When I was a child I had seemingly boundless energy. One way I had of channeling this was by attending loads of after school clubs and groups. I did all sorts including several years of “Disco” dancing and about the same of drama. I loved it and I hope Oscar gets to enjoy after school activities the way I did. One of the groups I loved dearly in my earlier childhood (in the mid 80’s) was The Brownies, which if you’ve been living under a rock forever (or come from a country without The Brownies) is the part of the Girl Guiding Organisation for 7-10 year old girls. I was an “Imp” (the name of my pack). I only gained two badges, but they’ve stood me in great stead all my life – Hostess and Agility! I serve amazing tea AND I can do a headstand – what more do you need in life?
Anyway, that’s by the by. This year The Brownies celebrate their 100th birthday. For 100 years the organisation has been providing a female only environment for girls to undertake various activities. There was a piece about it on the morning news last week talking about the history of The Brownies and what it did today. It was a sweet piece that I was only really half watching. Until they interviewed someone from their head office. They asked her whether a single gender environment was still relevant. The spokesperson said something approximating this (I wrote it down as soon as I heard it):
‘The girls tell us they appreciate this environment; to be themselves and build their confidence, that they wouldn’t always get in a mixed environment.’
Now I’ve done work with female only groups before, YWCA were a client of mine for years and I’ve heard this argument before. But it never confused me, ever, the way it did when I heard it last week.
I have a son. He is a boy. What is it about him that will mean such a young girl can’t be herself, in his presence? I was baffled and to tell the truth a bit hurt. Surely just by the nature of his gender he isn’t going to hold these girls down? And reversely just by the nature of their gender, girls are not going to be held down by boys? Are they? Seriously?
So my first thought was, what can I do? How can I raise a boy that wont do this? Is that the answer? Is it about parenting? I asked a friend for her opinion – she’s not a parent but she is the most card carrying feminist I know. She was able to tell me of studies that have shown that girls don’t speak out in the same way when boys are present, as boys are socialised to be more confident in the value of their opinions than girls. So maybe parenting does have a part to play? Maybe the parents of girls should be working to ensure their daughters know that their opinions are valid regardless of what the media says? She also pointed out that single sex environments don’t always equal “safe” environments. If children are being “socilised” to be a certain type, then this pressure can be applied by your own sex – being a ‘real’ man for example.
It was really interesting to talk it over from a social perspective, as opposed to a parent’s. My first instinct as a parent was to get offended. Why is my son gonna stop your daughter being herself???? That’s the protective mama in me but not particularly helpful in the grand scheme of things.
I still don’t have an answer, if indeed there is just one answer, which I fear may not be the case. It’s such a MASSIVE subject when you start looking, it’s frightening. But the long and the short of it is I don’t want my son to ever be the reason a girl/woman feels she can’t be herself.
Maybe I should talk to Oscar’s grandma and ask her what she did – she seems to have done a real bang up job with Ben. Hmmm, do you know, maybe this wont be as hard as I first thought 😉
I left the Brownies before becoming a Guide, when I became disillusioned with the organisation. I didn’t get promoted to Seconder, despite being the second oldest, because I was off sick the night they promoted. I felt so slighted! Maybe I’ve just never truly forgiven them? 😉