Systemic sexism… in elementary school?

This year my son is in third grade, and organized Physical Education class is a daily thing for his class.  I was surprised when he came home the second week of school and demonstrated “girl push ups”.  These kids are in third grade,  Puberty and the associated hormone-related bodily changes are far, far away.  I really do not think there is a significant difference in the strength of 8-year-old boys and girls.  I don’t even think “boy push ups” and “girl push ups” should be a thing in middle school or high school, for that matter.  I think everyone should try to do as many push ups (just push ups) as they can…  if someone can not do ANY push ups, then they should of course be given the option of doing “modified push ups” or “half push ups” until they get strong enough to do at least one regular push up.  I bet you anything there are some boys in third grade who can not do a push up, and there are some girls who can do a lot of them.  To name them based on the sexes is just stupid.  Push ups are not done with your penis, you know.

Starting in second grade, my son would come home and tell stories about girls hitting boys and laughingly saying “You can’t hit me back, because I’m a GIRL!”  On two separate occasions, it was a group of girls going around the playground at recess, hitting boys and laughing – my son said one boy cried.  These stories made me incredibly furious.  When my boy was finally able to give me a specific girl’s name, someone in his classroom who would hit him when the teacher was busy on the other side of the room and say “You can’t hit me back, because I’m a girl” – I sent an email to my son’s teacher and to the principal of the elementary school.  This resulted in my son and the girl being called out of class and talked to by the principal, and things between the two of them seem to have improved – they are in the same class this year, too, and so far there have been no problems.  Not between those two individuals, but there is still a culture of “girls can hit boys, but boys can’t hit girls”.

I find myself looking around these days and thinking “Has sexism gotten better since I was a girl?  Has it actually gotten WORSE?”  When I found out that my baby was male, I was kind of relieved, because I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with getting pissed off at people for treating my daughter like a fragile flower, speaking to her in baby talk when she was no longer a baby, and telling her that she couldn’t do things because she’s a girl.  Turns out that as a mother of boys, I am just as concerned with sexism as I would have been if they were girls.  And here’s why:

I don’t want my sons thinking that females are by nature physically and emotionally weak.  I am a strong woman – there are some men that I’m sure I could take in a fight, but my husband is not one of them.  My husband is a strong man – but there are some women out there who could kick his butt.  I think my sons understand this, as evidenced by the youngest’s confusion when he heard of “girl push ups” and didn’t understand why they weren’t doing the same thing.  Yes, there is on average a pretty big sexual dimorphism in adult human strength – but first of all, that’s AVERAGE, and second of all, how much of that might be caused by different expectations starting in early childhood?

I also don’t want my sons thinking that females are allowed to hit them, but they can’t hit back.  I have told my sons over and over that they are not allowed to hit someone for disagreeing with them, insulting them, teasing them, arguing with them, stealing from them, or irritating them.  The only time they are allowed to hit someone is in self defense because the other person is hitting them.  At the same time, I know damned well that if my son hits a girl WHO HIT HIM FIRST, he will get in more trouble than her.  This is plain wrong.  This stupid double standard is perpetuated in media, where women slap men all the time for saying something rude and the audience laughs, but if a man hits a woman the audience gasps in horror.

You know what you are likely to get when you tell boys that girls are physically and emotionally weak, and then you let girls hit them and don’t let the boys defend themselves?  I think you will get young men who think women are weak and who RESENT women.  You are setting up the next generation for domestic abuse problems.  You are creating males who may just be waiting for a time when no one is watching so they can finally get their revenge on “the weaker sex”.  My sweet, sweet little boy who tries so hard to be fair and good has actually said to me that he sometimes wants to hit a girl “just to prove that I can”.  I totally understand that, because when I was young (hell, still today) if someone said that I could not do something because I was a girl I would *immediately* want to do it to prove them wrong.  It breaks my heart that girls are being allowed to act in such a way that my boy has said that.  He is not a misogynist.  He is not a bully.  They are being the bullies, and they seem to think it’s cute, and they seem to be getting away with it.

Maybe I should tell my son to settle playground bullying by challenging the bullies to a push up contest?

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