I recently had a male friend tell me “I would want daughters instead of sons so I could teach them to be strong and self sufficient”.
This rubbed me the wrong way and came off as misogynistic immediately, but I didn’t fully realize why right away. Maybe because we’d just been talking about which animal we’d most like to be and I was thinking about otters.
The response felt off to me, but “sneaky misogyny” can be difficult to detect. It was a backhanded compliment from someone in an entitled group. In a culture with so much institutionalized and internalized sexism, a kind remark full of ingrained misogyny can be harder to detect. I doubt my friend fully realizes why this would make me feel so uncomfortable, as I didn’t fully realize it myself right away. Otters are too slippery to be trapped by gender norms!
After some reflection, here are the issues with this statement:
Implying that you don’t have to teach sons to be strong and self sufficient
If you would rather have daughters instead of sons because you want to teach them to be strong and self sufficient, you obviously perceive a difference between either how strong and self sufficient men and women are inherently. This might imply men do not need this education, therefore you want to have daughters so you DO have someone to teach to be strong and self sufficient.
You don’t have to teach females to be strong any more than you have to teach males to be strong. Women are inherently strong and capable of self sufficiency, just the same as men. As I do not have to remind anyone who has tried maintaining a serious relationship with a male, strength and self sufficiency are not necessarily inherent, constant male traits.
Implying that men are better than women
Assuming women must be taught to be strong and self sufficient puts the blame on the daughters for being female and, thus, weaker and less self sufficient. If one assumes these are characteristics a male already has, but a female must be taught, you are basically saying you want to make your daughter more like a son. Pretty much all parents, even the crap ones, want their children to be good (whatever that means to them); to be successful, rich, healthy, smart, “not like my mother”, valuable. If a parent wants a child to be more “like a man”, it means the parent sees being a male as being more “good” and more valuable instead of viewing certain characteristics as more beneficial. If someone valued a trait, they would want to teach it to all children equally.
Implying that women need a strong man to learn from
In this scenario, a male is playing hero to his female children because of an ingrained notion that they need his help in this arena more than a male child would. It is condescending. I don’t think I really need to go on about this one.
Implying that the impetus is on women to deal with cultural sexism
Wanting to have daughters over sons because you want to teach them to be strong and self sufficient might imply that there is such a huge difference in teaching these traits to men and women that it is the top reason you would choose to have one gender over the other.
Unfortunately, we live in a sexist culture that harms both women and men, and it IS valuable to teach all children about the sexist pressures, assumptions and expectations of both men and women and how they are harmful. It is valuable to teach all children the hurdles that they and their peers – male and female – will have to face, how to successfully navigate their world without prejudice, and how to begin to better the culture.
To acknowledge that one believes that women less frequently or less inherently exhibit strength and self sufficiency and simultaneous believe that the best way to help your female children with this is to teach THEM how to be different and not to seek a remedy to the source of the problem places the blame on the children. If one believes there is a clear difference and also identifies it as a problem, one could just as easily say they would prefer to have sons in order to teach them how to be more supportive, nurturing and encouraging of strong, self-sufficient women. To focus on teaching women to overcome a situation in which the cards are stacked against them is to further the ingrained sexism of the culture. “It’s your fault you’re female, it means you are weaker, but I can help you.” The white, hetero, cis, straight, able-bodied, upper class, educated male to the rescue, because everyone else obviously just didn’t work hard enough or have the right upbringing. If this kind of thinking doesn’t make you side-eye so hard that you need to call your optometrist, you’re probably comatose.
We need to correctly place the blame on the socialization and cultural environment that oppresses women and harms both genders. Parents can teach a human child of either gender how to navigate our current culture in a way that benefits and supports everyone and changes it from the inside for the better.