When a group of parents learned that the school their children attend would be hosting a mother-and-son STEM night as the counterpart to a father-and-daughter sweetheart dance, they took action.
The event, put on by the Audubon Park Elementary School PTA, was billed as “A Night at the Museum” and sounded, frankly, awesome. There was to be ice cream, drinks and presentations given by professionals from the Orlando Science Museum. Any kid who digs science would be over the moon. The problem? Every kid wasn’t invited. The event was a mother-and-son-specific event.
When an annoyed parent aired their grievance on social media, Helena Zubkow, an Orlando-area web developer, took notice and started a petition, calling for the school to allow girls to attend the event. After that petition went viral, the PTA backpedaled and extended the invitation to all students, but not before defending itself by saying the STEM event was actually an attempt at fairness:
Last year we had an overwhelmingly positive response to our Sweetheart (Father figure/daughter) dance. There has never been an event to create as much participation and excitement at our school. It was obvious to us that we needed to offer it again this year. We also learned from much feedback after that event that our community was eager for us to also offer an event for boys to attend with their mothers or special female figures (i.e. aunts, grandmothers, etc.).
As many irate parents and petition signers pointed out, however, a social event like a dance is quite nice, but it isn’t the same as a chance to do wicked cool experiments and have ice cream with real live scientists. If you think a dance for girls and a science night for boys ensures that all is in its right and proper place, you may have stumbled into our century from the last by accident.
Welcome, visitors from before Google and female scientists were things!
Now that the event is extended to everyone, petitioners are calling it a victory. In one sense, they’re right. They got what they wanted — girls can attend the event, and that’s awesome. On the other hand, we’re still ignoring one really important thing…
Father-daughter and mother-son events are stupid and antiquated and need to go.
There is zero reason that these events need to be gender specific and lots of reasons that they’re unfair to kids of all stripes when they are.
For instance, kids from single-parent households always end up getting shafted on events that celebrate their absentee or deceased parent. Also, foster kids hear what they always hear in the subtext: “Sorry about the no parent thing, sucks to be you.” Likewise, boys who like dances and girls who like chemistry are subtly told that they’re doing life wrong, which is always pretty great.
Deployed parents, same-sex parents, parents navigating custody deals, grandparents who live half a world away… they all miss out too, all because it’s really important to PTAs across the country to take it upon themselves to nurture father-daughter, mother-son relationships in kids they don’t even really know.
Literally no harm is done if, instead of putting the pressure on kids to show up with the parent with the correct downstairs parts to a gymnasium dance or science fair, we just say: “Everyone’s invited. Bring your family.” Make it first come, first served if you have space concerns, and then you don’t have to embarrass yourself later as you attempt to explain the reasoning behind your strange Oedipal fixation in making sure only boys and their moms touch the science equipment.
So, let’s be done with these events. Here in 2015, we have a thing called the Internet. For all you visitors from last century, that means your dumb decision to segregate girls and boys will live on in infamy.