When Asra asked me what role I take to ensure that my son is not brought up to perpetuate gender inequality I couldn’t easily answer. First of all, as I stood in line I was not preparing for what I would say to her. I had only anticipated small talk with Asra as she signed my book. It seems to me that in the Unites States, book signings are not a time to speak to your audience; it is a time to keep the line moving so that the sales of your book will increase. In that way I was expecting a traditional, superficial dialogue where she would ask me my name and write, “To Alicia: Best Wishes, Asra”. She didn’t write that. She wrote this:
For the divine love that guides us in the children in our lives. They are our compass.
For your lifelong pursuit of knowledge, you will only grow more beautiful.
I had a long line behind me and she took no notice. At that moment she treated me as if I was the most interesting person in the world. This inevitably meant I would have nothing of interest to say. She inquired about my life, my pursuit of education and my family. In response to her question about influencing my son positively about gender inequality I said, “Um, um” for about 10 seconds. A serious Toastmaster’s violation.
And here is the brilliance I bestowed upon her:
“Uh, yesterday, when um, my son came home from school… he um said that his bike “squeaked like a girl”. And um, I told him that uh if he ever said that again that he’d be punished.”
That’s 5 um’s for the Toastmaster “um counter”.
She just smiled.
Not my most polished response.
As I was walking out of the door, silently congratulating myself for that brilliant response I realized that there was a reason I was stumbling. I don’t think of gender inequality with any frequency. I don’t have to.
Now don’t get me wrong, as an HR professional it makes my blood boil if there is a difference in pay simply because of a gender difference. I am grateful that our president is taking that matter seriously with legislation to prevent it from happening. Likewise, if a man ever suggested that I could not do something simply because I am a woman, it is likely that I would get that stupid strength that is fed by adrenaline and then lift my refrigerator right up over my head and bop him with it. Then I would stand over him and ask, “What man can do THAT?”
Now my life is riddled with gender roles. In my house, I am the appointee to prepare the daily feast and my husband is the appointee to mow the lawn. We are both qualified to switch roles should the other quit (little do they know that is a very real possibility on my end) but we simply lack the desire. I have no more interest in mowing our lawn than I do of eating something that my husband threw together for dinner. If that is too “sexist” well then so be it. I am comfortable with it, because on most days, I do not feel as though I am taken advantage of.
So I didn’t have a good answer for Asra and I still don’t. That is because I am privileged in ways I cannot even begin to comprehend. I have not had her challenges. I have not had doors closed to me because of my gender so I can’t relate to that question. The men in my life have been by and large loving and respectful.
If I could answer her now, I would say that I hope that my son sees enough in his life to be shaped in a way that he will not perpetuate gender inequality and that my goal is to guide him on that path each day.
With an endless list of things to be thankful for in my life I now have a new one. The next time I am in church I am going to give thanks because I can go there and stand next to my husband and my son. I sure am thankful my husband is there. I need him to help me keep the boy in line through an hour long sermon.