As we approach International Peace Day (Sept. 21st), I thought I would talk about something that has a lot to do with the subject: discouraging prejudice among our children – in this case, prejudice related to gender and sexuality.
Although things have improved a lot over the past 20-30 years, Brazil is still quite a chauvinistic country. This is particularly true in the Northeast, the region we live in.
I became especially aware of this a couple of years ago when we found out our second child was going to be a girl. All of a sudden my husband became the center of not-so-funny jokes, where male friends and relatives (childless or fathers only to male children) would keep telling him things like “so now you are a provider” (of a female for their male sons) or “prepare to suffer in a few years” (i.e., when she began to date).
Those who had girls would keep quiet or say things like “wait until they get a girl”.
Other less-than-funny comments began after our daughter was born and started to interact with baby boys. Often, in such situations, when the boy touches her in some way (even if accidentally!) the father will say something like, “see, he’s already a girl catcher”.
Another example: when our son (now eight) was a baby, an acquaintance, who visited us shortly after he was born, went as far as lowering his diaper to check out the size of his penis. Later I realized this was far more common than I thought as I saw it happen to other baby boys.
All of this bothers both my husband and I immensely, but when we complain or comment about it, most people just shrug it off and say we are taking everything too seriously.
In this context, although prejudice against homosexuals is not as bad as it was in the past (and now there are also laws against it), there is still a lot of it. For instance, only a few months ago a father and his son were dragged out of a bar by a group of young men and almost beaten to death (the father even had a part of his ear ripped off). The reason was that the father gave the son a kiss on the cheek, so the men thought they were: 1) gay and 2) having a relationship with a huge age difference – both unacceptable in the aggressors’ opinion.
Although here most people’s prejudice against homosexuals is veiled and would not go that far, it is quite easy to observe in the population in general and is often promoted by fathers with male children. Among some of our son’s neighborhood friends, I often hear things like “Don’t do that, that’s so gay”, “If you do that you’re gay” or “That’s a girlie thing”.
I don’t think these boys know exactly what they are talking about and are most likely reflecting things they hear from their fathers or other older men. And while I had never heard our son say anything like that, I was waiting for an opportunity to talk to him about it.
Last week the opportunity finally came. We were talking about how certain things were when I was little (he loves that kind of story) when we somehow got to a topic of stuff in fashion for boys and girls. At some point I was explaining that in the far past, especially before I was born, boys could not wear earrings, have long hair, use pink clothes, etc. That was when my son said:
“But boys still don’t wear pink clothes, that’s a gay thing. I don’t like gays”.
I stopped and frowned, as if I did not understand. “What exactly are gays?” I asked.
He shrugged. “I don’t know”.
“So how do you know you don’t like them?”
He shrugged again.
I began explaining to him that someone who was gay liked to date and/or marry someone of the same sex, and that – like people who were not gay – they could be likeable or not. Then I listed several friends and acquaintances who are openly gay and he was quite surprised when he heard the name of a person he really likes.
After talking for a while, I went on to explain the word prejudice. In Portuguese it is an interesting word to explain because preconceito literally means “pre-concept”, i.e., giving something a definition before actually knowing it. I also explained that here in Brazil some people were prejudiced towards Native Brazilians, people with dark skin, people of Asian origin, etc.
I believe our talk was fruitful and I think he got the point. I hope it has a lasting effect!
And you? How do you deal with prejudice in your home/culture? Please share your story below!
This is an original post to World Moms Blog by our writer and mother of two in Brazil, Ecoziva.
The image used in this post is attributed to lednichenkoolga. It holds a Flickr Creative Commons attribution license.