Patriarchy Chicken is Cool, But I Like This Even Better
Should we teach our daughters to take up space, or to be kind?
I keep losing games of Patriarchy Chicken.
You know the deal. When men are walking straight at you, mindlessly assuming you’ll move out of the way for them, you just don’t. You keep walking straight at them, confident you have as much of a right to be there as they do.
I’ve tried and failed so many times. Even when I tell myself, today I’m going to take up space, I end up moving, sometimes muttering a polite, unacknowledged, “Excuse me.”
It wouldn’t be such a big deal, except I’m the mom of a 4-year-old daughter. Each time I cede the sidewalk to a man, each time I physically shrink my own body to make more space for him, I grip my daughter’s hand and pull her right along with me.
Dr. Charlotte Riley coined the term Patriarchy Chicken in a piece for New Statesman. “Women have not been socialized to take up space,” she writes. “Women have been socialized to give way, to alleviate, to conciliate, and to step to the side.”
Right now, my daughter is receiving that socialization, learning what it means to be a girl in this culture, what it will mean to be a woman. And most of this teaching comes from adults who were socialized in even more patriarchal times.
How can we prepare the next generation for gender equality when we ourselves are steeped in patriarchal assumptions?
Manspreading sucks, but allpeoplespreading isn’t better.
What I want to tell her is, “Gender does not matter. You can be anyone. You can do anything,” because that’s the world I want for her. But wishful thinking doesn’t erase the patriarchy, or prepare her for the realities of the world.
I craft my words carefully. “Let’s make sure there’s space for everyone,” is the line I give her now, as we move out of the way for someone — almost always a man or boy — who isn’t making sure there’s space for us.
Then after they’re gone, I remark, “Wow, that person really wasn’t making sure there was space for everyone, huh?”
Because here’s the thing: I want my able-bodied, white-passing Jewish daughter to literally and metaphorically make space for everyone. Of course I want everyone to include her. Owning your own space is important, but being an ally is probably more important.
My “Make sure there’s space for everyone” mantra means we move to the side so someone in a wheelchair doesn’t have to slow down. It also means yes, you should include everyone in your game of Tag, even the smelly kid.
Nobody likes it when someone takes up too much space, acts like they’re more important than others. So why would I teach her to do the very same thing?
I’m trying to teach her to place empathy and kindness above all else. But I wonder all the time if I’m doing this right, or if I should encourage her to let her body be free, so others can walk around her for a change.
Some moms are choosing to stand their ground with their children. Anna Lee Beyer wrote for Huffington Post about playing Patriarchy Chicken along with her 5- and 2-year-old.
“What harm am I going to do?” Beyer writes. “Contribute to a new stereotype that mothers and small daughters are self-focused instead of submissive? OK, sounds great. Raise women who feel entitled to prioritize their own goals? Cool.”
I love so much of this; I never want my daughter to think she has to be submissive. Do I want her to be self-focused? Sure. Well… sort of. I want her, above all, to maintain her incredible empathy. I want her to be a citizen of the world, not an isolationist. I want her to be a friend, an ally, to have the ability to trust and be trusted.
I don’t want a race to the bottom. Nobody likes it when someone takes up too much space, acts like they’re more important than others. So why would I teach her to do the very same thing?
Manspreading sucks, but allpeoplespreading isn’t better. What we really want is for everyone to respect everyone else. So how do we get there? In the short-term, do we need womanspreading, to wake men up? Or do we just need to keep repeating:
Make sure there’s space for everyone.
I keep questioning if I’m handling it right. But what parent isn’t constantly worrying whether their parenting decisions are screwing up their kids?
The world I want to help create isn’t one where we copy the things we hate just to prove we can. The equality I want isn’t a society where we’re all equally assholes.
I’m not trying to judge any of the women playing Patriarchy Chicken, with or without children. Honestly, I’m in awe of your strength. I tried and I couldn’t do it. I believe there’s room for all our feminist tactics, and I’m glad to struggle beside you.
For now, I’m working to raise my voice louder, so when I tell my daughter, “Make sure there’s space for everyone,” the manspreaders hear it too.