I just got goosebumps after listening to my dear friend Lauri’s TEDx Talk on shifting gender paradigms. I knew Lauri was smart, educated, determined and compassionate but I hadn’t yet witnessed how she could parlay all that into a well-constructed and powerfully-delivered talk about the impacts of gender bias on our young girls and boys.
I grew up with two sisters, and although our Dad was not shy about sharing how he always wanted a son, he did manage to instill in us the capacity to be strong in the head, strong in the heart, and strong in the whole body. An African-American man from the South, he was used to ‘Southern Belles.’ My sisters and I, however, were also raised by our Swedish mother who was not about to let her three daughters become meek, quiet, nor fragile beings. No, she raised us to be tough Vikings, to stand tall and to speak our mind.
I get frustrated on a daily basis when my son does something rowdy, destructive or intrusive, and people just dismiss it as “oh he’s just a boy.” What? Are we teaching him it’s ok to hit, it’s ok to push, it’s ok to dismiss others feelings simply because his gender is male? What about the little girl who hits, pushes or shoves another child? She gets reprimanded. Why is it when my son falls and hurts himself, he’s told “Get back up, you are tough and strong”– while his female preschool mates are given ice for their booboos and doted on until they stop crying?
Lauri’s talk is a scary wake up call for me. To this day my dad (who means well and was also brought up in a very old-school generation) will say to me, “Don’t you look pretty today.” What does that have to do with anything? I’d rather be told, “Go be bold, be brave, be authentically you today!” So I’m here to back up Lauri’s message and share that as the single mother of a curious, adventurous, strong and compassionate little 20 month old – I’m on a mission to raise him to recognize all these wonderful qualities in his female preschool mates too. I’m here to–as Lauri invited us all to do–be mindful of the stories I tell and the behaviors I express in front of my son and other young minds, and I’m here to set the stage for more gender equality.
I want my son to grow up knowing he has a mom who is strong, curious, compassionate and unapologetically bold. Mind you, just sharing these personal details about me certainly does not come easy. But I am committed to shifting our gender conversations and not staying silent.
I want my son to grow up reading about characters like Pippi Longstocking – the brave, curious, smart and compassionate young adventurer, who happens to be female. I want him to witness my two nieces as they develop into young entrepreneurs, that can climb trees, play with Legos, and create whatever their hearts desire.
Join me and my friend Lauri as we promote an environment where all children can pursue whatever their hearts desire.
P.S. Any TEDx Talk that mentions Sweden and highlights its strengths is an added plus for me. Yes, I’m American and I’m also a very proud Swede!