Ironically, the album Free to Be You and Me taught my son that dolls are for girls. In the song “William Wants a Doll,” Alan Alda and Marlo Thomas sing in shrill, lilting voices (that are impossible for a parent to tune out!) about how William’s dad wants him to play with boy toys, which means sports stuff, though what the kid really wants is a baby doll. My son never encountered any resistance to dolls from my wife and I. Heck, when I was a kid, I loved playing with my cousins’ Barbie dolls — they were the ones who thought it weird. So Felix is learning about the stereotype from a song meant to battle that very stereotype, which I guess is a cool way for a song to age? Though that doesn’t make it any less dated.
Felix is growing up in a house where his dad has stayed home with him, and only works part-time, and where his mom goes off to a nine-to-five job every weekday. His favorite color used to be pink. He loves to help me cook and my wife do simple house repairs. He sleeps and, especially in the past couple of weeks, sometimes carries around and cares for a baby doll, Big Baby, who is a boy. We honestly never heard him referring to boy things or girl things until he started pre-K.
I don’t often stop to think about this. It’s just how my wife and I are — we try to split up the work evenly, and we don’t fit easily into gender stereotypes. But the other day a friend complimented my wife for being a strong woman, and said she thought it cool that Felix was growing up with looser, more fluid ideas of gender, and it made me pause.
It’s true: my wife is a strong woman, because she’s true to herself and her values, which takes conviction. She wanted a professional life — staying at home with a child didn’t appeal to her. Though she at times has moments of doubt or guilt about that, just as I sometimes think that I’d be better serving the family and myself by finding a full-time job, she generally feels confident about her decision, and is happy with it. Oh, sure, sometimes, as I’ve written, the words of other, more-guilt ridden or anxious working mothers make their way in, and my wife finds herself stressing about some small thing. The life of a working parent, no matter the gender, requires constant juggling, and it always seems something is being ignored while your attention is on the task at hand. But no matter the worry or doubt, she’s never deviated from pursuing a life where she is a mother, and a wife, and a professional, and she keeps up with hobbies and books too, to the extent that she has the energy!
I admire her so much, I don’t think I would have wanted to have a child with someone who didn’t have these values. It’s important to me that our son grow up in a house where his mother is an independent, free-thinking, empowered presence, and my equal partner. That just seems to me the way that it should be.
Not every woman on this Earth has that right. Tomorrow is International Women’s Day, an event that has been observed since the early 1900’s and is now recognized in many countries as an official holiday. It strikes me as a more significant day than Mother’s Day, because it honors women in the fullness of all of their roles, rather than simply as the bearers and carers of children. Yet you might not hear it talked about in the media (though Google does a great job raising awareness of it), and you probably won’t give a card or gift to any of the wonderful women in your life. Obviously we’ve come a long way in this country, where women can be CEOs and wield political power, but we still don’t have universal gender equality in our society.
So take some time out tomorrow to recognize the women in your life, and to at least think about the women around the world who face persecution for expressing their views, and who lack the freedom to live full lives as individuals in all spheres of life the political, the economic, the personal, and the domestic.