This Women’s Day we are taking a moment to reflect on the world our daughter is growing up in. How will she be encouraged and valued? What opportunities might be limited for her because she is a girl? What factors will she be up against that might make her life harder, just for being female?
Our foray into directly addressing disparities came in 2012 when we, along with a group of dedicated male and female friends, founded Women&&Tech, a series of personal interviews with successful women in the technology industry. While we have for the most part backed away from this project our quest continues on a personal level, and we are not strangers to challenging gender roles in our own lives. Melinda Gates says leading by example can have unintended positive consequences, and that so often behaviour that changes things stems from doing what is best for individuals and their families. For us this has certainly been true, and for the sake of our family we hope the trickle-down effect holds true as well.
In 2014, when Cassie went back to work four months after having Amelia, Mark began his gig as a full-time stay-at-home dad. While rare to find other dads in the same position when we were living in Toronto, this role has been discernibly rarer in Brant County. He has been chastised for not dressing Moo warmly enough, has been frequently called the babysitter, has had “Daddy Daycare” hollered at him by passengers in passing cars, and has felt scared showing up as the only man at “mom’s” groups. He can count other visible stay-at-home dads on one hand.
Cassie too has struggled with entering a management position post-mat-leave in a tech company as one of the few women at her level, finding a balance between caring for a young baby, traveling for work, and the responsibilities and pressures – both physical and psychological – of being a “good” mom.
When we were in Florida, as Cassie worked remotely and Mark looked after Moo, Mark posted a series of pictures of Moo playing in the dirt. He wrote about the subtlety and complexity of gender stereotypes, especially in early childhood, and how important it was to remember not to deny our girl opportunities because she wants to do something that isn’t traditionally associated with being a girl.
I realize boys and girls are different but I feel those differences can sometimes be greatly over-exaggerated. Girls and girls are different too. If Moo wants to roll around face down in the dirt, wave a stick for a wand and shout ‘I’m a princess!’ as we walk down the street – she of course should.
If we had a boy, we suspect we’d have similar concerns about gender stereotypes at this stage of development, but it is particularly difficult as parents knowing that the world often doesn’t favour womanhood and that one thing leads to another.
Warning: this video might serve as a trigger.
In addition to heart-wrenching North American statistics around sexual abuse, violence, pay disparities and other gender-based inequalities, Brant and Brantford have specific challenges that worry us. There are several risk factors close to home that contribute to higher local rates of domestic violence, which make us wonder how we can help the community in which we are raising our daughters.
These stats were pulled from The Hairspray Project, a very cool Brantford-based initiative we recently discovered through Nova Vita. Hair stylists are trained to recognize signs of abuse and are able to use their privileged and ongoing relationships with women to provide resources for those who are in abusive relationships and need help, and this help is so desperately needed. Commonly cited statistics report that 1 in 4 North American women are sexually assaulted during their lifetime. 60% of those victims are under the age of 17, and in 80% of cases the victim knows their assailant/s personally. In extreme cases, victims of domestic violence are 70 times more likely to be murdered immediately after leaving an abusive relationship.
While the world has a tremendous ways to go in righting so many of these wrongs, we hope to continue making the world a better place for women and girls and the men who support them by living by example and helping to spread awareness. We commend those who are doing even more – please keep up the good work. It’s so important.