I have never had a problem calling myself a feminist. I’m the third of four sisters, daughter of one of Hollywood’s first female screenwriters, a mouthy broad, and I have never doubted women can be brilliant. My daughters, just for example, are brilliant. And it took me a very long time to find a man I thought was smarter than me (and interested enough) to marry. A physicist, he still can’t find the butter in a half-empty refrigerator or fry an egg while sorting laundry.
Now I have two grandchildren, a 11-month old boy and a 3 1/2 year old girl, and you can believe me when I tell you they are both brilliant. However, I find myself questioning my feminist credentials as I bestow upon my grandson a virtual fleet of trucks and cars, while to my granddaughter I search out the fanciest mermaid princess costume and ballerina dolls. It’s what they want, I say.
Or is it what I want to give them?
So where are you in the gender wars? And does hearing that it requires “brilliance” to do something put you off from trying?
LUCY BURDETTE: This is tricky Hallie, because I believe so much sexism and racism is embedded deep below our consciousness, both individually and as a country. I learned about sexism in the women's movement in the late 70s when I went to graduate school in Tennessee. I bought my copy of OUR BODIES, OURSELVES, my own plastic speculum (lol), and joined a consciousness raising group. And I have no doubt that women are as smart as men. But I have many old roots telling me (for one example) that the home is the purview of the woman.
HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I am so baffled by this. And have no idea. I have two grandsons, 7 and 14. They want trucks, Legos, fighting stuff, wars, superheroes, Pokemon, videogames, competition, silly jokes.
The little girls next door, 7 and 14, are totally different. The are semi-tomboys--hmmm, probably can't say that now?--soccer and horseback riding and running around and skateboards. But they never saw sparkly stuff they didn't like. And would never turn down a tiara.
BUT--if you asked me who was "smarter"? Ah. They are all equally brilliant.
And. As I was deplaning yesterday, the man across the aisle gestured me to go first. He said "Ladies should always go first." And I said "Yes. Very true! Especially in dangerous situations."
I was very proud of myself.
HALLIE: Ha ha ha! Mango, anyone? This reminds me of the hilarious song from FREE TO BE YOU AND ME, Marlo Thomas singing "Ladies First."
INGRID THOFT: I'm the youngest of four daughters raised by parents who always taught us that we were strong, smart, and capable. Given that as a society we choose to paint newborns' rooms based on their gender (let's remember that newborns don't even see that well,) I would say that humans are still socialized along very strict gender lines.
It drives me crazy when people talk about a kid being "such a boy" because he's energetic or likes to play with trucks. I'm an aunt to 14, (eight girls and six boys,) and I can tell you that we have energetic girls and low-key boys, girls who like building things and boys who like stuffed animals. Their interests and strength run the gamut, but they're all brilliant, of course. ;)
DEBORAH CROMBIE: My parents never gave me the least idea that there was anything I couldn't do because I was a girl, or that I wasn't as smart as boys. And I was a tomboy (what do we say now, for girls who don't play with dolls and girly things?) as was my daughter.
It's too early to say about my granddaughter, but I wonder how much girls' preference for girly things and boys' for boy stuff is due to the expectations of parents? I do strongly feel, however, that there is still a strong cultural gender bias, and that it is on the uptick with the current social climate.
JENN MCKINLAY: Gender wars. It's difficult for me to accept that we still have to fight, that we haven't evolved as a society enough to see individuals beyond their gender.
I am a feminist but mostly I'm a humanist -- I guess that would be the word. I believe in the power of the individual to defy the odds, to make their own way, to be better than the people who came before, no matter their gender, race, religion, or socio-economic status.
My brother and I are only eleven months apart with him being older. He was my first best friend and the person I admired above all others (still do). As the youngest of six, we were always together. Always. Even our name became one word: JedandJenny! We were allowed to run wild and we did. Mischief and shenanigans abounded and it would never have occurred to either of us that there was anything from skateboarding to sewing that my brother could do that I couldn't or vice versa because of our gender.
I am ever grateful for my childhood and have strived to teach my boys to view the world the same way.
JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: My mother was a feminist in the sixties and seventies (I mean, of course, she still is, but that's when she got her consciousness raised.) She raised my sister and me to expect to work, to value ourselves outside any relationship with a man, and to require respect. She was also adamant about a woman's right to choose - parenthood or not, stay-at-home or career, dresses or jeans and a T shirt. That upbringing has stood us in good stead as Barb and I have been single career girls, working mothers, stay at home mothers and work-at-home mothers.
True, she would spend hours dressing up her Barbies and playacting with them; while he never saw a toy truck he didn't like. And as young adults? They're both "woke," as the kids say today, both very aware of feminism, privilege, intersectionality, etc. The Smithie is a take-charge, aggressive person and The Sailor has a soft heart. And she still likes to dress very "girly" and his first car was a pick-up truck!
RHYS BOWEN: I was quite an adventurous girl, always getting knees skinned when I jumped out one of our apple trees. I went to a highly academic girls school and my classmates all expected to go into the professions. When I worked at the BBC I was treated with the same respect as my male colleages.
I had four children, three girls and then a boy. I was interested to note in what ways he would be different. My girls all liked to play tea parties, to dress up in my clothes and shoes. When Dominic was two months old he was lying in his crib with a cradle gym above him. In his hand was a rattle. For about twenty minutes he looked at the rattle, then at the cradle gym. Rattle. Gym. Then suddenly he gave the gym an almighty swipe with the rattle.
That's a boy, I thought. Although he had all the girly stuff at his disposal he played with cars, trucks, balls, taking things to pieces. And my girls were all in the gifted program, as was my son.
But I think we do unconsciously stereotype. My daughter has twins. When they were babies people would say "Hi, handsome!" in a big voice to the boy, and "Hello, princess" in a gentle voice to the girl. She has turned out to be as physical and tough as her brother: a black belt in karate and absolutely terrifying on a skate board!
And I have to add there are certain males in the USA who still want to think of us as the little women, knowing their place in the kitchen!!!!
HALLIE: Guilty! If my husband tried to take over MY place in the kitchen, I'd drop kick him into the den. This is not because I think women's place is in the kitchen, it's because I'm a much better cook and he'll make stuff I don't feel like eating. Control freak? Yes. Sexist? In effect but not by intent.
It's... complicated. Or is it?