Georgina Guedes

Don't leave the boy children behind

2012-10-11 15:02

Georgina Guedes

I had the privilege of sharing a podium with the Reverend Doctor Wesley Mabuza, the chairperson of the Commission for the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities on SAFM on Monday night. I was elaborating on a News24 column I wrote a couple of weeks ago on four issues we shouldn't still be debating.

We had been brought together on Masechaba Moshoeshoe's show to discuss the points where progress conflicts with culture. The debate was interesting, and I was pleased to find that there was more common ground between me and the Reverend Doctor than I expected.

One thing that he said has rung true for me – that on the days of the year where we recognise women and girls, and provide them with opportunity to expand their horizons, we should be giving the same exposure to boys.

This is not so that they must also be made aware of opportunities for themselves, but that they should be educated from an early age that women are equal partners and participants in the home, the social space and the workplace.

International Day of the Girl Child

Today has been declared by the United Nations as International Day of the Girl Child, a day when we are supposed to address the issues facing the population group that is the most marginalised on earth – because of age and gender.

Activities have been planned in observance of this day around the world, and I fully support its intentions to cast a spotlight on the myriad issues confronted by girl children – like child marriage, circumcision, neglect and marginalisation.

I hope that the relevant issues raised on this day will continue to be addressed, rather than having it deteriorate into another excuse for spa treatments and chocolates, like Women's Day.

But I agree with the Doctor Reverend's view that girls cannot be educated in isolation and taught to claim their basic human rights without bringing their brothers along with them. And while this obviously applies to all those areas in communities where girls and women are marginalised, it should also be considered in all the subtle ways that we educate our privileged sons about their roles in the world.

Our message to our sons

I was in the paediatrician's waiting room earlier this week with my son Henry. He was playing with another baby, a little older who squeaked and hid behind his mother when Henry looked a little too threatening. The mother said to her son, “Oh, come on, don't be a wimp!”

She seemed a very loving and attentive mother, so I don't imagine she'll whip her son up into a frenzy of after-school violence as he gets older, but I wondered at the time if she would have spoken to a girl child in quite the same way.

From a very young age, boys are taught that to be male is to be strong, not to show weakness, to be brave and not to come running to mummy. Some of this messaging is good, if it's applied to both genders of children to foster a degree of independence and self-confidence.

But often, mothers and fathers unconsciously push their boys into becoming exactly the kind of men who will continue to demean women, because we don't know how to think any differently. I've seen girls instructed to clear the table while boys sit idly by, or boys told to “hit him back” while girls are helped to debate a solution to a playground altercation.

I've even seen boys prevented from playing with their sisters' prams and dolls for fear that they'll become sissies. Shouldn't we, as parents, instead be encouraging their interest in the hopes of breaking the cycle of fathers who are disinterested in their babies until they are walking, talking beings?

So, while there are broader, more significant issues that should be addressed on International Day of the Girl Child, today, I'll be treating both my children equally, teaching them to love and share and coexist regardless of what gender they are.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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