You’re at a family event. Your twenty-eight year old brother shoves food into his face, belching and chewing noisily, washing it down with a glass of chocolate milk. An aunt looks on adoringly.
“He’s just a growing boy,” she gushes. Later, she hands you a sliver of cake alongside a large dollop of advice about your love handles. You, it seems, are already well overgrown.
You’re at work. Your colleague is late again, but you’re holding down the fort until he arrives. A manager chuckles.
“At least he’ll be in before eleven today. Good on him!”
You rub your crusty eyes and wonder why you’ve been up since six.
You’re at your cousin’s baby shower. Her husband is parading around the ultrasound photo, tracing out the foetus’ barely-formed genitalia to every guest.
“We wanted to keep it a secret, but I just couldn’t hold it in. A boy! Of course, a girl would have been fine too, but… well, he’s my boy!”
But what if ultimately he isn’t? Will it still be just fine? What does that genitalia actually tell you, other than the appearance of the reproductive organs the child will be born with?
At this rate, all that will be born is a golden child.
We tell infants that they are Casanovas and ladies’ men, and they grow up to believe it. We tell sons that someone will wash their dishes and do their laundry, and they look to the rest of us to fulfill this promise. The responsibility to live up to expectation is on everyone else. Entitlement is normalized, while empathy and accountability are feminized.
The world happens the way we allow it.
When a child has a toy gun, they might get shot down while playing in the park. It has, devastatingly, happened before. But when a child has a female body, they will likely get shot down in many other ways, including those which are violent and literal. That has happened too. It happens every day.
Little comments and unquestioned behaviors can—over time—shape a view of the world, particularly in regards to how human beings should value themselves and one another. While daughters can be spoilt within their family structures too, they nonetheless are still exposed to a wider community in which they have historically been given the shorter end of the stick. Men, on the other hand, are exposed to fewer messages which conflict with the idea that others must accommodate to them; that they do not need to compromise; that they do not have to answer for their actions or face consequences. This leaves them unprepared to reasonably cope with a world in which not everything goes their way. They struggle with a lack of resilience, and often elicit anger towards whoever treads upon the shortcomings of this deficiency – people who reject their advances, outcomes that are not automatically tipped in their favor, and marginalized groups or minorities who strive for equitable treatment and opportunities.
Men can be assured that they will still receive respect for any of their redeeming qualities, even if they are otherwise loud, belligerent and juvenile. Women are often disregarded despite their skill or knowledge in a field, on the basis of not being perfect or merely posing a threat to male ego. Assurance is a pipe dream. One common experience of femaleness is that of being punished for being a woman altogether, while concurrently being punished for not living up to the impossible concept of being the ideal woman. The messages women receive offer little room to exist in a way that is varied, imperfect and authentic. Be competent, but only at menial tasks. Be emotionally intelligent, but uncritical. Be attractive, but feel insecure. Be hardworking, but unambitious. Be, but also, do not. Not truly. It has the mechanics of a carnival attraction: you are better off aiming for the token prize and getting it, because if you aim for the real prize, you’ll end up with nothing at all. For women of colour, trans* people, and other minorities, even obtaining the token prize is a costly game rigged in favour of white middle-class cisgender women. The more marginalized the group, the more prescriptive their role in the world with how they must squeeze to fit around traditional frameworks – that is, to make way for the male, the moneyed, and/or the milky-white.
It is difficult to challenge people’s values about child-rearing, masculinity, and the way in which adults project their ideals and expectations on to their children, particularly as this process is deep-seated in cultural beliefs through Australia to the Middle East. However, the global issue of gender inequality will not dissipate without active, informed understanding and teaching through all stages of life, particularly with respect to how these intersect with other inequalities such as race and class.
Male entitlement is sometimes subverted with humour, which can be effective in drawing attention to the ludicrousness of its more casual, covert symptoms. However, many symptoms of the same issue are pervasive and visibly dire, such as government-legislated transgressions against women. These often require a similarly wide scale, serious platform to be addressed effectively. Neither is a passive process, and while no one will ever be perfectly socially aware and informed, too many resign to not making the attempt at all. Especially, and unsurprisingly, when this lottery feels as if it is rigged in their personal favour – whether or not it is that simple.
Humans have a huge collective responsibility to do better by each other. Our species wields so much power, but its imbalance leaves us constantly falling over our own feet and neglecting to invest in shaping the world with greater care. We exist in a way that is underpinned by assumptions about who deserves excess and who should accept deficiency, and then we must answer to people who defend these assumptions as if it were their own little snowflake. Though we may not be personally responsible for how society has come to be, it is on all of us to decide how it will become, in whatever little ways we can.
Remember, one of the few things as devastating as a child who has nothing, is one who has everything.