Caged In: Raising Daughters in a Sexist Culture

When I was a child, I had big, elaborate dreams. I was going to be and do anything I set my mind to and no one was going to tell me otherwise.

…Until they did. Even my own dad.

One childhood memory sticks out more than the others. I was about 10 years old. My parents were still married. I had a brother, Ryan, who was 3 years older than me, and we all lived in a small ranch in a lower-middle income part of town. My parents both worked hard, long hours in stressful jobs and they were able to provide a good life for our family; our needs were always met, but we didn’t have a lot of money.

My dad and I were driving around town in our Plymouth Voyager minivan and we found ourselves in a well-to-do neighborhood full of mansions. Nice cars in the driveways and perfectly-manicured yards all around us. A neighborhood that we could only have dreams of living in one day. As we drove along the roads of beautiful homes, laughing and talking, pointing out which houses we liked the best, my dad proudly said, “You know, one day, your brother Ryan will get to live in one of these houses. When he grows up.”

I still remember the way that comment hit me. The way it made me feel inside. I can remember thinking, “Why not me?” My grades were good, I was a well-behaved child who liked to draw and read and follow all the rules. My official Stanford-Binet IQ test score was 150 and I even attended a school for the gifted.

So, Why not me?

This wasn’t the only time I felt caged by my gender, but it was one of the first times I can remember it affecting me. As I grew older, I started feeling that cage closing in around me more often, in places that one would expect it, but even in places one wouldn’t.

I felt it when I read the magazines and books, watched the movies and television shows. Examples all around me, showing me how I should act, what interests I should have, how ambitious I should be, what I could do with my life, what was expected of me, and what my limits were as a female in our society. I felt it in the schools and classrooms, in the lesson plans and assignments. I felt it in the workplace on the daily when men (and oftentimes women), would call to verbally assault and bully either me or any of the other female paralegals about a problem or issue. Yet, when Harry spoke to them, it became a matter of “Yes, sir. No, sir” with no questions asked. Even when the messages we had relayed had been the same.

“Sometimes they just need a man to talk to” became the joke around the office.

But, no one was laughing.

It brings me back to our children and to the messages we’re sending, the lessons we’re teaching them. It’s already started for my daughter at the tender age of 4. It’s affecting both the little girls and the boys. I see it all around me.

Recently, the daycare we send our daughters to (which is wonderful and great, all things aside), decided to celebrate Mother’s Day with a Tea Party for the Moms at 2 pm on a Friday afternoon. Great for the working moms, right?

My daughter, Adria, spoke about the Mother’s Day Tea-Party non-stop the entire week leading up to it. 2 pm on a Friday. How was this a good idea for the working mothers, relying on daycare to watch their kids so they could provide for them? I made a point to be there. I could tell it was important to her. Since it was on a Friday with a busy day full of closings, I had to push my work off onto others, and leave the office with the guilt of being absent there in order to be present for my daughter.

At 2 pm sharp the Tea Party started. Adria and her classmates stood in a little group and sang a cute 30-second song about Mother’s Day to the moms who were able to attend. Then, we all ate some cake and went home. The event lasted all of 10 minutes. It was cute and sweet and fun for the kids whose moms could attend. However, the trauma to the kids whose mothers weren’t there, immeasurable.

Only about half of the moms were in attendance. I’m sure the rest wanted to be there, but couldn’t due to work and trying to provide for their child. What I really recall about that day is the anguish of the children whose mothers couldn’t be there. They were vocally crying, visibly shaken and upset, feeling ostracized and unloved by their mother’s absence. The absent mothers were probably just as upset, plagued by guilt over not being able to make it there for their child. So, while I appreciated the daycare’s effort to do something cute for Mother’s Day, I was frustrated by the entire event.

However, what made me mad was how unjustly different Father’s Day was handled when it rolled around a month later.

Daycare celebrated Father’s Day with “Donuts for Dad”… at 8 am. Obviously. Because how can we expect men to just leave work in the middle of the day to come hear their child sing a cute song for 30 seconds and eat some cake? The men are working, right?

But what about the moms?

Gender discrimination has no limits on social status or money. It is everywhere. When I was in college, I worked as a counselor at a camp that hosted children from some of the wealthiest families in America and Europe. The children of politicians and ambassadors, celebrities and movie-stars, business owners and CEOs ( Peugeot, Bacardi, Johnson & Johnson, Matt Damon and Kelly Ripa’s kids, to name few). I primarily worked in the arts and crafts cabin during my time there. The head of the art department was also a woman, in her mid-40s, with a background in education. She was a school teacher during the year and had taken the camp job as a summer gig. She was a mom and had two young daughters attending the camp for the summer as well.

I remember one day we hosted some of the 6 and 7 year-olds for an arts and crafts lesson. The moment the children walked through the door, the art teacher separated the girls from the boys and made them each sit at their own table, apart from one another. She then proceeded to give them separate art projects based on their gender.

The girls received paper and flower stencils, some colored pencils or paint to doodle with. The boys received some neat wooden toy snakes to paint and play with. I remember the look of disappointment in the little girl’s eyes as they watched the boys playing with their toys. The paper in front of them, left blank and uninteresting to them in comparison to the toy snakes. Even at the young age of 6 or 7, the children were being taught that they deserved to be treated differently based on their gender alone. They were being taught that this was okay by another woman, a teacher, a mom and should-be role-model.

To this day, I still regret not having the courage to stand up and say something in defense of those little girls. I was not strong enough back then and had all too often seen this type of behavior accepted as the norm. My silence affected those little girls the same way I had been affected before by so many other people who could have changed the outcome if they’d had the courage to raise their voice. To simply say, “It’s not okay.”

Years ago, when my dad made the comment about how my brother would one day be successful enough to live in a mansion with no mention or regard for me, or that possibility for my future as a female child, he affected me. He was a good father who had no ill-will intentions, and was only relaying the same sentiment he had learned himself, raised in a culture that promoted it. He probably thought nothing of that comment ever again. Yet, those words, along with daily exposure to a culture built on patriarchal values and misogynistic men (and women), affected me deeply. It affected me so much that as an adult, I could only find any semblance of self-worth in my career because I had to prove them all wrong, even at the expense of my daughters by placing work first. I felt like I had to show them all that I could do more, be more, work harder, smarter and better than they all thought I could or that was possible from a female.

Perhaps I did show them all, but it broke my spirit in many ways, too. At the end of the day, it’s still a man’s world. Harry’s name was still on the door, and I was just the “young lady” to the old men (and women) in the conference room.

How can we expect things to change if we don’t have the courage to talk about the problems?

In so many ways, our culture has advanced in leaps and bounds since our parents were children. I’m proud of some of the progression we’ve made. Yet, in these modern times, we are still accepting rooms full of men, telling us and telling our daughters what we can and can’t do as women. Even today. Even in 2019.

1 step forward, 2 steps back…

What messages are we sending our children? Is this something you’re okay with? Putting our little girls in cages like we’ve been taught our whole lives?

I’m not okay with it. Not for me, not for my daughters. Not on my watch, not anymore.

Look at the faces of my daughter and her classmates above. They deserve better.

We can do better.

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This article was also published on www.DaringWomanInc.com on July 9, 2019.  #daringwoman  #imadaringwoman  

Click on the image below to link to the online published article.

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