It is ironic, each time I write an article about raising boys to be decent men, I get comments and personal messages chiding me “And for girls too!”. No, I don’t agree. I don’t agree in “one gender” when it comes to parenting. There are differences between the sexes (whatever our aspirations) and we must honour our evolutionary biology. We must teach boys to be decent men and girls to be decent women. Boys in general are blessed with greater physical strength whilst girls’ strength lies in their ability to build networks, collaborate, nurture and support other women (I read somewhere that our female ancestors had to collaborate with other women in the tribe to bring up their young and forage for food in order to survive; this is one of the reasons why I am always writing about The Sisterhood).
Thus, as a mother of boys and girls, I strongly believe that we must teach children to know their respective strengths and use it to serve one another. Girls don’t have to “be as good” as the boys (or beat them at their own game). In my youth, I was a firebrand who believed she could conquer the world. Household chores were beneath me. My mother has always been largely indulgent but there was one thing she insisted of me, namely how to cook and care for pets.
“I don’t care if you are the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, but the most important job you will do is in the home,” she often said. Yes, if you can nurture a home and raise a family, you can do the same for a nation.
What prompted this article was something that happened this morning. As I was having breakfast on my terrace, I could hear my neighbours arguing violently. He was trying to leave and she was trying to stop him. Then there was a scream and a crash.
I climbed over the flimsy divide between our properties and barged into their living room. She was on the floor surrounded by the debris of a broken table and knickknacks. Fortunately, she wasn’t injured despite the ravaged expression on her face. It was obvious that he had pushed her and she had fallen over. They were both wearing shocked expressions on their faces, probably more from my unannounced entry.
“Get out,” I said to him.
“No, no, no, don’t go,” she cried. And then turning to me, she pleaded, “Please go.”
The man sat down and buried his head in his hands. She crept over to him. “I’m sorry,” he mumbled. She was hugging him and stroking his hair when I left them to their relationship mess. Oh, sister, sort it out or GO!
It takes a lot to make a woman leave. I see many memes that my women friends posted, such as this one which appeared on my newsfeed today:
Over the years, I have had several friends telling me about how badly they were treated at home by their husbands, yet they won’t leave. It is not because of lack of education or finances, but because it has been ingrained on our psyche that walking out is wrong. In colloquial English, a woman who abandons her home is tarred with the word “bolter” that she wears round her neck for life, whereas a man with a string of failed relationships behind him is not similarly judged. I too, find it difficult to walk out, despite my bolshiness and independence. So, society and our biology damn us women.
The #metoo hashtag which brought women out in droves with their stories of being hit on by men proves the point. Just as we must teach boys to respect a “No”, we must teach girls how to say “No” (and mean it), though both sexes MUST learn the gravity of that all-important word. And more importantly,
Abuse does not only mean sexual aggression as per the trendy #metoo hashtag, but the more pervasive emotional and mental beatings that take place daily, often within a relationship.
This is my daughter (furthest left) with her basketball teammates. She was the national taekwondo champion and is now the captain of her football club. No, I didn’t raise her to be like a boy, but I raise her to be strong woman who will be able to say no for herself as well as celebrate her feminine strength. She ain’t no boy / wannabe boy. #playlikeagirl instead.