Sarita Sarvate

Let’s bring our sons to work, too


Tuesday. May 9. 1995


ONCE again this year, my colleagues traipsed around the office, pigtailed girls in tow, while I looked on with envy, wondering what sins I must have committed in my previous life to be deprived of the pleasure of showing my children off. For I am a mother of sons, and April 27 was “Bring Your Daughters to Work Day.”

Fifteen years ago, when I was waging my own private revolution against the world, the notion of bringing only girls to work would have seemed fair to me. Women had been oppressed for centuries and this was a small way of atoning for past discrimination. I had come here from India, where my grandmother had her head shaved after becoming a widow.

But that was before I had sons; that was before I had realized that the world is never similar or equal for boys and girls, that although, traditionally, women have been oppressed, in school, young boys today face as many pitfalls as girls do.

You only have to peek into a kindergarten classroom to realize this. Boys are more likely to be in timeout, more likely to get admonished. Boys are more fidgety, more physically active, and unable to concentrate. Statistically, almost all children diagnosed of hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, or a variety of other learning disorders happen to be boys. Biological factors seem to play a role here.

Even in later years, although a few might excel, many face a troublesome world of drugs, gangs, guns, crime. Surely, male hormones and physiology make boys more vulnerable to these social evils than girls.

Equal and similar?

The feminists have provided me with no road map for raising my sons. Back in the late ’70s, when I first came to Berkeley as a graduate student, I believed that men and women were not only equal but similar; that boys could be raised to like dolls and girls to play with cars and trucks.

I was shocked to discover my toddler sons naturally gravitating toward mechanical devices, being mesmerized by motorized objects. Not that I did not buy them dolls. Not that I did not dress them in unisex colors. But the writing was on the wall. While the little girls in preschool sat quietly at circle time, the boys wandered and played mischief.

I developed a passionate interest in my son’s public school. While volunteering in his kindergarten class, I began to observe other children. In the little girls who always raised their hands, who always had the right answers, I saw myself, but without comfort.

In lower grades, I discovered, teachers called more on girls than on boys. Teachers rewarded girls more too, because, on the average, they performed and behaved better than the boys. And I couldn’t fault the teachers for this discrepancy; every tome on child raising told me that in early years, girls were at least six months ahead of boys developmentally.

I wrote letters to the school and received a guarded response; “yes, we know what you are talking about, but we have to make sure we are not ignoring the girls these days!”

Boys are not always at an advantage in the education system, I have since concluded, but boys and girls are disadvantaged in different ways at different stages of education.

More social hazards

And later on in life, too, boys do not always fare better than girls. When feminists complain about discrimination against girls, they are only looking at the top strata, not at the average or the lower percentiles. A boy who does not fare well in the academic system today faces many more social hazards than a similarly situated girl. The highest unemployment rates, for example, can be found among young men of certain ethnic backgrounds.

There is just as much need today for boys to learn about the workplace of tomorrow as there is for girls. Besides, if we are to have a truly diverse society at all levels, we not only need to train women to pursue successful careers, but we also need to train men to accept women as life partners and colleagues and superiors in the work place.

And what better way to do that than to bring our boys and girls to work and show them how their mommies and daddies work?

Sarita Sarvate lives in San Leandro.