The other day, a fellow mom and I were seated outside, basking in the warm Kenyan sunshine as our children played. We both have two sons, each aged 3 years and 5 years. Our boys were playing in a group of 11 children – six girls and five boys.
Their play area was quite muddy and so were their shoes, as it had rained just a few hours before. But as the weather changed from the warm sunshine into a windy, cloudy affair, with signs of the skies soon opening up again, we instructed the children to each wipe the mud off their shoes before proceeding into the house. Time for play was up!
While the girls immediately began wiping the mud off their shoes, the boys continued running around, begging for more time in the playing field. They even argued that it would ‘be much more fun’ to play in the rain. Their joy lasted for a few more minutes before they finally gave up, realizing that we were not going to relent. They then sat down, disappointed, but nevertheless ready to begin wiping the mud off their feet. But it really got my neighbor and I thinking.
No sooner had the boys begun working on their shoes, than the girls swiftly started doing it for them. Quite effortlessly, they asked the boys to relax, that they would do clean the mud off their shoes for them.
That surprised us!
Our instructions had been very clear – that each child was to wipe the mud off their own shoes.
But it happened so mechanically, so swiftly, that the girls, aged between 5 – 8 years, took it upon themselves to wipe not only their own shoes, but those of the boys too. And to be honest, the boys looked like they were not going to protest the offer at their disposal. Even though we quickly stopped the girls from going ahead and instructed the boys to undertake the chore themselves, it got us thinking: why do women (and girls) instinctively feel the need to wait on boys and men? Is it automatic? Are we born with it? Is it in our DNA? Or perhaps it’s cultural? Could it be how we were raised? Are we raising our daughters this way? Or is this how we are raising our sons: to be more than accepting to have girls and women always wait on them?
The episode took me back to a conversation that I had recently with my colleagues. Why does it happen that when in meetings, when tea time arrives, many women feel the urge to serve the men tea, even though they are all equals in that meeting? Even when she doesn’t feel like it, she just feels as though it’s her responsibility to do so?
When a fellow board member says he is thirsty and could do with a glass of water, why is it almost always that the woman will unconsciously rise up to pour the man a glass of water, and not only stop there but go ahead to ask other men around the room if they’ll have some water too, then pour it for them? Why do we impulsively feel the need to serve men, even when it’s not necessary to do so? Is it something that we learn from our childhood? Is it instilled in us?
The incident of our sons and their girl playmates was quite revealing, I must say. How are we raising our daughters? How are we raising our sons?
This is an original post for World Moms Network by Maryanne Waweru-Wanyama of Mummy Tales in Kenya.