Feminism in Limbo: Chapter 6

In college I took an Organizational Behavior class as part of the business school curriculum. The class was too easy; the grade based entirely on 3 multiple-choice exams that were based entirely on the textbook. I went to class anyway, because the professor was amazing, funny, and had wonderful stories to tell.

But one thing that stuck out from that class, was a chapter on gender and a very distinct difference between the genders I’d never really noticed before, but it made sense. (I’m paraphrasing a bit and it’s been awhile, so bear with me). Women, when they complain or have a problem, typically want sympathy or someone to listen to them. Men expect a solution. So when a woman is telling you about their awful day, and then this guy is trying to solve the problem, when all she wants is someone to empathize with her… or vis-versa, a man is telling a female about his awful day, and he wants the problem to go away, but this girl is just giving him all this sympathy he doesn’t want. You can see where this could lead to frustration.

The professor then went on to explain why this happens, why the difference exists (again, paraphrasing):

When a little kid falls down, parents (dads especially), will often treat a boy differently than a girl. If their little girl falls down, a dad will rush to the rescue, and make sure everything is ok. If a boy falls down, dad will tell him to get up and brush it off, maybe even say something like “dirt don’t hurt” and expect the boy to be on his way. This make girls accustomed to receiving sympathy when they fall, and boys are just told to get up, you’ll feel better, problem solved.

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My dad, seen in the picture holding me over a fence (which I’m pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to do) wasn’t that kind of dad. If my brother fell down, Dad told him to get up and brush it off. If I fell down, I was told the exact same thing. At times, I sort of hated him for this. If anything, my dad pushed me a lot harder than he pushed my brother – whether academics, or sports, or other hobbies – he was always telling me where I could be better. I got an A; he’d ask why I didn’t get an A+. My team won a soccer game; he told me I looked a little tired toward the end, and I should get myself in better shape.

This gets to be exhausting after awhile. I just wanted to be celebrated for my accomplishments, not told it wasn’t good enough. That’s what I heard, every time he would ask why it wasn’t an A+.

I didn’t hear “you’re smart enough to have the top grades in all your classes,” instead I heard “this isn’t good enough.”

Now I’m an adult and understand why he did those things. A lot of people I know now who are successful, had a parent who was rough on them and was kind of an asshole. By default, kids (especially smart ones) can be lazy. They know they can be. They don’t have to study for the test, or ask questions to understand the homework. It pisses people off, but it’s true. So without that constant effing nagging – they’d continue to be lazy for the rest of their lives.

I don’t think my dad knew the ripple effect of what he was doing. The bar wasn’t set at “you did well for a girl,” but it was “did you come in absolute first place, boys or girls?” He was going to set the bar as high as possible, and not bring it down just because of my gender. He knew I was a smart kid, and wanted to make sure I reached my full potential. I was the first child, and I’m sure that’s a lot of the reason the bar was so high. It didn’t matter to my dad that I was a girl. He wouldn’t have been disappointed if my brother had been a girl, either. Even though my dad was the last chance for carrying on the family name, and without my brother the name would have died, he didn’t care. There was a lot of pressure from the family for my dad to have a boy.

“I was too worried about having a healthy baby, I didn’t care what it was as long as it was healthy,” he used to tell us. But, to the satisfaction of my aunts, a boy was born. So now the pressure is on my brother, I guess.

Even more powerful, it wasn’t because I was a girl that my dad was a pain in my ass. It was because I was smart, because I had the potential to do something real. He understood I’d have to deal with a lot worse if I was going to be a smart, successful, powerful woman someday. But he did it because he wanted his children to succeed – boy or girl.

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