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Chicken a La King (and Queen)

May 20, 2019 GMT

Life can feel like a game as we play for power, position and purpose at home, in school, at work and in our circles of friends, each move resulting from decisions based on risk and reward.

As women, we find ourselves in a third wave of feminism, a kind of wake-up call for young women not to become complacent after gains made. And this can be a challenge considering younger women have not directly experienced the hard-earned results of the first and second waves of women’s liberation. On some fronts, young women today are further and further away from the inequitable actual experiences that caused women to fight for and win the right for recognition, the same right men have been claiming since the beginning of civilization.


Millennial women and GenX girls: It has only been a blip in the great big timeline of humanity since women could own property, cast a vote, study in the same learning institutions as their male peers, follow like career paths of their own choosing, and collect comparable benefits and income.

So we can’t get complacent, ladies, assuming our young daughters will automatically know innately to carry our rich history forward, will understand our victories as women if we leave it up to fate and leave out the vibrant stories of struggles women in the past — who were able to break ground and ceiling and soar into spaces wide and far — made and continue to make.

The story of women in history needs to be shared with our sons as well.

It is the very best time for our children to be living in the history of woman- and mankind. It’s not perfect. There is always room for improvement, so it’s our shared humanity we need to focus on if we want our daughters and sons to thrive onward, particularly if they are going to continue to share productively the many spaces we all occupy in this world.

But does approaching the challenge of bringing people of differing sexes together in the same spaces in which we live and learn and work mean we have to assume our sons and daughters are going to always be in a power play of hawk-dove game theory simply based on gender?

Apparently, this is the way to go, according to a recent HuffPost piece by Anna Lee Beyer entitled, “How I am Teaching my Small Daughters to Play Patriarchy Chicken,” shared by HuffPost Culture & Parenting editor, Kate Auletta, who invites readers to wonder: So just what are the rules anyway? Beyer says to go out of your way to make no apologies.

I was disappointed that Beyer’s piece was less instructive on empowering little girls to be victors in these public spaces and more focused on being unapologetic for simply being a girl.


And when it comes to raising our small, impressionable children, particularly our girls, according to Beyer, we should teach them to yell, “Watch out!” (forget “excuse me”) whenever someone, particularly a male someone, is in their way. What are the unintended consequences of this kind of entitlement to space without merit or regard for people as humans first, thinkers next, and gender last? Can girls be graceful and powerful? And why shouldn’t boys be encouraged to embrace grace and power as well?

We can’t occupy space for the sake of occupying space. We have to meaningfully do something. If it’s our culture to blame, it’s up to us to stop whining about it and do something to gracefully change that attitude. Beyer seems to be falling back on old and tired excuses that ring hollow with bitter cries about raising our boys with a sense that they are supposed to be front and center and our girls, not so much. I raised my girls and boys to be front and center, to take up space with their ideas and deeds.

I hear her frustration as she chides herself for apologizing to a rude man in the grocery store who came barreling down the aisle and for whom she took her two young daughters and stepped out of his way, saying “Excuse me,” when it should have been the other way around. But is it a stretch to blame one rude guy’s behavior on the whole of American cultural norms when it comes to raising boys and girls?

In the scenario, one sex has exclusivity to rudeness, and that seems a generalization at best, dishonest at worst. My boys, who are grown men, would have certainly not been rude at all.

But Beyer seems to be saying it’s OK for girls to be impolite, especially when it comes to boys. She leaves me thinking it’s natural for boys to grow up to become men who are encouraged to dominate the spaces we live and work in, and more natural for girls to play house, push tiny carts, and hold baby dolls and to grow up to be meek and small and full of apologies just for being girls.

As women, we need to keep teaching the young women we mentor (and the young men in our lives) that our daughters, just as our sons, are part of the process of evolving into a society that is better and smarter then the one before it, to be treated according to their merits, not their maleness or femaleness. We must stand up and not be afraid to teach our daughters to compete, to question, to explore the world while developing a sense of independence of one’s self first with an eye on grace.

Beyer confesses she has a bitter taste in her mouth for having deferred, in the presence of her girls, to a man who was coming down the store aisle. Hence, the game of chicken. She blames her polite reply and reaction on embedded cultural norms that have primed her to politely protect her children.

I taught my daughters and sons to do the following with grace, respect and strength: Stand up when you fail. Think for yourself. Follow your path regardless of outdated stereotypes related to gender. Do your homework. Realize your actions have consequences. Be considerate of others.

Women have made incredible gains in the workplace and in society over the last half century, Astronaut Jessica Meir from Maine will be the first of a team to put boots on the moon’s surface in 2024. Women have and will continue to break every ceiling there is, and I, for one, am looking forward to watching her break that galactic ceiling.

And back down on the ground, where moms do some of the most incredible work teaching our kids to laugh at themselves, work hard, respect life and dream big, equating having to weave through a crowd, step aside or say “excuse me” as an exclusive cultural consequence of having been raised a woman and as the sole reason women simply cannot compete with men, is both troubling and dishonest. Troubling, because to say women are the only sex with a sense of decorum is sexist in and of itself; and dishonest, because women have been and continue to be major stakeholders in this evermore egalitarian game we call life.

In her article, Beyer omits just how far we, as women, have come, baby! My advice to Beyer: Tell your daughters they can be anything they dream of, a builder or a superhero. There is absolutely no excuse for not reaching for those dreams in a society that celebrates the merits of honest, strong and smart women. And respect for others is the key to getting there someday.

The truth of the matter is, we are way past the glass ceiling. We are going to the moon, winning Nobel Prizes, ruling nations, making policy, creating new technologies and caring for the next generation.

The only thing in 2019 stopping a little girl from doing the things she dreams about is herself. We must continue to teach our daughters and our sons that moving in those spaces may not be easy, but it is not a space solely reserved for men. Women are just as welcomed. Great ideas are welcomed.

Beyer’s right that children learn from their experiences. Let’s keep history accurate and alive, and at the same time, let’s lead our daughters (as we have been) from a place beginning with an unapologetic thirst for knowledge, a sense of kindness, a reverence for vulnerability, and at the same time, let them understand it’s up to them to be accountable for every move they choose to make, a winning strategy every time.

Bonnie J. Toomey teaches at Plymouth State University, writes about writing, learning, and life in the 21st century. You can follow Parent Forward on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bonniejtoomey . Learn more at www.parentforward.blogspot.com or visit bonniejtoomey.