Monday, September 20, 2010

I had to cut this post short to go and do a little light dusting

Jonah was on the phone to my Mum, on loudspeaker.

'Yeah, nice weekend...Daddy is doing the gardening and Mummy is doing the cleaning'

I choked on my muesli and had to resist grabbing the phone away from him. I could hear Mum, on the other end, howling with laughter. '

Jonah, bless him, is only saying what he sees. Most of my life, personal or professional, is spent working with the premise of 'show, don't tell', and it would appear that when it comes to giving children role models, the traditional ones are what's being served up. So it is that, with two small boys in the house, I'm being more to active feminism than at any other point in my life.

Thinking back, I was lucky. I didn't ever ponder feminism too much (or 'boys vs girls' when I was too small to give it such a multi-syllabic name) because there was no need. I was one of two sisters with sports-loving parents; weekends were just as likely to be spent by the side of a minor-league rugby pitch or helping to mix cement as they were doing the grocery shopping. We had a Scalectrix, and tools; and anyway, books very quickly usurped anything remotely gender-specific for me (unless you're going to claim that reading is inherently female, which is a whole other issue). 'As soon as you learned to read everything else stopped' my Mum has been known to remember wistfully.

I went to an all-girls' secondary school, where CDT and woodwork were taught alongside ceramics and jewellery. When I reached sixth form, one of my general studies classes involved donning overalls and learning how to change the oil and a tyre in our car mechanics class. We were also taught the far-more-useful skill of hotwiring; probably something not being taught to the boys down the road.

I was lucky, too; whilst I had a terrific group of girlfriends at school, my out-of-school friends were predominantly boys (with two key exceptions). And again, I honestly don't think I ever felt that I couldn't do anything the lads were doing. Sometimes there were things I wished I wasn't doing, like abseiling down a disused quarry or leaping off a bridge attached only to a piece of rope (and there was nothing 'professional' about this; it was just an idea cooked up in the pub).

If I'd abstained, nobody would have cared; some of the gang just didn't fancy some of the activities. But there was never an assumption that I would or wouldn't do something based on gender.

I suppose it could be said that I was the ultimate beneficiary of the generation before me, who burned bridges (and bras) so I didn't have to. Honestly, though, I think it was more down to a matter of luck and attitude. I never actively engaged in fighting for feminism not because I didn't care, but because I didn't have to. If I wanted to do something; great, get on with it.

Having boys has made it an issue, though. Maybe having children would do that anyway, in the way they make you reexamine your stance on, say, TV or jaywalking. But as the sole female representative in a house of men, I'm at the diametric opposite end of where I grew up. So we try to ensure the boys know two things:it's possible for them to aspire to anything they like; and secondly: that would be also be true even if they were girls. My boys love to cook (although, as with reading, I fail to see why that should be gender-biased; cooking's a basic human skill set, for crying out loud). They love to play rugby. They love to read endless books, and they love to climb trees. For the most part, I think we're doing OK. All I need to do is figure out how to persuade them that Mummy doesn't clean...