It’s Sunday morning and marque 1 has asked if he can make the pancakes. A heavenly request which signals my escape back upstairs with two mugs of freshly brewed coffee.
‘Don’t forget the strawberries’ I say to him, but he’s already on it, washing and chopping, ready to throw them into the mix.
‘Can I help?’ marque 5 enquires and marque 1 hands him an egg to crack. I can’t watch. Let them at it. A little egg shell never did anyone a bit of harm.
‘I think I’ll use the new whisk this time’ marque 1 announces.
‘Would that be ok Mum?’
Ah yes, the new whisk.
He sets about getting it out of the box. It’s something he spotted in Power City one evening and he told me we really needed it. I couldn’t imagine why.
Then he starts to laugh.
‘It was so funny in class the other day’ he says.
‘We were watching ads from the 50s and there was an ad about an electric whisk and at the end it said
WOMEN, KNOW YOUR LIMITS’, and he chuckles on, as I do now too.
‘Yeah Mum, know your limits’ marque 5 says, joining in, thinking he’s adding to the joke. On cue, the blood begins to simmer.
‘Can you explain the ad to your 6 year old brother, why it’s funny now and why what he’s just said certainly is not?’ I say, huffing off, leaving marque 1, whisk in hand, with that indecipherable task.
I’ve a foot on the stairs.
‘You mustn’t ever say ‘know you limits’ to Mum or any other woman’ he says.
‘Because it’s sexism’.
‘What does sexism mean?’
‘You’ll have to ask mummy about that’.
Darn. He was doing so well.
‘Mu-um, what’s sexism?’ he shouts after me. It doesn’t seem right now, all of a sudden, to be delving into hot debates with small children on a Sunday morning. Even his uttering the word sexism. I’m a little uncomfortable with that. And if I get started now who’s to say I’ll be able to stop? Then where will my sneaky luxurious read in bed be? Gone for another week.
‘Just get on with making the pancakes’ I say, scarpering up the stairs.
It’s tricky, the sexism thing. I was lucky to be brought up by an independently minded gender equality campaigning mother. By a father who loved to cook magnificent garlic fuelled dinners and always did our school lunches. I studied sociology with feminist critiques and deconstructions of everything. Now we’re raising an all male family and I’ve noticed something that my background didn’t prepare me for. A sort of benign aesthetic societal sexism towards boys. The flip-side of a benign aesthetic societal bias towards girls. Benign but irritating all the same. And it’s the kids that are picking up on it. Promoting it even. Marque 5 for example.
‘Why do women have much nicer voices than boys?’ he asks as we walk down Killiney Hill.
‘They don’t’ I say, gruffly, to prove the point.
‘But why do women have much longer eye-lashes than boys?’
‘They don’t’ I say, eyeing his sweep the floor dark lashes. They just cheat a little, that’s all, I think, batting my mascara clumps in the wind.
‘Yeah, but why do women have longer hair than boys?’
‘Some do, some don’t’ I say, throwing a couple of my cropped friends at him as examples. Then pointing at his brothers walking ahead of us, their hair flowing back, just a tad, behind them.
‘Yeah, but why do women wear dresses and boys don’t?’
So I find myself wittering on about Scottish men in their skirts.
‘Yeah, but in our world they don’t do skirts for boys so guess what?’
‘This world is never going to do skirts for boys, they won’t allow it’.
Who’s the they? How come he’s feeling restricted by an invisible they already. He’s only six. I’m wondering if it’s too soon to introduce the notion of trannies. Offer a little flexibility on his horizon. As he interprets the world, there’s a fairer sex amongst us and it’s not, well, fair. Not in his book. He appreciates aesthetically, but he wants to join in.
We’re at a party and the theme being trumpeted at the kids table is that girls are better than boys. By a girl. Amidst a load of boys. Brazen enough. She makes her points, chantingly. Boys go to Jupiter to get more stupider. Enlightened stuff. The boys listen or half listen, politely or disinterestedly, not sure really, until one little boy can contain himself no longer.
‘Have you read the Bible?’
‘God made Eve out of a rib from Adam. So if it wasn’t for boys, girls wouldn’t exist’. Uncomfortable silence. Time for an adult to intervene and encourage a neutral stance? Or stand back and let it emerge, our usual mode, which is much more fun.
‘Jesus was a boy. Jesus died for us. God is a boy’. He seems to think think that will be an end to the chanting, and takes another fork full of food.
‘Mary’ she says. ‘Mary’s a girl’.
‘Mary?’ he asks with an are you kidding me look about his raised brow.
‘Sure she didn’t even know who the father was’. Oh dear. I sweep in distracting them with ‘more 7up anyone?’. The silly game dissipates for now, but it plays on societally as it always has. As parents and guides to our children it’s incumbent upon us to demonstrate an appreciation of both sexes, and to hurl a few grenades at the sugar & spice /slugs & snails stereotypes when possible. I take a slurp of my coffee and wonder how he’s getting on downstairs with the new whisk. Perhaps he’ll show me how to use it some day.