What Messages are we Passing on to Children Regarding Equality?

When I was invited to give a speech again this year at the Women’s Community Impact Awards to celebrate International Women’s Day 2020 and learned the theme was “I am Generation Equality”and “EachforEqual”, my first thought was, that’s a huge subject, where do I even begin? I felt a bit daunted; I must admit!  But I thought back to when I was growing up and the expectation my parents had of me carrying out ‘women’s work.’  Doing the dishes after a meal, not very quietly I might add, whilst my dad and brothers went to watch the TV or read the newspapers.  I had a lot to say about this, and there was a lot of banging and clanging coming from the kitchen and from me every evening!

I’m very aware of the messages that get passed onto my grandchildren and from their parents and great parents too. I’m quick to amend anything that’s said that gives my grandson preferential treatment, just because he was born a boy or a comment that might make my granddaughter feel less worthy because she was born a girl.  These messages are passed down through the generations and are often ignored or taken as a joke because they are normalised within our conversations and our culture, but its important now to become more aware of these messages and when we catch ourselves giving preferential treatment because of a child’s gender, we need to stop and change the conversation.

We need to become more aware of the negative messaging around equality we are passing on to our children because it does have a very real, sinister side to it.  Treating children differently because of their gender within a family is how the culture of inequality is perpetuated throughout our society.  Consciously or subconsciously we all pass these messages on to our children and they pick them up, sometimes without question, sometimes questioning and rebelling – we hope!

In our family, we were able to debate these attitudes and behaviours and point them out and disagree with them.  Imagine what happens within a family where this negative messaging is enabled, encouraged and enforced?  What is being created?  What is being upheld?

A very dangerous, damaging and threatening home environment that seeps out into our community and into our wider society, which is then recognised and labelled as male privilege, male entitlement, maintaining the patriarchal society where men rule and women are demeaned, exploited, under-represented, publicly denounced as literally worth – less. Are valued less, paid less and are victims of the men that are out to exploit them for their own personal gain, pleasure and wealth.  If women speak up and speak out they are then blamed. They asked for it, they deserved it.  And when those women go to court to seek justice, they are not treated equally in the court system. They are victims of an unjust and unequal legal system because of under-representation and because of this, they are facing judges with outdated attitudes and behaviours that are again maintaining the culture of male privilege and male entitlement of a patriarchal society.  Women then become victims of the justice system, they receive far harsher and longer prison sentences than men for less crimes. Crimes that have been perpetrated against them for 20 years or more by their partners who are meant to love, cherish and respect them. Women who make a mistake, behave badly, stick their heads up above the parapet get splashed all over social media and newspapers who once again victim-blame and exploit them for gain – sales, notoriety, credit.

We wouldn’t want to live in a world like that would we – surely?  If there was something, we could do to prevent this from happening, we would, wouldn’t we?  All of us have family, and there are women and girls in our families who we love and adore.  Yes, they can be annoying sometimes and demanding and bossy!  But they are also nurturing, loving, caring, funny, intelligent, creative and courageous!  We want the very best for them, don’t we?  The women and girls in our family are worth it, aren’t they? They’re worth all of us changing for!

So, tomorrow morning when you wake up, please consider these words and consider what negative messages around equality you may be passing on to the children and young people living in your home. What messages about their self-worth and their sense of place in this world are you consciously or subconsciously passing on to them?  Become aware if a message you’re passing on is negative around equality and stop it in its tracks!  Turn it around into a positive towards equality. Allow discussion and safely challenge the negative beliefs towards equality that you identify within your family, because we all do it. If each of us makes a small contribution such as becoming more aware of the messages around equality we pass on to our children, we can achieve change for this and the next generation!

I’ve heard reports recently that misogyny is now the worst it’s been in many years.  Sometimes I fear that as a human race we are going backwards rather than forwards.  We need to equip our young people, boys and girls equally to have a voice, to stand up and speak out and be heard for what they believe in.  They need to be courageous, outspoken with emotional intelligence, but most of all boys and girls, women and men need to stand up together and speak out against misogyny, against discrimination, violence, abuse, exploitation, inequality, victim blaming, trolling, bullying. Together, boys and girls, men and women, our voices are stronger!

Today, I still carry out ‘women’s work’ but in a completely different context.  I wish all the young people well on their journey towards equality.