Equality: Raising our children

Illustrasjon: Eivind Gulliksen


I came across this wonderful article by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that expresses many of my thoughts on how we might raise children to equality. I realize parents can only do so much by themselves, but those first few years when parents have an almost godlike status for their children lay an important foundation when dealing with others. Both men and women need to let go of their preconceived ideas of what the other should do/be. The entire article can be found at the above link.

… I matter. I matter equally. Not ‘if only.’ Not ‘as long as.’ I matter equally. Full stop.

The second tool is a question: can you reverse X and get the same results?

For example: many people believe that a woman’s feminist response to a husband’s infidelity should be to leave. But I think staying can also be a feminist choice, depending on the context. If Chudi sleeps with another woman and you forgive him, would the same be true if you slept with another man? If the answer is yes then your choosing to forgive him can be a feminist choice because it is not shaped by a gender inequality. Sadly, the reality in most marriages is that the answer to that question would often be no, and the reason would be gender-based – that absurd idea of ‘men will be men.’

Here are my suggestions:

Reject the idea of motherhood and work as mutually exclusive

1. First Suggestion: Be a full person. Motherhood is a glorious gift, but do not define yourself solely by motherhood. Be a full person. Your child will benefit from that. The pioneering American journalist Marlene Sanders once said to a younger journalist, “Never apologize for working. You love what you do, and loving what you do is a great gift to give your child.”

You don’t even have to love your job; you can merely love what your job does for you – the confidence and self-fulfillment that come with doing and earning. Reject the idea of motherhood and work as mutually exclusive. Our mothers worked full time while we were growing up, and we turned out well – at least you did, the jury is still out on me.

when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.

It doesn’t surprise me that your sister-in-law says you should be a ‘traditional’ mother and stay home, that Chudi can afford not to have a ‘double income’ family.

People will selectively use ‘tradition’ to justify anything. Tell her that a double-income family is actually the true Igbo tradition because in pre-colonial times, mothers farmed and traded. And then please ignore her; there are more important things to think about.

In these coming weeks of early motherhood, be kind to yourself. Ask for help. Expect to be helped. There is no such thing as a Superwoman. Parenting is about practice – and love. (I do wish though that ‘parent’ had not been turned into a verb, which I think is the root of the middle-class phenomenon of ‘parenting’ as one endless, anxious journey of guilt).

Give yourself room to fail. A new mother does not necessarily know how to calm a crying baby. Don’t assume that you should know everything. Look things up on the Internet, read books, ask older parents, or just do trial and error. Let your focus be on remaining a full person. Take time for yourself. Nurture your own needs.

Please do not think of it as ‘doing it all.’ Our culture lauds the idea of women who are able to ‘do it all’ but does not question the premise of that praise. I have no interest in the debate about women ‘doing it all’ because it is a debate that assumes that care-giving and domestic work are exclusively female domains, an idea that I strongly reject. Domestic work and care-giving should be gender-neutral, and we should be asking not whether a woman can ‘do it all’ but how best to support parents in their dual duties at work and at home.

2. Second Suggestion: Do it together. Remember in primary school we learnt that a verb was a ‘doing’ word? Well, a father is as much a verb as a mother. Chudi should do everything that biology allows – which is everything but breastfeeding. Sometimes mothers, so conditioned to be all and do all, are complicit in diminishing the role of fathers. You might think that Chudi will not bathe her exactly as you’d like, that he might not wipe her bum as perfectly as you do. But so what? What is the worst that can happen? She won’t die at the hands of her father. So look away, arrest your perfectionism, still your socially-conditioned sense of duty. Share childcare equally. ‘Equally’ of course depends on you both. It does not have to mean a literal fifty-fifty or a day-by-day score-keeping but you’ll know when the child-care work is equally shared. You’ll know by your lack of resentment. Because when there is true equality, resentment does not exist.

And please reject the language of help. Chudi is not ‘helping’ you by caring for his child. He is doing what he should. When we say fathers are ‘helping,’ we are suggesting that childcare is a mother’s territory, into which fathers valiantly venture. It is not. Can you imagine how many more people today would be happier, more stable, better contributors to the world, if only their fathers had been actively present in their childhood? And never say that Chudi is ‘babysitting’ – people who babysit are people for whom the baby is not a primary responsibility.

‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.

Chudi does not deserve any special gratitude or praise, nor do you – you both made the choice to bring a child into the world, and the responsibility for that child belongs equally to you both. It would be different if you were a single mother, whether by circumstance or choice, because ‘doing it together’ would then not be an option. But you should not be a ‘single mother’ unless you are truly a single mother.

My friend Nwabu once told me that, because his wife left when his kids were young, he became ‘Mr. Mom,’ by which he meant that he did the daily care-giving. But he was not being a ‘Mr. Mom,’ he was simply being a dad.

3. Third Suggestion: Teach her that ‘gender roles’ is absolute nonsense. Do not ever tell her that she should do or not do something “because you are a girl.”

“The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina.”

‘Because you are a girl’ is never a reason for anything. Ever.

I remember being told as a child to ‘bend down properly while sweeping, like a girl.’ Which meant that sweeping was about being female. I wish I had been told simply ‘bend down and sweep properly because you’ll clean the floor better.’ And I wish my brothers had been told the same thing.

There have been recent Nigerian social media debates about women and cooking, about how wives have to cook for husbands. It is funny, in the way that sad things are funny, that in 2016 we are still talking about cooking as some kind of ‘marriageability test’ for women.

The knowledge of cooking does not come pre-installed in a vagina. Cooking is learned. Cooking – domestic work in general – is a life skill that both men and women should ideally have. It is also a skill that can elude both men and women.

We also need to question the idea of marriage as a prize to women, because that is the basis of these absurd debates. If we stop conditioning women to see marriage as a prize, then we would have fewer debates about a wife needing to cook in order to earn that prize.

If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children we give them space to reach their full potential.

It is interesting to me how early the world starts to invent gender roles. Yesterday I went to a children’s shop to buy Chizalum an outfit. In the girls’ section were pale phenomena in washed-out shades of pink. I disliked them. The boys’ section had outfits in vibrant shades of blue. Because I think blue will be adorable against her brown skin – and photograph better – I bought one. At the check out counter, the cashier said mine was the perfect present for the new boy. I said it was for a baby girl. She looked horrified. “Blue for a girl?”

I cannot help but wonder about the clever marketing person who invented this pink-blue binary. There was also a ‘gender neutral’ section, with its array of bloodless grays. ‘Gender neutral’ is silly because it is premised on the idea of male being blue and female being pink and ‘gender neutral’ being its own category. Why not just have baby clothes organized by age and displayed in all colors? The bodies of male and female infants are similar, after all.

I looked at the toy section, also arranged by gender. Toys for boys are mostly active, and involve some sort of ‘doing’ – trains, cars – and toys for girls are mostly ‘passive’ and are overwhelmingly dolls. I was struck by how early our culture starts to form the ideas of what a boy should be and what a girl should be.

she noticed that the mothers of baby girls were very restraining, constantly telling the girls ‘don’t touch’ or ‘stop and be nice,’ and she noticed that the baby boys were encouraged to explore more and were not restrained as much and were almost never told to ‘be nice.’

Did I ever tell you about going to a US mall with a seven-year-old Nigerian girl and her mother? She saw a toy helicopter, one of those things that fly by wireless remote control, and she was fascinated and asked for one. “No,” her mother said. “You have your dolls.” And she responded, “Mummy, is it only doll I will play with?”

I have never forgotten that. Her mother meant well, obviously. She was well-versed in the ideas of gender roles – that girls play with dolls and boys with cars. I wonder now, wistfully, if the little girl would have turned out to be a revolutionary engineer, had she been given a chance to explore that helicopter.

If we don’t place the straitjacket of gender roles on young children we give them space to reach their full potential. Please see Chizalum as an individual. Not as a girl who should be a certain way. See her weaknesses and her strengths in an individual way. Do not measure her on a scale of what a girl should be. Measure her on a scale of being the best version of herself.

Instead of gender roles, teach her self-reliance. Tell her that it is important to be able to do for herself and fend for herself. Teach her to try and fix physical things when they break.

A young woman once told me that she had for years behaved ‘like a boy’ – she liked football and was bored by dresses – until her mother forced her to stop her ‘boyish’ interests and she is now grateful to her mother for helping her start behaving like a girl. The story made me sad. I wondered what parts of herself she had needed to silence and stifle, and I wondered about what her spirit had lost, because what she called ‘behaving like a boy’ was simply that she was behaving like herself.

Another acquaintance once told me that when she took her one-year-old son to a baby play group, where babies had been brought by their mothers, she noticed that the mothers of baby girls were very restraining, constantly telling the girls ‘don’t touch’ or ‘stop and be nice,’ and she noticed that the baby boys were encouraged to explore more and were not restrained as much and were almost never told to ‘be nice.’ Her theory is that parents unconsciously start very early to teach girls how to be, that baby girls are given more rules and less room and baby boys more room and fewer rules.

Gender roles are so deeply conditioned in us that we will often follow them even when they chafe against our true desires, our needs, our wellbeing. They are very difficult to unlearn, and so it is important to try and make sure that Chizalum rejects them from the beginning. Instead of gender roles, teach her self-reliance. Tell her that it is important to be able to do for herself and fend for herself. Teach her to try and fix physical things when they break. We are quick to assume girls can’t do many things. Let her try. Buy her toys like blocks and trains – and dolls, too, if you want to…..

The rest of the article may be read on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s FB page

Declaration of Principles on Equality

3-5 April 2008 a group of experts got together at a conference in London arranged by The Equal Rights Trust. At this conference titled Principles on Equality and the Development of Legal Standards on Equality, they put together a document called Declaration of Principles on Equality, consisting of 27 principles that aim towards understanding equality better.

People are discriminated against for such characteristics as age, disability, race, belief/no-belief, gender, sexual orientation, marital status and maternity. Discrimination may be direct or indirect. In Mississippi and North-Carolina, USA, a bathroom law was passed forcing men and women to use a bathroom/locker-room that matched their birth-sex instead of their gender. People with disabilities may be accused of faking it or using their disability to get attention (gas-lighting). The following 27 principles, hopefully, enable law-makers, businesses, health-personnel and others become aware of steps they need to take to make their society more equal. Whether people really want others to be equal to themselves, is a question I fear has a depressing answer.

  1. The right to equality
  2. Equal treatment
  3. Positive action
  4. The right to non-discrimination
  5. Definition of discrimination
  6. Relationship between the grounds of discrimination
  7. Discrimination and violence
  8. Scope of Application
  9. Right-holders
  10. Duty-bearers
  11. Giving Effect to the Right to Equality
  12. Obligations Regarding Multiple Discrimination
  13. Accommodating Difference
  14. Measures Against Poverty
  15. Specificity of Equality Legislation
  16. Participation
  17. Education on Equality
  18. Access to Justice
  19. Victimisation
  20. Standing
  21. Evidence and Proof
  22. Remedies and Sanctions
  23. Specialised Bodies
  24. Duty to Gather Information
  25. Dissemination of Information
  26. Prohibition of Regressive Interpretation
  27. Derogations and Reservations

1 The Right to Equality

The right to equality is the right of all human beings to be equal in dignity, to be treated with respect and consideration and to participate on an equal basis with others in any area of economic, social, political, cultural or civil life. All human beings are equal before the law and have the right to equal protection and benefit of the law.

2 Equal Treatment

Equal treatment, as an aspect of equality, is not equivalent to identical treatment. To realise full and effective equality it is necessary to treat people differently according to their different circumstances, to assert their equal worth and to enhance their capabilities to participate in society as equals.

3 Positive Action

To be effective, the right to equality requires positive action.

Positive action, which includes a range of legislative, administrative and policy measures to overcome past disadvantage and to accelerate progress towards equality of particular groups, is a necessary element within the right to equality.

4 The Right to Non-discrimination

The right to non-discrimination is a free-standing, fundamental right, subsumed in the right to equality.

5 Definition of Discrimination

Discrimination must be prohibited where it is on grounds of race, colour, ethnicity, descent, sex, pregnancy, maternity, civil, family or carer status, language, religion or belief, political or other opinion, birth, national or social origin, nationality, economic status, association with a national minority, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, disability, health status, genetic or other predisposition toward illness or a combination of any of these grounds, or on the basis of characteristics associated with any of these grounds.

Discrimination based on any other ground must be prohibited where such discrimination (i) causes or perpetuates systemic disadvantage; (ii) undermines human dignity; or (iii) adversely affects the equal enjoyment of a person’s rights and freedoms in a serious manner that is comparable to discrimination on the prohibited grounds stated above.

Discrimination must also be prohibited when it is on the ground of the association of a person with other persons to whom a prohibited ground applies or the perception, whether accurate or otherwise, of a person as having a characteristic associated with a prohibited ground.

Discrimination may be direct or indirect.

Direct discrimination occurs when for a reason related to one or more prohibited grounds a person or group of persons is treated less favourably than another person or another group of persons is, has been, or would be treated in a comparable situation; or when for a reason related to one or more prohibited grounds a person or group of persons is subjected to a detriment. Direct discrimination may be permitted only very exceptionally, when it can be justified against strictly defined criteria.

Indirect discrimination occurs when a provision, criterion or practice would put persons having a status or a characteristic associated with one or more prohibited grounds at a particular disadvantage compared with other persons, unless that provision, criterion or practice is objectively justified by a legitimate aim, and the means of achieving that aim are appropriate and necessary.

Harassment constitutes discrimination when unwanted conduct related to any prohibited ground takes place with the purpose or effect of violating the dignity of a person or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

An act of discrimination may be committed intentionally or unintentionally.

6 Relationship between the Grounds of Discrimination

Legislation must provide for equal protection from discrimination regardless of the ground or combination of grounds concerned.

7 Discrimination and Violence

Any act of violence or incitement to violence that is motivated wholly or in part by the victim having a characteristic or status associated with a prohibited ground constitutes a serious denial of the right to equality. Such motivation must be treated as an aggravating factor in the commission of offences of violence and incitement to violence, and States must take all appropriate action to penalise, prevent and deter such acts.

8 Scope of Application

The right to equality applies in all areas of activity regulated by law.

9 Right-holders

The right to equality is inherent to all human beings and may be asserted by any person or a group of persons who have a common interest in asserting this right.

The right to equality is to be freely exercised by all persons present in or subject to the jurisdiction of a State.

Legal persons must be able to assert a right to protection against discrimination when such discrimination is, has been or would be based on their members, employees or other persons associated with a legal person having a status or characteristic associated with a prohibited

10 Duty-bearers

States have a duty to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the right to equality for all persons present within their territory or subject to their jurisdiction. Non-state actors, including transnational corporations and other non-national legal entities, should respect the right to equality in all areas of activity regulated by law.

11 Giving Effect to the Right to Equality

States must take the steps that are necessary to give full effect to the right to equality in all activities of the State both domestically and in its external or international role. In particular States must

(a) Adopt all appropriate constitutional, legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the right to equality;

(b) Take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices that conflict or are incompatible with the right to equality;

(c) Promote equality in all relevant policies and programmes;

(d) Review all proposed legislation for its compatibility with the right to equality;

(e) Refrain from adopting any policies or engaging in any act or practice that is inconsistent with the right to equality;

(f) Take all appropriate measures to ensure that all public authorities and institutions act in conformity with the right to equality;

(g) Take all appropriate measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination by any person, or any public or private sector organisation.

12 Obligations Regarding Multiple Discrimination

Laws and policies must provide effective protection against multiple discrimination, that is, discrimination on more than one ground. Particular positive action measures, as defined in Principle 3, may be required to overcome past disadvantage related to the combination of two or more prohibited grounds.

13 Accommodating Difference

To achieve full and effective equality it may be necessary to require public and private sector organisations to provide reasonable accommodation for different capabilities of individuals related to one or more prohibited grounds.

Accommodation means the necessary and appropriate modifications and adjustments, including anticipatory measures, to facilitate the ability of every individual to participate in any area of economic, social, political, cultural or civil life on an equal basis with others. It should not be an obligation to accommodate difference where this would impose a disproportionate or undue burden on the provider.

14 Measures against Poverty

As poverty may be both a cause and a consequence of discrimination, measures to alleviate poverty should be coordinated with measures to combat discrimination, in the pursuit of full and effective equality.

15 Specificity of Equality Legislation

The realisation of the right to equality requires the adoption of equality laws and policies that are comprehensive and sufficiently detailed and specific to encompass the different forms and manifestations of discrimination and disadvantage.

16 Participation

All persons, particularly those who have experienced or who are vulnerable to discrimination, should be consulted and involved in the development and implementation of laws and policies implementing the right to equality.

17 Education on Equality

States have a duty to raise public awareness about equality, and to ensure that all educational establishments, including private, religious and military schools, provide suitable education on equality as a fundamental right.

18 Access to Justice

Persons who have been subjected to discrimination have a right to seek legal redress and an effective remedy. They must have effective access to judicial and/or administrative procedures, and appropriate legal aid for this purpose. States must not create or permit undue obstacles, including financial obstacles or restrictions on the representation of victims, to the effective enforcement of the right to equality.

19 Victimisation

States must introduce into their national legal systems such measures as are necessary to protect individuals from any adverse treatment or adverse consequence as a reaction to a complaint or to proceedings aimed at enforcing compliance with equality provisions.

20 Standing

States should ensure that associations, organisations or other legal entities, which have a legitimate interest in the realisation of the right to equality, may engage, either on behalf or in support of the persons seeking redress, with their approval, or on their own behalf, in any judicial and/or administrative procedure provided for the enforcement of the right to equality.

21 Evidence and Proof

Legal rules related to evidence and proof must be adapted to ensure that victims of discrimination are not unduly inhibited in obtaining redress. In particular, the rules on proof in civil proceedings should be adapted to ensure that when persons who allege that they have been subjected to discrimination establish, before a court or other competent authority, facts from which it may be presumed that there has been discrimination (prima facie case), it shall be for the respondent to prove that there has been no breach of the right to equality.

22 Remedies and Sanctions

Sanctions for breach of the right to equality must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive. Sanctions must provide for appropriate remedies for those whose right to equality has been breached including reparations for material and non-material damages; sanctions may also require the elimination of discriminatory practices and the implementation of structural, institutional, organisational, or policy change that is necessary for the realisation of the right to equality.

23 Specialised Bodies

States must establish and maintain a body or a system of coordinated bodies for the protection and promotion of the right to equality. States must ensure the independent status and competences of such bodies in line with the UN Paris Principles, as well as adequate funding and transparent procedures for the appointment and removal of their members.

24 Duty to Gather Information

To give full effect to the right to equality States must collect and publicise information, including relevant statistical data, in order to identify inequalities, discriminatory practices and patterns of disadvantage, and to analyse the effectiveness of measures to promote equality. States must not use such information in a manner that violates human rights.

25 Dissemination of Information

Laws and policies adopted to give effect to the right to equality must be accessible to all persons. States must take steps to ensure that all such laws and policies are brought to the attention of all persons who may be concerned by all appropriate means.

26 Prohibition of Regressive Interpretation

In adopting and implementing laws and policies to promote equality, there shall be no regression from the level of protection against discrimination that has already been achieved.

27 Derogations and Reservations

No derogation from the right to equality shall be permitted. Any reservation to a treaty or other international instrument, which would derogate from the right to equality, shall be null and void.

How We Talk About Women And Sex

As I said in a previous post, I have been raised Mormon. Their ideas surrounding women and sexuality are, as most conservative religions, are detrimental to sexual well-being. Sex before marriage is a no-no. If that rule is broken, and a leader finds out, a person loses privileges. It is a girl’s/woman’s responsibility that boys/men are not tempted. Language in the Mormon faith is patriarchal and male privilege laded.

Christene’s article about linguistic patterns specific to women’s roles in sex and relationships exemplifies how we, both men and women, nurture these patterns and speaks of how we might learn to listen and read more carefully. Once a person becomes aware of just how patriarchal English (and Norwegian) is, that genie is out of its bottle forever.

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Lead image: Flickr.com/José Manuel Ríos Valiente

April 16, 2016 | by Christene

In February, I wrote a piece on having been raised by a sex-positive mother. It was a topic that had been stirring in the back of my mind for a while, as my mom’s parenting style largely cemented my belief that open communication about sex, relationships, and reproductive health is crucial among families and in schools.

One of the many reasons I’m glad I was brought up with a sex-positive outlook is that I developed a clear sense of sexual agency and bodily autonomy. Or, as Emily Heist Moss worded it, I grew up with the understanding that “expressing sexuality is not the same as being sexualized.” As the male gaze continues to pervade everything from music to advertising, we must reframe the choices that girls and women make as their own and not “for” their male counterparts.

Much of this, in my view, has to do with the language we use to reference women’s sexuality. Linguistic patterns hold over time with repeated and widespread use, contributing to our culture in ways that often fly under the radar. For example, our common use of the “male default” when referring to creatures of unknown gender (animals, deities) or groups of both men and women (“mankind,” “policemen,” and the insidious “you guys”) enforces a standard with myriad far-reaching effects. Women are not only categorized as “less” or “other”—they are defined relationally.

Here are a few linguistic patterns specific to women’s roles in sex and relationships that, as part of our modern vernacular, rob women of their agency. ……

The rest of the article may be read at Role Reboot

More / Visual – Word Brain

Makes sense to me that the written language is NOT a requirement for being human. Writing is learned behavior, like so many, that needs time and practice, practice, practice to be used in any sort of understandable manner.

Asperger: The HypoSocial Human

I agree that dependence on symbolic (word) language sets modern humans apart from ancestral hominids, but does that dependence constitute a “new” species?

Some thoughts on what this implies or reveals:

1. The “language ready” infant brain, if healthy, is also “vision ready” “movement ready” “hearing ready” “odor ready” “digestion ready” – a number of physical states and abilities must be developed in childhood through learning and practice, or be acquired from the environment, such as establishing gut bacteria for digestion or immunity to disease from the mother.  This is not exclusive to humans. Animals have varying ratios of instinctual / learned behavior.

2. The brain has been established as a plastic organ, in which neural connections and pathways – “circuits” must be established, and indeed, learning language is one means to change / construct the brain, along with hand-eye operations, exercise, movement, balance and exposure to new and novel objects and environments. (Just about everything is new and novel for an infant!) Stimulation…

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