A couple of gender-related things crop up this week, which make me think about stereotypes, and what ideas children have about men and women, and their roles in society. The first involves maths.
My son, who is six and to whom I’ve been reading daily since he was born, and teaching all kinds of fascinating things and taking to museums and all of that jazz, declares that he has maths homework. I offer to help. He looks at me, stunned. “Can you do maths??!”
This is the point where I am tempted to say ‘Well son, even though I possess ovaries, and buy Grazia, and like shoes, and love George Clooney’s arse, yes, I can do maths. Actually, since you ask, I did both maths and Advanced maths at A-Level (OK, mainly because I fancied the Mediterranean pants off a Spanish guy who was doing Advanced Maths and I was trying to impress him – I failed – but what the hell…) and then I studied science at Cambridge University which is where, you know, quite clever people go, and I can add up the total of three pairs of pumps in Office in milliseconds. (The answer, incidentally, is always ‘too much’.) So yes, I can do maths.’
I am tempted, but don’t want to look like a complete tosser, so what I actually say is ‘Yes, I can. Would you like me to help you?’
He looks at me suspiciously, and lets me have a go at some Year 2 multiplication. I do very well on my six times table, and seem to pass the test.
Later, my daughter is talking about her Year 7 maths teacher, Dr Something-or-other. I’ve heard about this maths teacher a few times, and although I’ve never met Dr Something-or-other, I have a clear picture in my mind of what he looks like. Until my daughter calls him ‘She’. She? He’s a She?
I am shocked that I find this surprising. Without even thinking about it, I had assumed Dr Something-or-other was a man. A man in his, oooh, about 40s or so, who is good at maths. Like men are. Why did I assume this? Why do we often assume that anything math-y or science-y is going to be done by a man?
Things get further complicated when, for reasons I truly cannot explain, I decide to wear a short, tight skirt and boots (oh, and a top, obviously) and cook pancakes for breakfast, before school. I’m not sure which is more surprising and out of character, but I think the wearing of a short skirt has it bya whisker. When I come downstairs in my new, sexy, feminine get-up, all of my kids say, in unison, “Wow, mum! You look amazing!!” and smile at me. A lot.
And as my bizarre Martha Stewart moment is in full flow, and I’m standing there tossing perfect pancakes, in my little skirt and my pretty top, I look across at my kids and notice that they haven’t looked so happy for ages. They apparently love seeing Mummy looking all mummy-ish, and not wearing the same old jeans/jumper combo that they see every single day, while carelessly throwing Cheerios into a bowl.
And I wonder if, deep down, we don’t all have some fluffy, warm notion of a smiling, pancake-tossing, skirt-wearing mum, and a maths-doing, suit-wearing, car-mending Dad. It’s certainly not the image of women and men we’re trying to give our kids – we both cook, and both fix the car, and both paint the walls. And we both do the maths. But they seem hard-wired to expect differently, which I find pretty interesting.
Mind you, so far only one of us gets to wear the skirts, and I think that makes us by far the superior sex. Maths and skirts…? Ladies, we rock.
Have a good weekend :-))