So many times I have heard it. “Oh you have two boys then a girl? That’s the perfect combination, two older boys to take care of their little sister.” It’s often followed by “Her boyfriends better watch out,” or “It will be so handy having those older brothers when she’s 18!”
It’s never sat well with me. I DO love the fact I have two boys then a girl but only because I get to experience the closeness and craziness of same-sex siblings and I get a girl too. But not so I can dress her up as a princess or so she has two older boys to look after her. No, just because she’s a girl like me, I like girls, girls are cool, like boys are, and it’s kind of cool to create one. No other reason.
I just can’t shake the fact that before she’s even aware she’s a girl, before she can even speak for herself, her role is being positioned as a) in need of protection and care from boys b) the future object of predatory men.
It’s International Women’s Day today which made me want to write this. But I think this is unfair on both little girls and little boys. Boys hear this and think a) it’s their role to look after helpless women and b) they are going to and are indeed expected to turn into predatory men. And that somehow that girl they are playing dinosaurs with is the prey?
It might be a throwaway comment. It might be that they do look out for her (and her them!) when she’s bigger and it might be that one day she needs their help. But that’s far more likely if we keep portraying men as a threat to women and women as in need of protection. How does my partner feel when he hears this? Our children are being told that men are a danger to women. That women are in some way in need of male protection – from men. And this is happening before they can talk or properly understand the world around them. And we wonder why we’re in a mess?
Society takes its shape from a whole bundle of things, but how we treat and speak to our children has to be the place we start to make it right.