Some say that he has two left hands, and his nose can tell when it will rain. All we know is that he's called DFM.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Do Women Actually Nurture?

Today I heard reports in the news that the Canadian military has selected a small group of women to be some of the first females to pilot helicopters in combat missions in Afghanistan. Considering the year it made me wonder what could have taken the military so long? The first answer that came to my mind was that perhaps the age old stereotype that women can't drive or that a woman will crack under pressure was a factor. I have personally known young women learning to drive, that when faced with turning left at a busy intersection have resorted to taking their hands off the wheel and covering their eyes. However, I can also name some women who are as skilled or more skilled at high performance driving than almost any man (do yourself a favour and 'Google' "Sabine Schmitz"). Furthermore, I know far more males who are downright awful at driving and make me scared to even enter vehicles with them. What's the point of all this? Nothing. I cannot come to a conclusion that is not already obvious (e.g., stereotypes are often wrong), but the whole exercise has reminded me of something else that happened today.

A friend and I were discussing the issue of why a judge would grant custody of children to the mother, even if she did not have a job (it has happened). The obvious answer would seem to be that mothers are assumed to be naturally more nurturing and that this will ultimately prove to be more valuable for the children (men are only viewed as dollar signs by the courts anyways). It's hard to argue that on average women seem far more practiced and capable of coddling children (or at least my personal experience tells me so), but does all this "nurturing" produce a desired result? My personal experience working with children alongside teenaged girls tells me "no" (and the process of said "nurturing" was also very annoying for me to witness).

In a speech to the Yale University Child Development Center in 1988, Fred Rogers (yes, that Fred Rogers) described how it was in fact the men in his life who were the most memorable nurturers. One of his stories involved him walking along on a stone fence at his grandfather's farm. His mother and grandmother would frequently try to "rescue" him from certain death, but his grandfather would stop them saying "Let the kid walk on the wall. He’s got to learn to do things for himself.” Mr. Rogers goes on to infer that this response helped him develop trust in his own abilities. Is this result not a favourable one?

It has also been suggested that on average fathers are less likely to accept excuses from their children and are more firm disciplinarians (i.e., they can say "no"). I can recount numerous occasions when, as a youngster, I was able to argue my way into having my mother buy me a chocolate bar at the grocery store or some small toy. The result was that I developed a body shape that took sixteen years to make "fit," and that I we had a basement full of plastic, broken cars and army men I played with only once. One time I even managed to whine my way into having my mother give me all of my birthday presents on the day before my birthday. Needless to say, it was the worst birthday ever. I don't mean to attack my mother, but her weakness in the face of my crying did nothing to develop my personal discipline. Personal discipline in my opinion is the single most important character trait known to man. The results of the famous "marshmallow test" showed that children who were able to resist temptation grew up to be more well adjusted, successful and popular teenagers and young adults. If a parent cannot raise a child to act with personal discipline, can they really be described as truly nurturing?

In conclusion, I would like to point out that I understand there are probably many situations in which custody of the children should rightfully be given to the mother. However, decisions of a custodial nature should be based on a rational review of the two parents involved. When child custody suits are settled on the basis of a myopic, sex-based view of "nurturing" ability this ultimately ends up hurting the children and hurting the country. I urge you to do your civic duty and critically think about what it means to "nurture." The children will thank you.

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