Last week, my 10-year-old son came home from school with a question that struck my heart. They’d been talking about girl power at school, and that night, when I went to hug him goodnight, he told me about his day and asked, “What about us?”
Of course. What does he know about girl power and why it’s important today? At home, he sees mom working, and dad doing the dishes. In fact, from what he can tell, mom mostly calls the shots around here.
See, young boys my son’s age don’t have the context of a history of wrongs and repression against women. They only know what they know, and what we teach them. And when they see mom respected and empowered at home, and girls as their equals at school, it must be confusing for many what the takeaway is, and how it applies to them.
I get girl power. I’m a woman, and I know there’s still work to be done in our workplaces and the world at large. I also have a daughter who I hope will grow to be a strong, confident, assertive woman.
But when the emphasis at school is on empowering girls, what message does that send our boys? Is there a way we can empower all youth, no matter what gender they identify with? (Especially as this itself is getting trickier and more complex by the day.)
When I was a girl, I was just one of the boys. I found them easier to get along with and felt more relaxed in their company. While today, the tables have turned and I am so grateful for my amazing, supportive girlfriends, I believe those early friendships—many of which continue to this day—served us both in showing us what healthy boy-girl relationships look like.
So is segregating our kids now a good thing? Wouldn’t boys and girls be better off if we gave them more opportunity to work and play together?
According to this recent CNN article, yes they would. As the article states, “Girl-boy friendships can help undo some of these socialized gender constraints. When parents and teachers approve of these relationships, they are sending their children the message that it’s not only okay to play with another gender, but it is also okay to play like them.”
Perhaps as important, when boys and girls play together, the lines between genders begin to blur, so kids can just be kids, instead of adhering to their so-called gender traits. “When boys and girls do play together, many of those differences start to disappear,” says David Walsh, a psychologist and author.
At home, my husband and I are each other’s biggest fans. Our roles aren’t divided by gender; just by what we are naturally good at and inclined to (for example, me, number crunching and taxes; him not so much). We are best friends and partners in life in the best sense. And I think a lot of it has to do with respecting each other as individuals, not as man/woman, husband/wife.
Instead of separating boys and girls, as the girl power message risks doing, perhaps bringing them together more in work and play is the best way to empower girls, showing our boys along the way how to collaborate with, respect and love them.
To me, that’s powerful.