July 6, 2019
There’s a classic riddle I offer my sociology students when I want them to think about gender.
A man is spending a day with his young son who he is meeting for the first time. They do the usual father-son things like going to a ball game and having ice cream in an ice cream shop. At the end of the day, there is a horrible car accident and the father is killed.The boy is critically injured and taken to the Emergency Room. The attending doctor sees a child in need of critical aid brought into the ER and gasps, saying, “I can’t operate on this child. He’s my son!”
Who is the doctor?
The first time I heard this riddle my mind did all kinds of backflips. Maybe the doctor was the step-father or maybe there were, somehow, two fathers in this universe. Then someone said, “The doctor is his mother” and I felt like a complete idiot. It’s a valuable lesson in how our brain is trained for normative maleness. Oddly, if I had grown up in the USSR, the answer to the riddle would have been obvious as the majority of medical doctors in the old Soviet Union were women. We’re not at gender equity yet, but I have great hope for my daughter’s generation. (Our daughter has a female doctor, by the way.)
The vestiges of patriarchy still pervade my 4-year-old’s preschool life. A male classmate told her that “girls can’t be bosses,” even though the owner of the school is a woman. I hope she called bullshit on the boy but I know she gets a lot of reinforcement of the “men are in charge” narrative even if at home dad is folding laundry while mom clocks in the hours at work.
The day after we got back from Mexico, a tornado blew down our street in Portland. It was only an EF 0, but we were in the car right next to it and saw it take down the biggest tree in the neighborhood. Quickly, police and fire departments were on the scene, as the rain poured and power lines flailed about in the wind. As I gave interviews to local news crews, I saw Cozy talking to a female police officer about the twister. I realized that, thanks to my dragging her to endless meetings with law enforcement, she’s met enough female cops and FBI agents to know that women are in important positions of power all around her.
Earlier this summer we took her to her first Portland Thorns game so she could see thousands of people cheering for our amazing female athletes. For her, it was just a normal sporting event, nothing remarkable that all the players on the pitch were women. What was even cooler was that she got to see tons of boys and men (including her dad) cheering for the mighty Thorns, at a record crowd in Providence Park, as they took down the Chicago Red Stars.
That’s been one of the most thrilling parts of watching the women’s World Cup matches this summer. Sure it’s great to see girls getting to see women play hard and fast soccer to a global audience (even if they are paid significantly less than male FIFA players), imagining that they could do it too. That there is space in a male-dominated world for female athletes and careers in their sport. But it’s also important that so many boys are showing up to root for women. It’s the beautiful game. We might have a misogynist in the White House, but the walls are coming down in football stadiums all around the world as men cheer on their sisters.
Gender socialization is real. It happens when we are conscious of it. (We live in a Barbie-free Zone.) But also when we don’t see it. I hope Cozy has taken note of all the women running for president, the women who she meets who work in local and national government, the female firefighters who responded to the tornado on our street, the female sportscasters on TV, and all the moms of friends who are working and bringing home the vegan bacon. But I also hope all her little male friends take note of the exact same thing.
I was of two-minds about the 2011 Beyoncé song, “Run the World” The refrain, of course, was “Girls!” It was an empowering anthem but masked the fact that men (and their anti-woman/anti-Mother Earth agenda) still pretty much run the show, from Afghanistan to Alabama. Girls need to be armed with this truth, patriarchy is real and will not die easily. A few World Cup matches isn’t going to change that. But I think the girls (and boys) of Gen Z, might be able to see what that world will look like. It will look like a million people cheering as a talented female puts the ball into the back of the net.