Most of the fathers in my six-year-old son’s class use an instant messaging service called WhatsApp. The idea was to share information regarding school issues, but in reality it became a way of passing on jokes and pictures of women. In the beginning, the pictures were harmless, that is to say, no nudity. However, the other day, a father, who by the way is the father of two girls, sent a photo that was pure porn. It’s not the first time. A few others have sent pictures like that, although the majority doesn’t. This time, I thought about writing something like: “In ten years, this could be your daughter”; “Is this your wife?”; “You’re that desperate?”
Ok, some context is needed. I am a Dane who lives in Barcelona, Spain. Here, the men are much more machista, male chauvinist, than what I am used to. For example, between 2003 and 2010, 545 women died as victims of domestic violence in Spain—more than two per week.
I am choked; I am surprised, both with what I see and hear, but also with how I react. Silence is consent.
I don’t consent.
I am balancing between being polite versus honest; or rather, being far too polite to be honest.
Gender role, unfortunately, is one of those stiff identities that acts like an unchangeable norm, although all norms are social constructions. They change. We get smarter. Or am I just daydreaming? The identity we attach to being either a girl or a boy, in reality, is quite static.
The other day I was talking with my wife about having a fourth child. We have two boys, four and six years old, followed by a girl, who is now two. At one point, she said, “Smilla might like a new little baby. Girls are like that.”
”Yeah,” I said.
Then something happened. Why did I say “Yeah”?
I realized how many times a day I hear from other parents at the school, or in the park that boys are like that and girls are like this. It always irritates me because I don’t believe that girls or boys have one fixed gender identity. The French philosopher Voltaire once said, “to learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.”
The problem that keeps me from saying something is that I don’t want to offend people. Perhaps, more from being a foreigner, I try to blend in. Also, I know from after more than eight years in Spain that it’s not okay to question the status quo. People are a bit more fragile here. The culture lacks open debate, not just about gender, but also identity, nationality, the civil war, etc. Spanish people shy away from conflicts. Apparently, I do the same. I am turning into glass. Call it integration.
I don’t want to.
So let me man up, as the cliché goes. My daughter is not a princess; I don’t even like the monarchy. My daughter, though, wears pink. Where did this need come from? One day, I woke up and she couldn’t drink or eat if the glass or spoon wasn’t pink. My boys love all the male superheroes, although my four-year-old also likes The Little Mermaid.
Fighting gender stereotypes is like Don Quixote’s fights with windmills. Gender identity doesn’t stand on anything solid, but only upon stupidity.
I have decided that from today onward, I will stop people if they uncritically put boys or girls into idiotic categories. I hope that people would stop me if I were doing the same. I refuse to be ruled by stupidity – or the monarchy. Men are not more ambitious and competitive than women, who are not more empathic or compassionate than men.
It is my ethical responsibility, not only as a father, but as a human being, to stop the spread of stupidity. I will not cultivate politeness when I unequivocally know that not all men dream about becoming a soldier and not all women dream of having their nude photos passed back and forth via WhatsApp. There is an inherent power balance here between men and women. It’s problematic. Often men define the “sexy” gender roles of women, whereas women less often, and less derogatorily, define the “strong” gender roles of men.
It stops here. The silence is over.
By Finn Janning
- Published in The Transnational. A Literay Magazine, Vol. 3, 2015