“What would the world look like if girls were taught that they were volcanoes?” was Mona Eltahawy’s opening sentence in her NBC News article titled “What the world would look like if we taught girls to rage”. As much as I totally fell in love with the spirit behind that article, I couldn’t help but feel something was wrong. A number of re-reads pointed at one thing; teaching our girls to rage was not the right way to tackle misogyny and toxic masculinity. We are talking about women today, but the discussion is still dictated by patriarchal values. We want to raise smart, strong and independent girls, yes; girls who exist free of having to prove themselves as girls. What we don’t want are girls who feel that it is okay for them to erupt like volcanoes.
Some days back, I told my husband that I would love our children to take some self-defence classes. I was thinking along the lines of Karate or Taekwondo. He asked me why and I told him that the current state of the world demanded it. With both girls and boys continuously faced with an increasing level of hate and sexual harassment from all quarters and considering the fact that we as parents cannot always be there to protect them, teaching them some self-defence with an equal dose of confidence was to some extent a sure way to guarantee their protection from public harm. This is because contrary to the message being carried around in today’s media portraying girls as the only victims of any form of abuse, the sad reality remains that the boys hurt too. My husband couldn’t agree less.
One of the many things I appreciate about my marriage is that gender lines are blurred. My son has seen his Dad cook and clean and has seen me take out the trash and fix gadgets around the house. It is not a power tussle. Anyone can do anything as well as choose not to do what they don’t want to do. What you wouldn’t find in my home is someone being told that they have to do something just because they are of a certain gender. I will never pressure my daughter to do things that she doesn’t want to do, otherwise, I risk teaching her that she doesn’t have the right to turn down other things. We are raising all our kids irrespective of gender to be smart, strong and independent as much as we are raising them to be kind and tender.
Last year, I published an article on Amaliah about all the possible ways in which parents could have nurtured toxic masculinity. From baby boy products containing elements of machismo and emphasizing characteristics that send messages suggesting that they have to be tough, courageous, aggressive and emotionless beings to be truly called “Men” to the physical and emotional distance of fathers who are supposed to teach virtue, character and responsibility, the general manifestations of toxic masculinity is a leading factor for most of the societal ills in the world today.
Unfortunately, the world of girls is all about ‘the rage’ now. From girls passing around pictures of the male genitals to young women pulling down their pants in public to reveal their bum, male-bashing has become a fashionable sport the very way misogyny used to be a favoured game some fifty years ago. Thinking about all these, I really can’t help but ask the question “What’s good about the rage?” In today’s feminist discourse, there’s little or no room for the diversity of women on the train doing their own thing. The message is that every woman must be a victim, singing the same jeremiad and agreeing that feminism means the same to everyone.
We seem to be ignoring the fact that two wrongs don’t make one right; that girls erupting like volcanoes won’t give rise to tender boys, but would rather increase the number of dangerously defensive men. And what a jungle the world would turn into if both men and women were bottle-fed with rage in a continuous battle of the sexes.
While we say ’no’ to teaching our boys that it is okay to express destructive anger, we must also not fail to say ‘no’ to teaching our girls how to erupt like volcanoes. While we shun the practice of grooming dangerous boys; we must also learn to put in check the zeal to raise dangerous girls. There must never be a time when we tell our girls that adopting the male “rage” is the only way to be strong. There must never be a time that we define femininity so shallowly that a woman feels dehumanised by basic human acts or impersonal preferences. There must never be a time when we sacrifice humility and grace on the altar of activism. For the solution to misogyny and toxic masculinity does not lie in Misandry and reverse toxic femininity.
Positive feminism requires a healthy dose of societal matriarchy, not an extreme one. I appreciate the beauty of our sisterhood, especially when it is not always centred on rage and animosity towards men but rather helps us to embrace our womanhood and accept responsibility for our behaviours. After all, men are the twin halves of women and in the heart of most women is a man.
This is not to deny the fact that some women have been and are still innocent victims of pathological men who definitely need to be made accountable; that over the years, the society has taught girls to be vulnerable and weak while teaching boys to be hard and emotionless. And that as a result, a subconscious double standard has been created to the detriment of girls. We have also, by the way, created a world in which men feel that the world belongs to them; a world in which the female gender is subservient to the male; a world in which institutions like marriage propelled men forward while relegating women to the background. Toxic masculinity and misogyny began in our homes. We could make a commitment to changing the norm.
We need to admit that these problems have festered for so long because we parent, educate and treat our boys and girls differently. This issue is a global one; boys and girls being taught to express different emotions. While permitting boys to express anger and forbidding them from crying, the reverse is the case for the girls. Both boys and girls should be taught to express anger in healthy ways; a way to truly have compassion for themselves and for everyone else. The world will always provide ample opportunities for double-standard and we must never fail to point them out to our children. In the end, it is necessary to emphasize that “balance” is all we need, not two extremes. The persistent narrative of having to really push barriers is deadly. This very rage that causes our boys to perpetrate violent crimes must not be nurtured in our girls.