I have been hesitant to call myself a feminist, because I don’t fight for women’s rights – I fight for everyone’s rights. I want equality. Most of all, what I want is to end segregation. To consider people for who they are, not what gender, race, or class they happen to be.
In a startling display of equality, the Federal government recently announced a paid parental leave scheme. NOT a maternity leave scheme. Either parent can take the leave, or they can share it between them. Well hallelujah! Official recognition of mothers and fathers as equal parents. Now we just have to hope that society catches up sometime in the next century or so.
This is just one battle in the war against gender myths. There are so many of them, like the myth that there are “male jobs” and “female jobs”. My eldest daughter goes to a primary school without a single male teacher. But it’s ok – the contractors who come in to teach sport are guys. My youngest daughter goes to a child care centre with no male carers. But it’s ok, the contractor who comes in to run the sports program is a guy. Apparently men are allowed to interact with little kids when sport is involved.
Engineers are men. Computer scientists are men. Teachers are women. So who teaches engineering and computer science? Ooh, don’t go there. Next question please!
I have a PhD in computer science, and the men in my department always asked me why we didn’t have more female students. I didn’t know, because whatever it was that was keeping the girls away clearly hadn’t worked on me. But I think I’ve worked it out now. It’s our gender myths that are constraining us, tying us down, and robbing us all (not just the girls) of choices. And the biggest myth of all is the worst: Men and women can’t be friends.
This has always struck me as bizarre, but I put it down to my own weirdness. After all, at those parties with the girls in one room and the guys in the other, I was always in the wrong room. But now I think it is worse than that. It’s not just a problem for those of us in the wrong room. It’s a problem for our whole society. How can we understand the opposite sex if we never communicate with them outside the high stakes of sexual relationships?
Why would you close yourself off to the perspective and potential of half the human race? If we are fundamentally different then we complement each other, fill in the gaps and provide a different set of skills, thoughts and feelings. If we are fundamentally the same then there is nothing to keep us apart! Either way, we can all benefit from getting the communication going. The myth that we are separate species, that we are so different we need separate activities, separate parties, separate sports, is absolutely corrosive. If men and women can’t be friends, can’t be equals who respect each other and interact in every facet of our lives, then we can never progress beyond the sort of behaviour shown by Matthew Johns, that is apparently standard among rugby league players. We will never achieve true equality in the workplace, where men can work with small children without arousing suspicion. Where a woman can be CEO of a big company without causing comment. Where a woman can front the nightly news on a commercial television channel (hah! as if!).
If you buy into the dominant myth, heterosexual couples can wind up barely seeing their partners socially. Those rare parties to which you are both invited will have separate rooms for men and women. Too often, the simpler route of poker nights for men, tupperware parties for women is the road most taken. Yet we have the most to offer each other when we consider our similarities. When we participate in a world where we both belong, where we can freely follow our talents and preferences, regardless of whether they are typically male or typically female.
A friend of mine never used to play with dolls, until other little girls came over. Then she would show interest in the dolls as a way to fit in. As soon as the girls left, she would be out the door and climbing the nearest tree, leaving the dolls far behind. In a way, we’re all trapped trying to play with dolls to belong. The guys who are good with little kids, the girls who are good with machines. The guys who wear pink, the girls who never wear makeup or high heels. The mums who go back to work full time. The dads who stay home to look after the kids. We all feel like misfits.
We have a photo of our daughter, when she was 3, wearing a fairy dress and playing with a bulldozer. I think that sums it up perfectly. Wear the fairy dress. Play with the bulldozer. If you don’t like dolls, don’t play with them! Smash the gender myths!