Ask Your Kid 'Who Is In The Room?' To Open Their Eyes To Inequities
At dinner the other night, I asked my 10-year-old daughter how soccer practice went. While shoveling pasta into her mouth, she mumbled some information about it being good, but then in a very clear voice that was just as inquisitive as it was matter-of-fact, she said, “It’s mostly moms who take their kids to soccer practice.” And then she considered other activities that require adult accompaniment and realized moms usually do that too. Field trips, doctor appointments, and rides to practice are usually done by moms, specifically by women who are married to cisgender men. So I asked my daughter who she didn’t see. Her answer: dads.
Now, before you get all #notalldads on me, of course I know some families don’t have dads (mine is one) and some dads may be with another child at another sporting event; however, this valid observation was done by a 10-year-old and gaslighting her isn’t going to help her find a mate later in life (if that’s what she wants) who contributes equally to a relationship. Because she, as a cisgender female who may have a child with a cisgender male when she is older, should always feel as though her role in a relationship is met with equity.
We talked about the reasons why dads may not be at the field, but we also talked about the privilege men have to not be there. They don’t face the same expectations when it comes to parenting. It’s more acceptable for men to choose work—or almost anything else—over family; in many cases men hang their ego on their work status, so won’t make sacrifices at work if it means losing respect if they have to cut out early for their kid’s soccer practice. Men have the privilege of not showing up, with minimal damage to their place in social hierarchy.
I then looked at my cisgender son and said, “Don’t be that guy. Don’t be the guy who is always missing.” He hadn’t really been listening, but I reminded him and my daughters to always take a look around the room they are in and see who is there, who’s not, and then ask themselves why. This is something I have learned during my years of LGBTQIA+ advocacy and social justice work — and it’s a great test to see if spaces are inclusive and available to everyone, no matter their ability, race, gender, background, or social and economic status.
When it comes to outgroups, I can testify on the impacts of being part of a marginalized group; I’m often the only nonbinary transgender person in a room, yet I’m still aware of the privileges I have. I’m white. I don’t have a disability. I have a thin layer of financial security, and I’m housing and food secure. I face discrimination and situations that are not as safe as they should be because I’m queer; however, I use my privilege and opportunities from the other parts of my life to make the spaces I’m in more equitable. But that starts by looking around the room and noticing who I’m surrounded by. This doesn’t just tell me who is being left out, but it shows who is benefiting from their privilege in society.
This is why we shouldn’t preach sentiments of color blindness or that we are all the same just by being human to our kids. We need to teach them that we have differences, and those differences should be respected, seen, and understood in a way that allows us to see what opportunities people have access to while navigating their daily lives.
When my kids and I are at an event, store, or play space, I ask them these questions: Is this space accessible to folks with disabilities? Is it safe for marginalized voices? Is it affordable for all families? Who is here? What can we do to make sure everyone is involved? The idea is to make sure folks are invited in and can make the decisions to show up or not, based on factors within their control vs. the limitations of exclusive spaces.
There is a great children’s book called “You Can’t Invite A Fish To A Dance Party” that shows the ways we purposefully exclude folks or are afraid to invite them in because we suspect or know the space isn’t ideal for them. Even if this is done with “good” intentions, the impact is hurtful. The animal friends in this book don’t think it would be fun or safe to invite their fish friend (who is in a fish bowl) to a karaoke dance party and attempt to “protect” Fish by not inviting them. First of all, let’s make sure spaces are safe for everyone and then let’s leave it up to others to determine what they think is fun. Fish doesn’t have feet and can’t dance the same way others can, but Fish can still have fun!
We should not be speaking over, or for, marginalized voices. We need to invite those voices to the table or the rooms we occupy, listen, and then amplify them.
The next time you or your kids are out in public spaces—private spaces will show who has privilege and who doesn’t in a hurry—look around and see who you’re sharing that space with. Then ask yourself and your kids why. That may result in the harder, but necessary, work to make changes that will benefit others outside of your ingroup.
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