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An Amusing and Ultimately Frustrating Wrinkle in Gender-Neutral Parenting

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | October 9, 2013 | Comments ()


It is not an uncommon practice in the 21st century for the left-leaning, hippie parents among us to raise our children in a gender-neutral environment. If our daughters want to play with trucks and spit in the grass during T-ball practice, that’s cool with us. If our son wants to play with dolls or wear a dress, bully for him. Our daughters will be spared of the princess culture, and our son will not be compelled to play with Transformers, unless of course he wants to.

Our oldest son, who is six, doesn’t yet really even appreciate the physical differences between a boy and a girl, while historical inequalities are completely lost on him, as we found out this week when my wife and I were confronted with a little wrinkle in gender-neutral parenting.

It began last week, when our first grader came home from school complaining that a female classmate had called him “mean,” which had hurt his feelings. We tried to get to the bottom of it, but typical of first graders, our son didn’t want to talk about it. Despite the fact that he had insisted that he had done nothing wrong, my assumption was that he may have had done something to warrant the insult, either through obliviousness or inadvertent insensitivity.

A few days later, however, we finally pulled the story out of him. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Why do you think she called you ‘mean’?

D: I dunno. Because I went first.

Me: What do you mean, you went first?

D: Well, see, we were playing a game in the gym, and we were waiting our turn, and H. said, ‘Ladies first,’ and I went ahead anyway, and that’s why H. said that I was mean. Why should girls go first?

Me: Oh. Well … ummm.

Perhaps you can see the instant conundrum here. How do we explain to our gender-neutral son that simple manners often dictate that we allow girls to go first? Our first thought, of course, was the truth: That the custom is borne out of traditional belief that women were the fairer sex. However, preventing the idea that women need special protection because of their inability to fend themselves would open a huge can of worms that our six year old wasn’t old enough to comprehend. More importantly, it might put the idea into his head that women do need this, and that’s something we feel ambivalent about communicating.

Me: Well, D, sometimes letting girls go first is just the polite thing to do.

D: Why is it polite?

Me: It just is

D: That doesn’t make any sense.

That tactic having failed because our son refused to settle for the it just is argument, we attempted a version of the truth.

Me: Well, it’s tradition, son. It’s something that we’ve always done. We let women go first.

D: That’s not a good tradition.

Me: Well …

D: It’s not fair, Daddy. Why should girls always get to go first? I don’t like that, because it makes me feel like you think that girls are better than boys.

Me: Well, no. Not at all! It’s just something we do, because it’s tradition.

D: We should change that tradition, Daddy.

Me: I don’t know about that, son. It’s good manners to let girls go first.

D: I don’t understand why it is good manners to have a tradition that makes boys feel sad.

And there’s both the kicker: There’s a custom in place in our country designed to show respect for women. It’s a gentlemanly gesture allow women to go first, or to give your seat up for a woman, or to hold the door open for a woman, and it’s a custom that I feel obligated to because I am from the South and as outdated as it might be, goddamnit, that’s just what we do. It is what is expected from us and for some men, what we expect from ourselves.

However, we can hardly ask our son to go against societal pressure to allow girls to go first if it means that other kids are going to continue to call him “mean.” On the other hand, why should we ask him to abide by a tradition that makes “boys feel sad” and leaves boys with the impression that girls are better than they are?

My wife and I were flummoxed and ultimately evasive when it came down to how to steer our son into the right direction. He’s damned if he does, and damned if he doesn’t. As parents, we’re equally damned. We can maintain our gender neutrality, and kids will continue to hurt his feelings by calling him “mean,” or we either express to him that the tradition was borne out of a belief that women were the fairer, i.e., lesser, sex, so he will think women are inferior, or we let him continue believing that women get to go first because they are better.

It’s a no-win situation.

“Boys and girls are the same, son, except when it comes to going first, I guess.”

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • Limbo

    Got one hell of an inversion story for you. I was once in a Lake Charles Casino, standing quite a distance away from a door that had a man briefly struggling with his bags trying to get in the door with his wife. She begrudgingly helped him, but not after glaring at me and muttering "fucking bitch" because I didn't jump to rescue a man who would've probably rejected my help anyway. She was literally standing right there. Not a big fan of the gumbo state. And I'm from Houston, which is practically the New York of the south, in terms of diversity, liberals, and lack of southern charm.

  • Limbo

    Wanna really fuck with a man's mind ladies? Open a door for THEM once in awhile. Once they get past the confusion the smiles I get are so sweet and real that I have hope for men after all. Then you get the idiots who just trounce through saying nothing. But whatever.

  • Corissa

    You should post this question on Gender Neutral Parenting's facebook page. I think you would get some much better and more gender neutral responses. In fact, I'm going to post it there. https://www.facebook.com/pages...

  • Jim

    I'd have sold it as someone choosing the order. Surely his teacher(s) must say, from time to time, "OK we're going to line up in alphabetical order" or "Let's line up from shortest to tallest." This helps him see our differences allow us to be grouped in sets bigger than him and everyone else and that one group isn't necessarily better than the other.

    I'd tell him, the next time it's play time in the gym, he should suggest taking turns by hair colour or eye colour. "Blue eyes go first!"

  • I think it's just as nice for girls to hold doors open for boys (and for women to do the same for men), based on who goes first. It's courteous to do this for other people. Ditto with the ancient ritual of elevators and sidewalks arrangements. Ladies First etc isn't polite - it's patronizing.

    In the case described in the post, the teacher should alternate which groups or individuals go first. Problem solved.

  • TheEmpress

    I feel like I'm taking crazy pills reading some of these comments. How can you be offended by someone holding the door for you. I hold the door for people all the time, it's a matter of politeness. But if my hands are full and some dude just walks through the door before me, you can bet I'm judging his mother for not raising him right.

    It's manners. It's etiquette. If you think that's passe, you're probably the kind of person who thinks it's fine to throw your own bridal/baby shower, and in that case, you and I just can't be friends.

  • Lucia

    Having to be polite to girls is obviously the compensation for them getting paid less later in life! Or isn't it? That's what mom told me :D

  • K1i1

    What about telling him that it's just polite to let someone go ahead of you, regardless of gender? Manners can extend to both girls and boys.

  • I have almost no experience with children beyond being annoyed at them for throwing temper tantrums in public places, but I can tell you how my father handled similar 'why does __" questions. "Because that's the way world works, boy, now go get me another beer. And while you're in there, see if your mother wants any help with dinner."

  • Mrs.P

    The most common rule in my house is 'who ever gets to the door first and isn't holding too much stuff holds it for the rest'. I am a Southern gal, and you are absolutely correct that there are just certain things that are expected. I am raising my son to treat everyone with kindness and respect, and to be observant enough to anticipate the needs of those around him (this part isn't working yet). I am raising my daughters the same way. I want my son to be kind and respectful toward women especially, because I want my daughters to grow up expecting the important men in their lives to treat them in a respectful manner. This is how he should also treat his future mate. I want my daughters to be kind and respectful for similar reasons. One of my biggest pet peeves is a rude and disrespectful person who expects everyone else to be kind and respectful. Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now...

  • I happen to love it when men are nice enough to hold the door open for me. I had an ex from the South who got all twitchy if I did not let him do the chivalrous stuff (he took it to extremes, insisting on walking on a certain side of me if we were on the sidewalk, for example). Sure, it was a little weird at first, but here's the thing that I realized: so many men treat women like shit, that the ones that have some manners truly stand out. Maybe that's archaic of me to say, that I like to be treated nicely and appreciate it when men open the door for me, but frankly, it's a nice change of pace from chasing me down the street to hit on me. [Which, yes, has happened as recently as this week. Fellas: just don't do it.]

    As for how to talk to your son...that, I'm not sure about. I'll think on it.

  • CooperCopperCapper

    Without wanting to sound like the character from the Curb Your Enthusiasm "you're a self loathing Jew!" episode, someone has a Southern white male guilty mindset don't they?

    I think your 'gender neutral' teaching is doing your son a disservice.
    I am surprised you don't just teach him to stick his fingers in his ears , close his eyes and yell "nanananananana" and that way your liberal utopia will override the societal manifestations that result from the obvious general differences between the sexes! Those manifestations are not all perfect, nor logical, nor above change, but trying to pretend they don't exist is an exercise in wishful thinking that will (and has already) confused your child.

    You seem to think that if you a acknowledge a difference between the sexes you are somehow acknowledging a pecking order. Perhaps it should be your own prejudices you should be examining rather than society's?

    This is a classic case of woolly-liberal ideology whereby a good intentioned principle - 'we are all equal', becomes in practice a pig-headed blindness to the extraordinary, delightful differences that exist as a result of sex, race, age etc and the implications that brings.

  • e jerry powell

    I let everybody else go first. I'm gender-neutral that way.

  • Maddy

    Your son is adorable. Because I'm sure you really needed my opinion.

  • Abby

    My husband and I are feminists with a two-year-old girl, and so yes, we'd like for her to act in and live amongst people who are more attuned to gender equality than our generation. Same with wanting her and her peers to be less racist than ours, etc. etc.

    But it's absolutely cruel to tell kids only what your ideals are (women & men are totally equal on the whole in all ways!) without also telling them how things currently are, including the fact that they'll come across people who weren't raised with the same ideals.

    To tell your son that it's totally fine for him to play with a doll -- because you want to live in a world where he would never get made fun of for that -- but not telling him that there will be other children who won't understand and will potentially make fun of him... that's not productive.

    They're kids and still learning, and their behavior now is far from who they'll be as adults (hopefully!). So I might, as many have advised here, either 1) tell him that he can be friends with the girl and just let her go, or take the stand and have her dislike him or 2) explain to him that you agree with his ideal, but that many other people that he'll encounter in life don't, and sometimes we have to evaluate whether engaging someone on what they believe is worth it or not in the situation. Now that I read over that, I think 1 & 2 are the same message, just with different words -- I'd adjust according to your kid's maturity level.

    I've encountered plenty of racism and sexism in my life -- sometimes I've felt it's worthwhile to engage the person, whether to educate, embarrass, or just because I'm damned angry about it. Sometimes, I just need to get where I'm going, and if that dude wants to hold open the door for me, I go through it and get over it. We live in the world we live in -- even as we try to actively improve the future, we can't ignore the present.

  • Pippa Laughingstock

    Be honest. Use big words and everything. Kids are capable of grasping complexity, and he's probably already picked up on other little gender differences already (how many male teachers has he had, for instance, versus women?). I teach ESL and because most of my kids are planning to go to school in America I tackle race and gender in class all the time. I've had kids debate the existence of God in argumentative writing and talked frankly about the history of the n-word. But honestly, I was too scared to bring up gay rights because most countries are not on our side and it seems like a losing battle. But then I had the luck of having an anthropology professor in class and asked him to teach an anthropology class as speaking practice, and he dove right the hell in, comparing acceptance of homosexuality in America to acceptance of polygamy in Saudi Arabia. It was amazing-- I know in America we hate it when that comparison is made, but it was wondrous on context. How would you, Saudi male, feel if someone called your family and mothers illegitimate? And then he asked the Thai students to talk about their perspective, and they explained that it was more accepted than in America, that transgender identity is freely allowed to develop from young ages. Some of the Latinos and Saudis were taken aback, but they were like, family is family, and there might be disappointment but there's almost always acceptance. It was amazing. No one hid their views (not everyone was convinced, but their hearts seemed to open up a bit), but everyone was respectful. If brainwashed grownups are capable of that, your kid definitely is.

  • susie derkins

    Say that it is polite to let *others* go first, to hold the doors to let others pass, etc. And if a girl says "ladies first", you could teach him to say: "no, *you* first, then next time, *I* go first". It doesn't have to be about deference to gender, it can be about deference and respect to our fellow human beings.

  • Frankly

    This is where having girls, for me, is easier, because I have no problem repeating ad nauseum, "Don't take any shit from anyone! Kick ass as hard as you can every day!" Because that's all going to get smushed down in the world to a less than reasonable level of shit taking and ass kicking I can afford to be hyperbolic. Of course, I would also never tell my girls to pull "ladies first," either. (I give them actual strategies and tactics, too, but I think it would be harder for me to have boys in these scenarios. Just me talking about me.)

  • stella

    God im glad I dont have kids. It sounds super hard.

  • Troy

    I have six year old boy girl twins and boy are these issues prevalent and complicated. How about we just always offer to let the person we are standing next to go first? Boy or girl? You step up to whatever you are doing and say to the person next or behind you "would you like to go ahead?" Same with doors - the first person that gets to the door holds it open for whomever is nearby. That is not a gender thing. I try to think of these as kindness or politeness issues. When the three of us are grocery shopping and we have our usual cart filled with food for the family and someone gets in line behind us with their groceries in a little basket, I always ask them to go ahead of us. I hope it is teaching them to notice the people around them and that it is OK to wait and let others go first.
    Good luck though and keep trying.

  • Miss Twiggley

    My sweet and sunny little boy suddenly hated second grade and girls. It turned out that his teacher was big on "ladies first," to the point it made the boys into second class citizens, and created a gender antipathy where none previously existed. We made a decision after that to try to reinforce gender-neutral courtesies: the first person to the door holds it for everyone after. Give up your seat on the bus to a grownup with little kids, or anyone who looks tired or unsteady on their feet. (And we've had several calls of "I'm the most tired so I'm staying in my seat," which is fair). Four years later that is still working much better.

  • BWeaves

    Actually, I thought "Ladies First" applied to getting into life boats when your ship was sinking. I really do not think "waiting in line" really applies to "Ladies First." That's just cutting in line. So if that was the case with Dustin's son, then I agree. It's not fair.

  • And as a preschool teacher, this is where I present my students with a choice:
    1. You can go first, knowing that she will call you mean. She might not be your friend for a little while.
    2. You can let her go first, so she won't call you mean. You will feel sad and that it's unfair, but she will still be your friend.

    Then I let them decide and carry on with whichever they choose. Each of the kids in my class ran up against this type of decision, and each made an individual choice. Some valued their friends, some felt a friend who doesn't treat you fairly isn't much of a friend at all. They were, however, happy because they felt they had some control over the situation and they did not whine about the outcome because they had already chosen it.

  • Kate at June

    Your son is right. We should change the tradition.

  • phofascinating

    Oof, that's a hard one to sort out. As a late twentysomething girl I get to see the effects that (shoddy) gender neutral parenting of young men has created in my dating and social life. I don't want to go into the some of the ugly things men have tried to get away with on dates in the name of "keeping it equal" because we'll be here all day.
    But the glaring example I've seen is standing in line for 20 min trying to get a drink at a packed bar. I get that "Can I buy you a drink?" is long dead (thankfully), and that "Ladies first" is pretty much over. But more times than I care to count, I have had large dudes cut in front of me just because they saw the opportunity. So looks like, "No, please, you were here first" is going the way of the dodo as well. If you can just teach your son some general respect for other human beings, the women he meets later will greatly appreciate it.

  • Josh

    A gender neutral response would be to teach your kid to hold doors open for anyone, or to allow anyone to go first, but not in that awkward "they are 50 yards away and I am holding the door" way. Girls are not better than boys or vice versa, but it is polite to hold doors, for anyone, or to allow anyone to go first.

  • Xander

    Really? At six I was already quite interested in girls. At 7 I had a beyond huge crush on my English teacher(who looked like Anna Kendrick only with bigger breasts). Most of the time I couldn't stop staring at her. Hmm I guess people get pervy at different ages

  • Jezzer

    I am almost afraid to ask how old you are to suddenly be having this "other people are different" epiphany.

    Sorry about your teacher being a scary bird-woman, though. :(

  • Xander

    I can't remember ever not feeling "that other people" are different in my conscious life

  • competitivenonfiction

    I'm a little surprised that this is such a big deal, but I suppose in the South it is. Isn't it impolite for a girl or a woman to say "ladies first" and then insist on going first? I mean, isn't it polite to extend manners, but impolite to demand them? I'd be pretty embarrassed if my daughter behaved like that (I'm not suggesting that you jump in and say something to the parents).

  • Slash

    Yes, it is impolite. The little girl probably doesn't know that, but demanding to go in front of somebody "because I'm a girl" is the rude part, not the little boy not wanting her to go first. She's going to get a rude awakening (probably sooner rather than later, and more "mean" than she got in this case) when she encounters somebody who doesn't care about the "ladies first" thing.

    When you're in a line, you wait your turn, regardless of gender. That's it. It can be that simple, if people would let it be.

  • competitivenonfiction

    On a funny note, I tried this on my brother once and got pushed down a slide.

  • delle

    I appreciate this article and the comments made because it got me thinking about how we're in this strange, sometimes unpleasant and often uncertain time where we're inbetween shifting societal norms.

    When it comes to issues like discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, etc., we often say "We need to teach our kids that blah blah blah"...that we should respect people regardless of gender, that we are all equal and so on. It's easy to say that (and I make such statements often), but not a very easy thing to actually go ahead and do. People can complain about societal conditions without ever really understanding what it takes to actually bring about change, and the growing pains that come with it.

    I don't have kids and don't interact with them through my job or immediate family. I just want to say hats off to everyone who has children or interacts with them on a daily basis and is making an effort to teach new generations to live by better ideals; I am more appreciative now of the difficulties that come with trying to raise children to be decent, healthy-minded people. It's a tough job and thank you for doing it!

  • Frank Turk

    You can't have it both ways. Sorry.

  • Tony

    'fairer sex' doesn't necessarily mean 'lesser sex', just as 'go first' doesn't necessarily mean 'better'. You and your son are both assigning arbitrary (and opposite, which is how I know they were arbitrary) values to the tradition in question. There may be value in pointing out the arbitrariness of this to your son.

    I have a 6 year old right now, and we are going through some of the same things with him... we have decided that as much honesty as he can handle is the best way to go here.

  • tracey8051

    I don't understand raising kids to be gender neutral. Boys and girls are different, and it has nothing to do with what kind of toys they want to play with. I was a tom boy and no one ever made me feel weird about that. But the fact is, girls aren't better than boys, but they are different. I guess I just don't get why parents don't seem to want kids to realize this.

  • competitivenonfiction

    I disagree. I've got a 10 month old and I find it hilarious how much people like to attribute things to boys and girls already (almost always the parents of boys who want to talk about how much harder boys are.) Really, parents of boys have to deal with more pee to the eyes than girls, but I've yet to see any scientific evidence that boys at this age are rowdier than girls the same age. No, I don't care that your son is harder than your daughter because I know lots of people who would say the opposite.

    Sure, there may be differences, but I'm not sure we need to give kids those differences. Can't we let them figure what being a boy or a girl means to them? I mean, all the camping and woodworking (not to mention working in a slightly male dominated field) I do, will never make me masculine or a man. Just like knitting and baking aren't really what makes me a woman. Deep down, it's that I feel like a woman every single day. It's who I am, not what I so. And I want my daughter and my nephews to have the space to define who they are.

  • DeltaJuliet

    OK, so he's what, 6 years old? The poor teacher was probably just trying to get the kids in line without too much of a hassle. When I was in school, it was alphabetical order (which always sucked because I was at the end) or by height (which could be good or bad, but either way I was short so....)
    This situation sounds like a mole hill/mountain sort of thing.

  • I talk to people from all walks of life and all over the country who are at a tough point in their life on a daily basis. I grew up in the South and use "ma'am" and "sir" without even thinking about it, along with general courtesies like "how are you today?" or "please" or "thank you." One of my co-workers is from the mid-west and very matter of fact on the phone, very competent and straight forward, but without any of the fluff that is dictated by what is considered good Southern manners. I get compliments for being kind and helpful but also a lot of "You're accent is SO Southern!" comments. (For the record it isn't, it's really more a comment on my speech patterns.) My co-worker will once in awhile get a complaint because of perceived rudeness, and never a compliment. She isn't rude, she just doesn't handle conversation according to local convention. On the other hand, I wonder if people who aren't from here are offended by the ma'am/sir thing, or if they regard the "how are you today?" as un-genuine. (And, it is genuine - I really am interested in how they're doing, but how do you convey that to someone you're having a conversation with about an obituary without it seeming fake?)

    As for the boy/girl thing, I really don't have a satisfactory answer. I just tell the kids I know to be nice to everyone.

  • DeltaJuliet

    Reading these comments make me feel like I live on a different planet than everyone else. Do we NEED to question why when people actually do something thoughtful? I can tell you that I have doors let go before I can grab them way more often that they are held open. I was on crutches for awhile and still half the people I came in contact with wouldn't hold a door. I've held a door while 4, 5, 6 different people walk thru it, none of them attempting to hold the door themselves, and none of them saying thank you. If I am fortunate enough to come across someone who has some manners and holds a door I sure as shit don't care if they are doing it because I'm a woman or not.

  • Alice

    It's a fallacy to think that I am trying to have my cake and eat it, too.

    I am not saying, hey guys, we're completely equal and I also want tons of special treatment. Every morning, I get up, do my hair, slap on a face of makeup, put on 3" heels and a dress to go to work. My husband has to decide whether he's going to shave his face. We are not equal!

    So let me in the elevator first, because these shoes are frigging killing me. Or, don't! I will appreciate it if you show that courtesy, but I'm not going to cry myself to sleep about it, should you choose not to.

    Sidebar: I will hold the door open for you, too, dude. If I get there first.

  • foolsage

    Anyone can have their cake and eat it.

    Eating it, and still having it; that's the trick. Almost everyone gets that saying logically backwards. ;)

  • BobbFrapples

    Teach your son to politely offer boy or girl to go first might be the way to go.
    Being equal means that politeness can go both ways. If I, a woman, reach the door first, I hold it open for who ever is behind me, male or female. Nothing irks me more than to have my polite offer rebuffed by a man saying, "Ladies First," and refusing to enter the door I'm holding open.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    You just give those jerks a Judi Dench "too late, too late!" and make them move along.

  • chanohack

    I HAAAAAATE that. God. I opened the door my damn self so obviously I'm capable of doing it, so what's the point in refusing to go through? And saying, "That's just the way I was raised" or "That's how my mom taught me" doesn't make it any less stupid.

  • BWeaves

    I hold the door open for anyone coming right behind me. Why not? It doesn't push me back in line or anything. Just seems like a nice thing to do. And I'm a woman.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Isn't one of the rules of manners that we never think anyone else lives up to our standards? Manners are inherently idiosyncratic, creating an impossible yardstick.

  • Slash

    Also, what about standing in line (which appears to be what was going on here at the school)? You wait your turn. That's the guideline that trumps "ladies first." If "ladies first" applied in the case of standing in line, every time a female joined the line, all the males would urge her to go ahead of them, making it stupid and awkward for everybody.

    "Ladies first" is for selfish bitches who don't want to wait their turn. And there are a lot of them.

    The door opening thing is different in that it usually doesn't impose a burden on other people.

  • bonnie

    That's a pickle. My husband and I had this talk when we were dating. I told him I did not expect the door to be opened for me, nor did I expect special privileges as a girl. I find it offensive when young women are all "Feminist! Equality!" and then expect the able-bodied man to carry the smallest of things because "that's his job." It's rude, and it's taking advantage of his generosity and politeness. So I make a point to open doors for people of both sexes and carry my weight when possible.

  • PissBoy

    Gender Neutrality is the dumbest fucking thing I have ever heard of when rasing a child, and I'm sure there will be oodles of people flinging knee-jerk bile in my direction but here goes...
    Until you stop referring to your child as a son, or daughter, or whatever you fail at gender neutrality. Good luck with your gender neutral child who, if this is done successfully, will think that women are equal with men on all fronts, including physically. So when a little boy goes off and shoulder tackles a girl into the dirt because "we're all equal and you are not a special or unique snowflake" tell that little shitting girl to stop crying and rub some dirt on it because the boy was only treating her as an equal. I realize this is hyperbole, but that's what I do, so fuck off. For that matter, if we're all equal, why was Courtney Enlow still prattling on about Chris Brown. He's just some person who punched another person in the face because that person was annoying him...
    Gender neutrality is moronic. How fucking far are we as an over-pussified, over-sensative, hyper-offended, society going to take it? You would have to change the entire lexicon to come even close. You know why princes are called princes and not princesses?? Because princes are boys! ::GASP!::
    And by the by, you'd better stop calling your son a son and just refer to him from this point on as 'child', 'spawn', 'offspring', 'festering, snot flinging, crotch bomb'. Because by calling him 'son', uh-oh, you might acccidentally be teaching him that he is, in fact, a boy. How fucking far will this shit be taken? God dammit...I'm just going to stop here because no matter how much of a point I try to make and how much I call this ridiculous there's just going to be some shitty retort by someone who's soooo fucking offended by my 'caveman' mentality. Probably some white person with dreadlocks. Never trust a white person with dreadlocks. They know nothing of actual responsibility.

  • PissBoy

    ...and fuck yeah I upvoted myself. Because this is my first comment in like MONTHS and I have NO IDEA what upvoting or this disqus shit is. Is that the same as liking on Facebook? Do the kids even facebook anymore? Where's my wooden teeth????

  • latvianluck

    I upvoted you too because I kinda agree with you...holy shit!

    I am raising 2 boys in Virginia (is that still considered "South"?). They are polite and hold doors and carry stuff for whoever looks like they could use the help regardless of gender, age, or physical ability.

    We are still working on their perceptions of gender roles in the home in regards to household duties: I do ALL of the cooking, but Dad does all of the laundry and most of the cleaning. They know better by now, however, that Mom's wrath is easily invoked with the phrase "shouldn't you be cooking something right about now?". My tirade often consists of the point that their grandfather was the cook when I was growing up...and their grandmother didn't work outside the home!

    Then I have them help with dinner, clear the table, and load the dishwasher. Just to keep them honest...and capable of living on their own when the time comes.

  • foolsage

    Upvoting is kind of like "liking" something, yes.

    As for your teeth, did you check the glass at your bedside?

  • Yossarian

    You realize it's more of a guiding principle to promote equality and not an absolute mandate to eradicate any hint at classification or distinction, right? At least as practiced by the good, reasonable parents having this conversation. I'm not going to argue at the extremes.

    So when my daughter wants pink things that's fine, but I don't go out of my way to force them upon her. And when she encounters gender stereotyping in the wild which she inevitably does I try to provide context and say that "some people think those are girl toys and boy toys but I think we can play with anything that looks fun. Does that look like fun to you?"

    The world isn't going to be perfectly gender neutral and so my parenting has to be realistic but as a parent I want my daughter to understand- even at a young age- that when she encounters arbitrary restrictions and classifications based on gender that she is free to disregard them. That friends and even grown ups can have their own ideas about what she might like to do but that she is empowered to transcend them. That she may make assumptions about other people from their gender but don't be too surprised if they surprise you because people aren't defined by or limited by gender.

  • Mrs. Julien

    I no longer think it is fair to receive any special "ladies first" treatment. If I want equality, I can give up expecting to be let off the elevator first. Now if someone is elderly or outranks me (in a work context), I'm pretty relentless in wanting them to go first.

    ETA: Plus what Audiosuede said.

  • foolsage

    I don't like chivalry, because I think it's impossible to completely separate it from misogyny. I hold the door for everyone, regardless of their age or sex.

  • PissBoy

    So you trade in sexism for ageism....

  • Jezzer

    Many elderly come with physical disadvantages, such as tiring out completely from physical tasks that we younger people take for granted. Something as mundane as a held door might be much more helpful than you could imagine.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Elderly people, such as the Dowager Julien, sometimes move more slowly and can be rushed by inconsiderately. So yes, they've earned a little extra politeness.

  • PissBoy

    I get you. I do the same thing and feel the same way. I'm just stirring the shit. But some asshole woll always be around, ESPECIALLY nowadays, to rebutt solely for the purpose of being contrarian.

  • bonnie

    I didn't read it as ageism, but rather a sort of inherent respect for one's betters or elders that transcends gender. But then again, I'm the woman who still calls everyone Mr. and Mrs. or Ms., and I practically curtsied every time I saw my husband's boss and his wife, both of whom were in their 80s.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Yes, the word "betters" is problematic, but since it is a work context le mot juste is hard to come by.

  • Wednesday

    You tell your little boy that he's absolutely right in seeing that it's not fair, but it's also unfair to the girls because it began when girls were supposed to be weaker than boys and needed protection, and now we know they're not. And that one day, everyone will recognize that you help those who need it but don't give special privileges to anyone just because of how they were born.

  • bat

    I agree with this. Just tell him the truth. He'll find out eventually anyway.

  • foolsage

    ^ This. I think it's best to give him as much of the big picture as you can, at his age, because the truth is a pretty good explanation in this case.

    People used to think women needed protection, so chivalry became the basis for how women are treated. People believe this less and less as time passes (and we really know that woman are just as good as men), but traditions don't end quickly. So it's nice to let them go first, because it makes them feel special, and you get to be the nice guy who treats others with respect. But don't use the bad parts of that tradition (i.e. misogyny).

  • Slash

    I'm a female, and I don't agree with "ladies first." It doesn't make any fucking sense. Now, if somebody wants to go along with it, fine, whatever, but I don't insist on it. If there's no good reason for the lady to go first, it just makes things more difficult (elevator egress, for example).

  • Sara_Tonin00

    Aside from the many excellent suggestions that letting anyone else go first is good manners, you can have your son turn it into a game - "people in red shirts go first!" "blonde people go first!" "people wearing sneakers go first!"

    i do think that it's a cute story with meaning to tell a teacher in a conference or on back to school night. See how the teacher responds.

    (adorable story, btw)

  • BWeaves

    Upon trying to pass through the same doorway at the same time Booth Luce let Parker through first:

    Clare Boothe Luce, "Age before beauty."

    Dorothy Parker, "Pearls before swine."

  • BWeaves

    The Five Doctors (Doctor Who 25th anniversary special):

    Sarah Jane and The Doctor (Jon Pertwee) climb to the top of Rassilon's Tomb to enter through a door at the top of the tower:

    The Doctor says to Sarah Jane, "Hum, looks dangerous. Ladies first!"

    I know Pertwee was a comedian, but I'm not sure he was trying to be funny. I think he really thought of HIS Doctor as being a gentleman.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    I feel like the Marx Bros. did a similar riff?

  • Muscleman

    Dude, he's a child. I promise he'll get over it.
    And just who is miss fancy pants that she feels her bloomers don't stink?
    She probably sees her entitled mother doing the same thing at home.
    Take you turn boy and she'll just get over it or,,,,,,,, she won't.

  • Yossarian

    I say don't rob the kid of his autonomy. Let it be his call. There's no reason that he has to let girls go first. And it's probably confusing for the little guy because it's not like it's a universal rule. It's not like all the girls line up for lunch first, or go to recess first, or get first dibs on art supplies. It's arbitrary as to when it gets invoked, and that inconsistency is going to confuse the lad.

    Like several people below point out, you can only really sell it as "it's the nice thing to do." But he should know it's optional, it's his choice if he feels like being deferential. If he feels like doing something nice. If the girl in question is a meanie just trying to cut in line let him know that he can make his own call.

    But stress the idea that it's nice to be nice. It's nice to let people go first. It can be even more rewarding than going first yourself. If someone asks for a favor, regardless of gender, it's nice to do it if you can. If they couch their request in an appeal to antiquated gender roles it makes no real difference. It's still a request. His to respond to as he wants.

  • Jezzer

    Or, you know, recognize that it's not his call, it's his teacher's call. Because he doesn't have "autonomy" at school. Because he's a freaking kid.

  • Yossarian

    Dostoevsky once wrote: “If God did not exist, everything would be permitted”; and that, for existentialism, is the starting point. Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or outside himself. He discovers forthwith, that he is without excuse. For if indeed existence precedes essence, one will never be able to explain one’s action by reference to a given and specific human nature; in other words, there is no determinism – man is free, man is freedom. Nor, on the other hand, if God does not exist, are we provided with any values or commands that could legitimise our behaviour. Thus we have neither behind us, nor before us in a luminous realm of values, any means of justification or excuse. – We are left alone, without excuse. That is what I mean when I say that man is condemned to be free. Condemned, because he did not create himself, yet is nevertheless at liberty, and from the moment that he is thrown into this world he is responsible for everything he does.

    - JeanPaul Sarte

  • Jezzer

    "Jesus, look what happens when you give these little shits autonomy."

    - Rescue Boat Captain, Lord of the Flies

  • KitCatTurner

    My kids 4 boys and 1 girl choose what toys they want and how they want to dress. The boys tend to still want 'boy' clothing and my girl swears she is a princess. I would not mind having a tomboy or a son who liked girl toys. They just decided because of the kids that surround them that they want to dress and behave the way they do. I did run into quite a difficult situation though when a girl on the playground kept punching my middle son and he pushed her down. I honestly saw no problem with this. He did not punch her back but he did push her down and she started crying. I had to explain to him that even though it was not fair he would have a very hard time in life if he fought back against a girl. I was uncomfortable with the whole situation because I want him to be able to stand up for himself but todays society really won't let him.

  • Jezzer

    The problem is, you can gender neutral until the sun goes down at home, but society is going to do its own thang, and if you don't find a way to communicate to your child that other children and indeed the school itself might do things differently -- and that it's possible to have your own convictions AND go along to keep the peace -- you're going to be having a lot of tear-stained discussions in the future.

    Also, sidebar: it really is a tad hypocritical to have equality as a stated goal while refusing to let go of the perks that come from antiquated notions of gender roles.

  • chanohack

    The only person in this discussion demanding perks seems to be that six-year-old kindergartener. I think we can forgive her her hypocrisy, can we not?

  • Wigamer

    As parents, you are very right to instill your values in your children. The thing of it is, though, at some point you let them out into the world (school, primarily), they come into contact with others' ideas and values, and if you've raised reasonably intelligent children they're going to decide for themselves anyway.

  • Anon

    I'm also from the South, but I'm a woman, and I agree with your son. We should be equal. Respect should be given both ways. Men and women should hold doors open for each other, both should pay for dates (perhaps taking turns, or one gets the food while the other gets the drinks afterwards), and allow each other to go first. It shouldn't be any different than how we interact with people of the same gender.

    I guess I would tell my son (if I had one) that regardless of "tradition" or "ladies first", it is just polite to let someone, girl or boy, go ahead of you... and if someone (right or wrong) insists on going first, he should choose to be the better person and just let them go.

  • L.O.V.E.

    I would propose you tell him that if a classmate of either sex asks nicely to go first he let them because its a nice thing to do and he will feel better about himself for doing a good deed.
    Also, you can take it the next step and explain that if he does nice things for girls they will like him better, and he may not care about that now, "but son, trust me, one day you will." in other words, phrase it in ways that he can see the benefit for him.

  • pajiba

    But why would he care about that one day? Maybe he won't like girls, and we also have to allow for that, too. We don't want to steer him into any particular belief that one sexual orientation is better than the other.

  • L.O.V.E.

    I think that is over-thinking it. Every statement is rife with hazards if you go through every possibility.
    In the end, if he is gay what harm will come to him in the future if he lived his adolescence being nice to girls because dad said one day he will be glad he was?
    Even if he is gay it will benefit him to be nice to girls, and that's whether or not you subscribe to the stereotypical route and say gay or straight, he is going to want to have girlfriends or girl-friends.
    Or you can go the route that he isn't going to hold you to it in 10 years if he comes out gay, as based on how you're raising him I suppose it would cause a good chuckle between you two some day rather than resentment.
    Or you could simply play the odds and say there is a better than 90% chance he is straight.
    But as I noted before, you can simply have him be nice to both sexes equally.

  • AudioSuede

    Otherwise, you could also just say that being nice to other people makes them more likely to be nice to you.

  • ReX

    Dafuq? i thought the issue of benevolent sexism had been settled decades ago?

    Look, if you want to be "gender neutral", you attack those conventions. Otherwise, you are a hypocrite.


  • pajiba

    Oh, sure. WE can attack those conventions, but it seems unfair to use a six year old and his feelings as our weapon.

  • AudioSuede

    "Ladies first" is an inherently sexist idea anyway. The common practice should be that it's polite to let others go before you in whatever situation it is, as a sign of humility and respect, regardless of the gender of the other person.

  • Jezzer


  • pajiba

    Well, then you're just going to have a gaggle of kids saying, "After you." "No, insist, you first." "No, I INSIST." And then no one gets to play the gym game.

  • competitivenonfiction

    This is basically how walking through a doorway goes in Canada. Then everyone bumps into each other and says "sorry."

  • Robert

    This happened one time when I was in elementary school. I was best friends with a very kind and polite girl and we got caught in a cycle of "after you/no, after you" for a good 5 minutes before a teacher opened both doors to the school and told us to get out. In all my years of working with children, I've never seen the scenario play out again.

  • Wigamer

    I've taught elementary school--the likelihood of this is like -12%.

  • AudioSuede

    Well, you have to assume that other kids' parents aren't as good at instilling manners as you are, so inevitably, someone will start. But seriously, manners and politeness have no gender. It sounds like you're teaching your kids good lessons, and shitty traditions that treat women like dainty fragile little creatures will only be rid off with the help of good parents.

  • L.O.V.E.

    Then you have a bunch of nice, silly, playful, thoughtful kids instead of insults, pushing or crying. I'll take the over considerate kids over snot-nosed brats any day.

  • Guest

    When men hold doors open for me, or let me go first, I understand it's out of politeness, but it still bothers me. I'm a woman and therefore I'm treated differently. I don't like it even though I get it. I don't have children, but I'm all for raising kids to not think of girls as being different, better, fairer, etc. than boys, even if girls call them mean. Kids suck and are mean to each other all the time. He'll be okay.

  • Sara_Tonin00

    The only time it feels weird to me is on elevators, when an older man gestures to let me walk out first, regardless of where I am in the elevator or who the other men are. But I recognize it as a polite gesture, and just do it. For doors being held open? Since I hold doors open for guys all the time, I got no problem when one is held open for me.

  • L.O.V.E.

    The holding doors open for women practice can be traced back to Sir Ian Perv of North Bottom, who created a way for men to skeeve on women as they were coming AND going.

  • chanohack

    I fucking KNEW it.

  • Guest

    Maybe I'm just adjusting to living in the south, but it's been happening a lot lately where men hold doors open for me even when they're not going through the door. Like, they insist on it. I get that it's politeness, but it makes me aware of my gender and then the gender disparity and on and on. I hold doors open for people all the time, and there are plenty of times men hold doors open for me and it's not rife with gender inequality. But the times when it is bother me.

  • Em

    I have had this happen quite often. Now I know how to deflect it a bit. There is a certain saucy type attitude and look that just disarms the guys. It sucks to do it all the time, but it is nice to feel like an equal.

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