Like many of you, perhaps, I was raised in a patriarchy*.
What this means, it means
- Women were barred from many jobs
- Jobs women did have were often menial, relatively low-paying, or service jobs – waitressing or house-cleaning, nursing, childcare, or – for middle and upperclass women, selling real estate;
- Women were teachers, but men were principals. And vice-principals. And coaches. And policemen. And firemen. And the President. And anything that had any sliver of power attached to it at all.
- Men gave the orders, women did as they were told (“We’ll ask Daddy.” “Let’s see what your father says.”)
- Most of the books I read had male protagonists (girls were off to the side, being helpful);
- Most of the television I saw was about men and their adventures (Star Trek – Lt. Uhura was there, off to the side, answering the phone; Time Tunnel; Lost in Space – wasn’t there a mother, having the vapors?; Andy Griffith, in which Aunt Bee did the cooking and the laundry);
- Most of the movies I saw had women serving as plot points or victims
At fifteen, I first came feminism (very slowly I might add, and reluctantly, and via great struggle – like many of us, I resisted viciously any suggestion that the system I was living in might be unjust); by twenty-six I was a confirmed feminist; by the time my daughter was born, I had been a feminist so long it was in my bones.
Or so I thought.
But one day I was writing a scene in my latest novel, and, since it had to do with a character who does animation, I called my daughter in to read it, so she could check my details. She read it, she gave me some advice about a few things, and she sat thinking a bit.
“What?” I said.
“Well,” she said.
“Well. Why is this character a guy?”
I looked at my laptop screen. I looked at her.
“Almost all of your default characters are guys,” she said reasonably. “What’s up with that?”
“I’m just saying,” she said.
“You’re right,” I said.
And she was right. When a character appears in my head, or on my page, my default setting is white male heterosexual. That was I was programmed by my culture to believe is real person, and that is what shows up.
I have (somewhat successfully) managed to deprogram the white and het parts of this programming, but apparently the male part is still merrily functioning away.
(Recently Alex Dally McFarlane wrote a great post somewhat on this topic, “Post-Binary Gender in SF,” over on Tor.com; I’m linking it here mostly because it also talks about shifting your defaults, and because I love it.)
My point – and I do have one! – what does this have to do with parenting?
You reap what you sow, peeps.
I raised my kid to be a relentless, truth-seeking, truth-speaking feminist who will call me out when I am getting it wrong. She calls me out when I get it wrong.
*Conditions not subject to (much) change in most parts America / The World
(Images: Girl Has Limitations: Marianarulappa, Wikicommons; Lt. Uhura; www.Startrek.com)