a bit of a disturbing realization, but one that I’m glad I experienced.
I of course continue to oppose unfair stereotypes of women, especially when it comes to the unfair and unequal expectations that professional women face. But at the same time, I now often remind myself that I also need to be mindful of my own set of stereotype-driven, gender-based ideas and expectations that may be influencing the way I look at and think about people who do not conform to what is typically thought of as gender “norms”.
So yeah, a valuable lesson learned. On a chaotic morning in a room full of screaming toddlers.