A Gender Activist's Worst Nightmare

There are many significant days in our lives. We remember the moments our children were born, when we got married and for me, I will add one more sad day to this list. On 28 January 2012, my three-year old son shared his sexist views which shocked the whole family, not to mention the gender equality advocate in me.

This will be my ninth year working at the Southern African regional non-governmental organisation, Gender Links (GL). No prizes for guessing what GL's vision is, "... a region in which women and men are able to participate equally in all aspects of public and private life ..."

My son broke his water gun. As I tried to fix it, he told me that only he and his dad can play with the water gun because they are boys. Beneath my summer tan, I went white with shock. I felt like emulating a scene from a Bollywood movie and run through the streets beating my heart and lamenting my fate to the world.

Instead, I did something much more sensible. I started an argument with him about how boys and girls can do the same things. If he could play with a gun so could I. This argument lasted almost an hour and I faced this intractable three-year old that refused to back down. Girls could not play with guns!

I vacillated between outrage, cajoling, and a serious discussion on gender theory. "What you say Mummy?" my son responded to the latter. Nothing worked. By this time, my husband and 15-year old daughter were rolling on the floor with laughter and not helping my cause at all.

My daughter being the supportive teenager made her status on Black Berry Messenger (BBM), "My mom and brother are fighting about gender equality and my baby brother is winning!" I had gone from serious, respected gender activist to a figure of mirth and irreverence.

By Sunday, I had recovered and assured myself it would not happen again. There were no three-year-old sexist comments all week and I felt good. Yes, some of the things I had said had sunk in.

The week began and ended well. My son normally wakes up at 6h00 and comes to get me out of bed. I never thought about this before but is this part of his sexist master plan? He never wakes his dad up! Anyway, another weekend started well. We shared a companionable breakfast catching up on the past week's events.

He then requested music from his dad's IPOD. We got the IPOD and he requested the Mortal Kombat music (Reptile's Theme from the Mortal Kombat Game Soundtrack). I kindly offered to find it for him but he refused and told me that only boys can listen to that music and play the Mortal Kombat game. He is not allowed to play the game himself!

I told myself to remain calm and not react. I wondered if his sexism only emerges over weekends while the person appears normal during the week. I decided to do some gentle probing and asked where he heard that. He shared that in school they hear about what the boys do and what the girls do. Not surprising but worrying!

As the weekend progressed, there were no subsequent sexist offences so we moved on. Monday came along. As my son played with a puzzle, he picked the red coloured piece. Then he said to us, "Dad your blood and my blood is red, not Mummy's because she is a girl." My jaw dropped. He quickly followed this remark with a rock song rendition of Baa Baa Black Sheep. I wondered where the macho behaviour is coming from.

This sexist rhetoric has to change right from pre-school. These little people learn so quickly as is evident from my son's sexist comments. I phoned his school and shared my thoughts with the principal.

I have offered to run a gender course for the educators at my son's school. The principal and I will be working out the programme and scheduling it for next Monday. Interesting to see how that goes. I will keep you posted.

- Kubi Rama is the chief of operations at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, International Women's Day series, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.

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