The little man got the latest Julia Donaldson book for his birthday, Zog and the Flying Doctors, about the latest escapades of Zog the dragon and our heroine, Princess Pearl.
He loves it. But it makes me fume, and makes me worry about feminism and empowerment. How we bring up our boys to believe they should be equal partners with the girls; how we bring up our girls with an easy sense of entitlement to equality, rather than preparing them for a fight. Why are we teaching our kids that the brave princess needs to fight to justify her skills before she’s given the freedom of her male counterpart? Why do we insist on reinforcing the idea that girls have to try that much harder than boys before we’ll stop controlling them?
As I get older, I’m starting to believe that everything of importance starts with the dull stuff. The logistics. Looking after the pennies.
I want to teach my boy about the boring stuff. We all know about the importance of dreaming big; but I want him to know that a functioning, happy life relies on an enormous amount of admin. Happy memories start with tedious tasks. The perfect family holiday started with hours of internet research, calls to booking agents to get the best deal, car hire, hotel booking, holiday shopping and the hell on earth that is holiday packing. The Christmas Day where his aunt laughed so hard that wine flew out of her nose? That started with 4 hours (yes, 4 hours) of peeling, chopping, roasting. And 2 hours of washing up, picking up the wrapping paper. It took a day to put the house back to rights.
We are good at teaching our girls this. We show them what it looks like: at big occasions, the women gather in the kitchen while the men watch TV. The better men take the kids out to wear them out before the meal. This is a mass generalisation; it is changing; is is still, in 2017, true.
I want my boy to know how to organise the memories. To share the burden, and the relief and joy when you pull it off.
And I want to show the girls in my life to have more fun. My husband is better at having fun than I am. He has real hobbies. He carves out time for himself. He throws himself into entertainment. I organise, plan, watch, step back. My best friends do the same.
There will be no daughters in our house; we are stopping at the one, beautiful, boy. It is so tempting to leave the big man to take him swimming, to sports clubs, to bring him along to his hobbies. But then I get left with teaching him how to cook, how to clean, how to organise. He needs to learn these things – but why shouldn’t I also teach him how to run, how to laugh?
When we first moved in together, the big man could not comprehend the housework involved in keeping a small flat semi-presentable and sort of clean. He couldn’t accept how much of your life is spent picking your own crap up off the floor. I won the battle, but the fight to get him to pull his weight was harrowing. And unexpected, and absolutely fucking unfair. And I know far, far too many women who never, ever, win it. Or never feel they have the right to fight it in the first place.
It might be that my little man is destined for big, important things. He might have a lot of ordinariness ahead of him. He might have a little bit of both. I want my contribution to feminism to mean that if he moves in with the person he loves, he understands how to be an equal partner in making their joint life work. And understands it in a casual, fundamental way. “Thanks for cooking dinner. I’m washing up now, and I’ve started the shopping list for next week”. I hope shared parental leave is endemic if he has children; I hope he remembers his dad doing half of the nursery runs.
So I’m going to get the big man to cook while I build the train track. I will not sit and sunbathe while they play football in the park.
I can teach the little man, and lecture him in equality all I like. But unless he sees both the big man and I sharing the nuts and bolts of an everyday, boring, sometimes ridiculously happy life, he will never understand how they apply to him.