Today I went for a long run. Ten miles. (I’m training for a half marathon. Then it’s on to more half exercises.)
I did my running at the college in our town. My wife and Wolfe came over about halfway through to walk some hills. When I was done, my wife took a quick run while I took a turn pushing the little guy around in his stroller.
Everything was going fine until I turned the corner and encountered a bunch of bikes abandoned across the sidewalk. There was plenty of empty grass on either side of the path, but these boys (I could see them playing football in the adjacent field, the little buggers) had chosen to just block the pathway for every other person on campus. Since I had the stroller, it was problematic for me. So Wolfe and I just emulated one of those monster trucks, grinding right across the top of those bikes. Were the kids unhappy? Probably. But guess what? They shouldn’t have left their bikes across the sidewalk. What if it had been a disabled person in a wheelchair? Inconsiderate in the extreme.
When I made my next lap, I saw the same kids sitting in the field hockey bleachers while my wife did her running on the field. For some reason I just felt in my bones that these little snots were going to make some comment to her (maybe because I remember being a 12- or 13-year-old boy hanging out with a group of my peers with no parental supervision). I girded myself for the inevitable showdown when I would have to verbally browbeat them and tell them to go get their dads so I could defend her honor.
Then I took a mental step back. My wife is perfectly capable of taking care of herself. She manages whole classrooms full of unruly teenagers–and does a better job of it than I do. So why was I prepared to go into defense mode?
It made me think of my last post about purposeful versus accidental sexism. I like to think I’m fairly advanced in my attitude about gender roles, but I have to admit that I still have the occasional lapse. Today was just one example. (In case you were wondering, they didn’t make any comments to her, so there was no need for either my wife or me to take action.) Another example: in martial arts training, sometimes I catch myself “taking it easy” on the females. I never try to hurt any of my partners, male or female, but am I sometimes inadvertently sexist by being even less aggressive with the women? Quite possibly.
If I wanted to, I am able to go exercise (or do anything else) for five, six, or even seven hours. My wife doesn’t really have that option, at least not without adjustments, since she has to feed Wolfe or otherwise expectorate milk every couple of hours. And although my nips were pretty sore after running ten miles today, that only allows me a bit more empathy. I simply cannot ever fully appreciate what a mother goes through in this regard. The closest analogy I can make is the time I sacrificed a day off to wait for the guys to come pull up our carpet. I know, it’s a terrible analogy, and that’s my point. As a father, I will never have to run all over my workplace trying to find a private and secure place so that I can pump milk out of my body without everybody and their brother walking in on me. There are some things, open minded as I am, that I as a man will never go through. Are there situations–actual things related to one’s sex, not gender-related situations based on cultural attitudes–that women will never experience? Probably. The best example I can come up with is a prostate exam. Still, it seems to me the things women go through are harder for men to consider, probably because of those gender-related ideas in our culture.
I respect women immensely and I believe in equality for the sexes. At the same time, I am not completely immune from gender stereotypes. Add to this the fact that there are some real differences between men and women (not between genders, which can change, but between sexes), and it gets even more confusing. So what do I hope for my son? That he’ll have an open mind, realize when he’s being a chowderhead, and not be afraid to change his thoughts/actions as appropriate.
And, of course, that he’ll never leave his bike blocking the sidewalk.