Monday, February 11, 2008

Gender stereotyping

I witnessed a very disturbing scene last week when I spent an afternoon with the Brown-eyed Girl in her preschool. After attempting to teach twelve four year olds 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes' in English and determining that the average attention span is nine minutes, I was treated to a mini concert. The Brown-eyed Girl performed a solo of the 'Walnut Man' complete with actions, then the choir chimed in with a lovely rhyme about a dog who wanted to fly. Starting with his aeronautical ambitions and ending with splat after he launched himself from the balcony, it stirred the heart and made me glad to see my little girl in such an educationally stimulating class.

But by far the most excitement was generated when the teacher began the song 'Little soldier, little Ayse'. First the boys jumped to attention, marched about and saluted as they sang their chant about protecting their loved ones, then the girls leapt up, rocking imaginary babies and singing about staying home and making babies. It was all I could do to pick my chin up off the floor at such a blatant display of gender stereotyping being taught to impressionable four-year olds. I resisted the temptation to launch into a rant at the teacher about equality, feminism and suffrage. A disgrace in a society that can demean women and lock them into traditional roles. Surely they should be teaching that a girl can do anything she puts her mind to, and that a boy does not have to fight if he doesn't want to.

But the mothers of most of the children in the preschool work outside the home, they are teachers or university lecturers. I am the exception there: I am a stay-at-home mother, I made my babies and rocked them. I do the cooking and the cleaning and keep house. You could place me in the 1950's and I wouldn't stand out. I never had a career exactly and hope to carve one out by working from home. So my example to my children, so far, upholds the stereotypes.

And in a country with compulsory military service, all the boys do have to fight.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Spring in the air

The mundane task of hanging out the clothes was a joy today. A slight tingle of warmth on my back and the chorus of birds trilling their hearts out brought spring to mind. There are buds on every tree in the garden and we even did some digging over the weekend.

I was back to my grandmother's kitchen in Dublin, a self-conscious eleven-year old, trying hard to put on a teenage air of disaffection. My grandmother would always break this down with a cup of milky coffee and a few slices of half-stale fruitcake. On this particular day she held a leaflet in her hand, a newsletter from the local supermarket. She shared this hilarious piece with everyone who came into the house...

'Spring is sprung, the grass is riz,
I wonder where the birdies is.
Oh look a bird upon the wing.
Ain't that a funny thing,
I thought the wing was on the bird!"
I picture her there surrounded by clutter, reading it out in her Roscommon accent, slow and deliberate, while my sister and I exchange bewildered glances. She never threw anything out, margarine cartons, letters, envelopes. I wonder if that leaflet was among the papers my mother threw out after she died many years later.