My Feminist Parenting Humiliation

Oh, the shame!

I love the days when my 2.5 year old son gets mistaken for a girl (Yus! No arbitrary gendered fashion advice for us, thanks!), when he plays with a tea-set, or when he says his favourite colour is pink (just the once, and I’ve seen no actual evidence of this, but it’s nice he didn’t know it would be weird for some hearers).

Days like last Friday, not so much.

Oh, the shame! Come and laugh at my first feminist parenting humiliation and tell me yours... | Sacraparental.com

My husband I were going to a doctors’ appointment and the plan was for SBJ to stay home with his grandparents. Sadly we all overslept and in the ensuing flurry he got pretty upset about the idea of not coming with us. Fair enough, ten minutes after waking, we thought, so we bundled him along for the ride.

It was quite a long appointment and he did really well at letting us get on with it, thanks to a box of toys in the corner of the room. About half way through, the doctor left to get something. She came back in, started taking my blood pressure, and my Son of Feminist Parents started this conversation:

‘Mama, where’s the doctor?’

[Incredulous pause, filled with a sense of foreboding] ‘She’s right here, love. This is the doctor.’

[Another pause where I dreaded what might come next] ‘But doctors are usually mans.’

[Tearing myself away from correcting the grammar and heading straight for the outrageous content] ‘Actually, honey, doctors can be men or women. Lots of doctors are women.’

[Etc and excruciating etc.]

At this point, I kid you not, my blood pressure reading came back as a little too high and the doctor was a mite concerned. After a bit of embarrassed laughter and defensive conversation with her (defensive on my part – she said she’d heard it all before) it was back to normal.

So let me get my defence in now, and ask you for some help figuring out what on earth has been going on in my little boy’s head. (More later about the conversations he and I had after that!)

My son’s GP in New Zealand is a woman. He’s never been seen by a male doctor. He hasn’t watched much television until recently (go Ceebeebies!), with a major exception for Postman Pat on YouTube, where the doctor character is a woman.

His English godmother is a doctor, as are several other of our friends, who he actually addresses often as ‘Doctor Esther’ or ‘Doctor Sarah.’ So where on earth did he get the idea that doctors are usually men? They clearly aren’t, even in his own personal experience!

The only real-life counter to this – and it’s a biggie – is that the doctor he knows best of all is his father. I guess that counts for more than some of the other examples in his life, especially as he’s only rarely been to his GP. But still!

We’re reaching the age and stage where ‘outside influence’ starts to become stronger in SBJ’s life, and I confess I am finding that hard going sometimes. At kindy they have different actions to ‘Wind the Bobbin Up’ than we do at home. There’s a ‘Wheels on the Bus’ video clip he likes watching that has different words from our home version. Even those little things bug me a bit, but mostly because they I can see they’re just harbingers of more to come. Like ‘doctors are usually mans.’

The good thing about this, of course, is that we got to have a couple of good conversations about who can be a doctor, and which doctors he knows. He hasn’t been able to tell me how he got the idea – there’s no obvious source, like kindy or a friend or tv programme as far as I can tell – so that remains a mystery. But I do believe that this kind of reflecting together is the key to raising kids to be discerning about what they take on board from the surrounding culture.

Watching sexist tv programmes when I was a kid (seriously, Smurfette is the only female Smurf?) and critiquing them in conversation was a big part of my early feminist consciousness, so I can see it’s often better to allow exposure to stupid nonsense than to ban it, as long as exposure goes along with conversation.

It just would have been nice for my feminist parenting ego if he had come out with this little gem at home, rather than in the doctor’s own consulting room!

I have a couple of questions about all this that I’d love you to chat about in the comments below.

How do you think (apart from my own parenting failures!) SBJ, at his age, got this idea? It’s all speculation, of course, especially for those of you who don’t know him personally, so  I mean it theoretically. Do you think, even given the number of female doctors he knows, that a sexist culture just leaks through to children’s consciousness? Sure, I suspect the fact that his own dad is a doctor is probably a big contributor, but I can imagine other kids of feminists coming out with similar stuff pretty easily.

What are your thoughts and experiences on critiquing sexism (and other harmful social influences) with kids you know? I’d love to hear some stories, please!

And if you have a Feminist Parenting Humiliation of your own to share, please feel free to make me feel better by popping it in the comments :).

I tell you, I’m everywhere these days. Follow me on Facebook for daily links, resources and Sacraparentalish tidbits, on Pinterest for link-plantations and on Twitter for ranting.

Oh, the shame! Come and laugh at my first feminist parenting humiliation and tell me yours... | Sacraparental.com

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11 comments on “My Feminist Parenting Humiliation”

  1. susehammond Reply

    Love this! And who knows where he got it from? Maybe there’s a dr and nurse outfit in the home corner at nursery and one of his mates may have dictated which the girls should wear and which was for boys? I don’t know. I had my own funny feminist moment when I told Noah he could have a kinder egg for being so good at crossing the road on the way to collect some groceries. He picked one and said ‘this one is for boys because it has a car on it, I can’t have the one with the pink wrapper because it’s for girls’. I was so disgusted that kinder eggs (seriously?) have ‘gender specified’ their toys I launched into a huge rant about the fact that there is no such thing as. ‘Just for girls’. Noah shrugged and said, ‘I just want this one’ and the man at the counter could barely disguise his sniggering. Ho hum…

  2. Isabel Reply

    Gosh this is interesting – I’ll be following the comments here with great interest. (On the side, all the boys I have in my life that happen to be 5 or under say that pink is their favourite colour).

  3. nicky Reply

    One thing I found quite annoying when visiting the Warehouse the other day was that they have an aisle called “Boys Toys” with trucks, diggers, etc. There seems to be very strong gender identities created by clothing & toy manufacturers now. We’ve managed to avoid a lot of it by not having things toys or clothing too commercial/branded but now that my son is six, he kind of decides what he wants to wear by pulling the clothes out of the drawer and definitely chooses the more boyish things. I find that by role modelling behaviour that says as a woman, I can do the same things (mainly) as his dad and gently correcting him when he says ‘sexist’ things, that it helps keeps an open view for him (hopefully!).

  4. Jen H Reply

    I have three small people who have a doctor for a dad and that is definitely a big, big factor for them. Even when we point out that Granny and Aunty Polly are also doctors, they just look blank and say “but daddy is a doctor and he is a man” – they often have their logical reasoning backwards!
    After that, I assume it is costumes at nursery school that is the next biggest influence because they “knew” very young that girls are nurses. That one is probably even more ingrained as they don’t know any male nurses and so instead we focus on how important nurses are so it doesn’t become “you’re a girl you can ONLY/JUST be a nurse”.
    My daughter woke up one day when not quite two and a half and declared her favourite colours were pink and purple. Previously she had liked the whole rainbow. Shortly afterwards came the princesses and fairies. I have no idea how or where or why!

    • thaliakr Reply

      Lovely to hear from you, Jen H! Sorry for the tardy response – still some bugs in the new website design.

      Yes, it seems that the daddy doctor factor is VERY strong!

      My guy scornfully said ‘but girls aren’t FARMERS!’ the other day, which was, I guess, fair enough, given their portrayal in all his life. He was blown away to hear that two of my girl-cousins are farmers, so a visit to their places is on the list to reinforce the new knowledge :)

  5. Ruth Reply

    Ha, my 4yo boy’s favourite colour is also pink! (It actually is, though, he picks pink pretty much wherever possible.)

    I imagine the doctor thing is just from another child, in a game or something. That’s definitely where my son picked up the concept of “baddies”, which I didn’t like but left alone until last week, when it apparently became OK to hit his little brother because they were supposedly playing that lil bro was a “baddie”! Um, no! There followed a belated conversation about whether it’s OK to hurt someone if they’re a baddie and whether people are really good or bad, etc… ahh, the ethical/moral minefields these small people navigate!

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