Here’s hoping my boys and their sister one day get to live happily, and unstereotypically, ever after
By Tanika Davis
Mar 13, 2021 at 9:30 AM
The kids and I have been binge-watching a television series about fairytale characters who live in the real world. Under the spell of an evil queen, they don’t know they’re fictional characters and so go about their mundane, human lives, working 8:30 to 5, driving pick-up trucks and buying overpriced lattes.
Two of the characters are destined to be together — Snow White and Prince Charming — and, despite Charming being married to someone else in this non-magical town, they end up in a (very chaste) affair.
When the affair is revealed, the townspeople turn immediately on Snow White. People duck into stores to avoid her on the street. An old woman snarls in public, “You ought to be ashamed of yourself!” And someone scrawls the word “tramp” on Snow’s sensible station wagon. (Turns out it was the Evil Queen, behaving very much in character, but still, it was pretty mean.)
After the show, the kids and I discussed the way the townsfolk treated Snow White, as opposed to how they treated Prince Charming, who was equally as involved in the affair as she was. They hadn’t noticed at first that P.C. got to walk down Main Street unaccosted, or that no one avoided him in public or called him ugly names.
“Why do you think that is?” we discussed. “And do you think it’s fair?”
It was a good and healthy conversation that lasted all of maybe 10 minutes, but it kept coming back to me. My husband and I aren’t always there to have a post-episode debrief after every silly thing they watch on TV or YouTube. What are the children learning about women and stereotypes from societal cues and well-worn media tropes? What harmful ideas are already planted, waiting for the world to water?
So, in honor of Women’s History Month, I asked the boys this question, “What does your generation think about women? What do you think about women?”
After getting past their typical tweeny responses — “I dunno. They’re cool.” —the two of them started sharing what they really think.
Son No. 2: “I think that women can do anything if they put their mind to it. I think that they aren’t just meant to, like, cook and clean and be a housewife and you know, get married, and take care of the kids. They’re so much more than that. They can go on vacations and be with their friends, and not cook and clean. They don’t have to be married. You can be by yourself traveling the world with your $1,000 a week. Wait. Is that a lot of money?”
Son No. 1: “Yeah, I feel like that they can be so much more than housewives. They can pioneer the way for future women; they can start new businesses. Like, Tesla and Amazon and Facebook are run by men, but I feel like women can run, like, those big corporate companies. Or some new big company.”
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Son No. 2: “I think that women think that they need to wear make-up or be skinny and smell nice, or their bodies have to look nice, or like they have to get plastic surgery. I think that boys don’t have to wear makeup and do all this stuff to their faces, so I think that it doesn’t 100% matter about the appearance, but about what’s on the inside.”
I asked them about women they admired, women who had something “on the inside” to give the world. They named a few obvious superstars — Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris, Simone Biles and Serena Williams. But they also mentioned activist Angela Davis and actress Viola Davis and each of the teachers they’ve had in the last few years.
From that wide-ranging list of women, they told me they’ve learned that girls and women should “go out in the world and be yourself. Don’t listen to what other people say.” And that boys and men should, “treat everyone with respect, treat women with respect, don’t be abusive or manhandle anyone. Be nice.”
And so, thanks to my boys, I am hopeful that the curse of sexism, misogyny and patriarchy will one day be lifted from the land and, maybe we will all live happily, and unstereotypically, ever after.
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who works in communications at Constellation. She and her husband have twin 10-year-old sons, a 9-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her column appears monthly.