Growing up, I was two different people. In my personal life, I was confident and outspoken. In my academic and professional life, I was unsure and quiet. In school, I was a straight-A student but I was largely ignored by my teachers because I sat quietly in the back of the classroom. I never raised my hand or offered any input into the academic discussion. I was one of many females who felt like my opinion didn’t matter or that I wasn’t good enough or smart enough to participate.
My parents certainly didn’t raise me to feel that way. They are both highly educated and always told me that I could do or be anything. My mother actually fought hard to get degrees in male-dominated fields during a period of time when women were expected to be housewives and mothers and nothing else. But there is something that happens in our classrooms and in all parts of life. It is not always intentional and not always obvious, but it is a result of thousands of years of women being seen as property, weak, not worthy of an education, not worthy of the same basic rights as men. Men are seen as stronger, bolder, and more capable. Boys experience this (and indeed feel pressure to be this) from a very young age and so are raised to voice their opinions and to do so confidently.
I’m not saying this applies to all men and all women. There are certainly exceptions. I’m just speaking to my personal experience. Overall, the most outspoken and confident students in my classrooms were male.
This difference became more pronounced when I got out into the professional world. I chose male-dominated careers. I received a bachelors degree from a top-20 university in chemical engineering. I went on to go to a top-20 law school. I worked as a patent examiner, a lawyer and then as a lobbyist in DC. But all of that education and work experience meant nothing to a lot of men.
I have had lawyers, congressmen and even other women call me “Sweetie” and “Honey.” They have said things like “I know this might be above your head,” or “This is complicated stuff that you wouldn’t understand,” when discussing things related to my degrees and work experience. I even had a former presidential candidate hand me a hockey puck and say (in an exaggerated slow voice) “This . . . is . . . a hockey . . . puck.” I’m female so I obviously wouldn’t understand anything about sports.
When I was young, I found the “sweeties” and “honeys” endearing and even a little flattering. Then, I realized what was slowly happening to me. I became even less sure of myself when I was referred to in such a condescending way. I began to believe that I wasn’t as smart or capable as the men in the room. I was back in the classroom, feeling like someone who should be seen and not heard.
That is one big reason why I am homeschooling both my daughter and my son. Yes, to push my own agenda on them. But a worthwhile agenda. I have never heard my son say anything like “She can’t do that because she’s a girl,” or “You throw like a girl.” Those are phrases that are simply not part of our classroom environment.
My daughter will never have to hear those things in her classroom. She won’t ever be told that her clothing is too distracting to the male students. She will be called “sweetie” and “honey” but as terms of endearment that come from her mother and father. She can be confident and vocal and know that her opinion can be heard. My son will learn to treat all people with respect and admiration. He won’t be expected to act “manly” or to hide his feelings. He won’t be taught that his sister, mother or female friends are less than him in any way.
I’m hoping that homeschooling is empowering my daughter and my son to be strong, confident and not afraid to stand up for themselves.