Joking That We’ll Have to 'Keep The Boys Away' Is Everything Wrong With The Patriarchy
People say a lot of dumb things when you have a kid. I'm used to mindless small talk like "what a cute boy!" (when your baby is dressed in blue) and "they have your face!" (on a newborn), but nothing annoys me more than the joke I'll hear after someone meets our daughters: “You better buy a gun.” Or even worse, "You’ll have to keep the boys away!” delivered with a creepy wink. The more I think about it, this joke is everything wrong with our ideas about gender roles in society.
Before becoming parents, I suppose I just ignored these throwback comments. But then we had two amazing little girls and found that we are feminist parents who are definitely not laughing. What even is the joke — that my daughters are under threat? That my husband needs to protect his property? That... guns haha something something?
As a feminist and mom, I'm hyperaware of every sexist remark thrown at my daughters on a daily basis, and I do not want gender roles to be pushed on them. The expectations that the media and society place on girls have long-lasting effects on children. I want something better for my family.
Surprising, these comments are usually made by fellow millennial fathers with young daughters. Maybe they simply see it as a joke and a fun way to compliment my girls (thanks?), but it’s really not funny. That this sexist joke is often made in front of my daughters only annoys me more. You’re telling my daughters that being pretty is what makes boys like them — not their humor, or creativity or ability to talk their way out of any situation.
You're telling them that they need to be protected when these hypothetical boys come around.
Worse, you're teaching boys to believe that they aren't responsible for their actions.
From a young age, my girls have been (and continue to be) taught consent and how to protect themselves. We teach them to think for themselves and listen to their gut in certain situations, even if that means pushing a little boy away when he comes in for a hug. This joke goes against everything I teach my kids.
Having girls has made me aware of how many subtly sexist comments are thrown my daughters’ way, from compliments on their looks to being told how to dress. They are praised for being “cute,” “pretty,” and “adorable,” and for how they dress. Girls face sexism everyday. From being catcalled to being labeled tomboys or girly girls, I can’t keep track of how many people have assured me that it’s okay our daughter doesn’t like soccer because, you know, she’s “all girl.” What does that even mean?
And ingraining these stereotypes in our boys is just as harmful. Excusing disrespectful behavior as “boys being boys” removes responsibility for their actions and tells girls that guys have a right to act a certain way. Joking that dads need to “keep the boys away” not only tells our girls that they need protection but also that boys are incapable of controlling themselves and need a man to put them in their place. This mindset filters all the way up through our society.
Telling little girls that they need to be protected by their fathers teaches them that society expects them to ignore their own judgment and let their fathers handle situations with boys for them. Nope nope nope.
I want my girls to learn from their father that their voice matters and that they have every right to tell a boy "yes" or "no." Crucially, they should learn that these statements need to be respected. The stereotype of the little girl needing to be saved by her strong, protective father does little to help build our girls' confidence to standup for themselves in uncomfortable situations.
Our daughters are being raised with the understanding that girls can do anything boys can do (except pee standing up without making a huge mess) and vice versa. The lessons that they do not have to conform to societal expectations of stereotypical “girl” behavior is something we try to discuss, demonstrate or teach our daughters every day. Together with my feminist husband, we are trying to do better by our girls by fighting for equality, and challenging annoying and sexist jokes no matter how harmless or funny they may appear to be.
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