Feminist Friday: Early Childhood Learning is about Parents

I’ve been circling education for several weeks now, trying to find a way into it that might get us a productive discussion. I’ve decided the best way to cover it is to break it down by age, so early childhood learning is the first item on the list. I’m not talking about preschool and kindergarten here. I’m talking about things children learn at home before they ever get to school. The only way I know to approach this topic is to go straight at it.

The point of these discussions for me is to find productive ways of dealing with misogyny. Misogynistic attitudes and behaviors are at the root of every problem we’ve discussed so far. It’s fair to say it affects all women at some point in their lives. That means it affects all men, too – even the multitudes of us who aren’t misogynists – because we all have female friends, relatives, and colleagues. It’s a problem for everyone.

The reason we keep coming back to education as a way of dealing with problems caused by misogyny is that these attitudes and behaviors are learned. Humans begin learning the minute they’re born, and during the first few years of their lives, they learn by observing and imitating people. They don’t just imitate the good stuff – they imitate the bad, too. They don’t even know the difference until someone teaches them. And now we’ve reached the thorny part of the problem. I’ll just be blunt. As usual, Brandie nailed this problem perfectly last week:

Yes, all women—all girls—are subjected to the constant risk of harassment or harm, in some fashion or function, every day of their lives. It comes in many forms, some of them seemingly innocent—like the popping of a bra strap—but all of them part of the insidious thread of misogyny that winds through the fabric of modern society.

Maybe the first step toward correcting this problem should be not to teach girls tools on how to avoid harassment (as is so often the case now), but to teach boys not to harass or harm girls in the first place. And–just to reiterate–this includes not excusing the type of “boys will be boys” behavior that undoubtedly influences increasingly entitled male behavior in later years.

Some children have misogynistic fathers. And some children have mothers for whom just pleasing the man at any cost is a survival skill. So those children – girls and boys – learn from watching their parents that it’s ok for men to place themselves above women, and women to blame themselves for their mens’ bad behavior. It’s a real problem. It’s not going to do us a lot of good to talk about educating the children until we figure out how to educate the parents.

Now, here’s where it gets tricky. This is an endemic social problem. It’s not something the government can fix. If we ask the government to fix it, probably the government is going to go insane and interfere in family life in all sorts of ways that end up doing more harm than good.

So. What do we do?

Here’s what I think. I study social change – that is my calling. I’m looking at success stories and trying to apply things that have worked for other issues to misogyny. I think unless we want to change the whole way family law works (bad idea!), our only option is social pressure.

I know “social pressure” sounds a little cynical, and gives people who love liberty a bit of a pause. But social pressure is just a technique. It’s a tool. And it’s all we’ve got. Here’s what social pressure has gotten us, just in my short lifetime:

  1. Practically everyone wears a seat belt to drive. If you don’t put on your seat belt, you’re stupid. It wasn’t like that 30 years ago. When I was a kid, people refused to wear seat belts, lest they have a one-in-a-million rollover and get trapped inside. It was social pressure to do something about highway fatalities that got the first seat belt laws passed in my state.
  2. Smoking. It’s getting harder and harder to find a place to smoke in public these days. Little kids just know it’s bad. When I was a child, we had candy cigarettes. 20 years ago, every business had a smoking section. Now, most of them do not, even in Mississippi. Social pressure did that.
  3. Same-sex marriage. Ten years ago, most people where I live weren’t even willing to talk about it. Now, most of my relatives are saying it should be legal. It’s the most rapid and decisive public opinion shift of my lifetime. Same sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states of the U.S. one day soon. Because social pressure.

So. If we want mommies and daddies to not teach their little boys to be misogynists, and not teach their little girls to blame themselves and just put up with it, we need to make misogyny socially unacceptable. Lots of ways to do that, and lots of groups who could contribute. Here’s a list of groups who could make true gender-equality part of their game by joining a campaign:

  • Businesses
  • Charities
  • Student Organizations
  • Civic Organizations
  • Local (city and county) Governments
  • Regular People

And I’m not talking about having people make some strong statement on the local news. What I’m talking about is just display a sticker in your window, or wear a t-shirt, or put a magnet on your car that says misogyny is unacceptable. A message would need to be crafted for that. #YesAllWomen might work for it – I’m not sure. If someone could actually produce the stickers, t-shirts, and car magnets, and distribute them widely enough, it could really make a difference.

Idealistic? Sure.

But not pie-in-the-sky. It could happen.

How do we make it happen?

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  1. Pingback: The Leather Library / Feminist Friday: Éowyn & The Lord of the Rings

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