Eimear Hutchinson: Educating our daughters on gender equality

What is it like living in a female-dominated household? EIMEAR HUTCHINSON, mum of four girls, reflects on family life and how she tries to educate her daughters on gender equality
Eimear Hutchinson: Educating our daughters on gender equality

Eimear, who is mum to four girls, tries to educate them on gender equality. Picture: Stock

WE were sitting around the kitchen table recently and my youngest was telling us a story about one of her little friends, Mae, whose brother had hurt his head. She was relaying the story to my husband and I wasn’t really listening, having heard it numerous times already, so I only tuned in when I noticed that my husband looked utterly confused.

She kept saying ‘Mae’s boy sister’ and it took us a few seconds to realise she could not think of the word for brother! It was so funny, but also one of those moments that made me stand back and think about the generally funny effect of living in a female-dominated household.

It has been an ongoing effort on our behalf to try counteracting the dominance of the female gender within the house since the eldest was small. I mean, obviously there are a lot of dolls and pink in the house, but gender-neutral toys feature heavily too, Lego and Playmobil being some of the most loved toys with the girls down through the years.

We also have lots of books that encourage and instil the concept of equality, that promote the idea that there are no jobs or colours or sports that boys or girls are better at or are more suited to.

Personally, I feel like it is a battle I fight myself every day in terms of the role model I am and that I want to be for the girls. I did Civil Engineering in college which traditionally goes against the grain in terms of gender stereotyping but then I did a complete 360 by becoming the epitome of a gender stereotype, by stepping into the role of stay-at-home mother.

I was very fortunate to have the luxury of choosing both directions in my life and I think that’s the most important thing.

For me, it is a mix of feminism and gender equality that guides my teaching. Feminism is the belief in equality for women from a social, economic and political standpoint, and gender equality is achieved when men and women have access to the same rights and opportunities as each other.

I try and educate the girls in the belief that girls are as good as boys and boys are as good as girls, it is part feminism part gender equality, my end goal is the same whatever concept you want to call it.

It is about having the freedom to choose what we want to do with our lives without pressure from society dictating the paths we should and shouldn’t take.

There is only so much teaching you can do at home though, the girls will have to navigate the gender journey themselves as they grow. I see my youngest lady in playschool now learning that little boys play a little differently compared to little girls, she is a pandemic toddler so had absolutely no exposure to little boys before playschool, having had no opportunity for playdates or playgroups. It is not something I think most girls would notice, but she is a rather particular child and having had her own way for so long, she appears easily irritated by children younger than her, boys in particular. She’s learning though, we all have our little challenges to overcome after the last two years and that’s OK too.

It has also been a learning experience for my eldest lady, obviously from home we have taught her that both genders are equal but that is not to say that boys or girls don’t prefer their own gender in the real world. 

She loves playing soccer and is as good if not better than some of the boys. She finds it endlessly frustrating though that the boys tend to pass the ball to each other as opposed to including her more.

It’s a good life lesson for her, like many frustrations are, our job is to teach her not to give up just because they don’t pass it to her, to keep improving and to keep proving that she is as good as them, and eventually they might start to include her.

Although there is not much diversity inside our home, we try and ensure they get it elsewhere. They are enrolled in many activities, most of which are mixed, things like soccer and camogie are naturally segregated but athletics, art, gymnastics and swimming are all mixed. There is also great diversity in school, with all of the girls sitting between boys in their classrooms, which is fantastic.

I’m sure the set up of any household, regardless of gender or situation, has an impact on us all, whether good, bad or indifferent we must roll with it. I always try and see the learning in any thing we face and besides, I certainly won’t be doing too much to change the gender set up here anytime soon!

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