This is how we do it

During a recent trip to my local climbing centre, I couldn’t help but notice how dads and daughters interact in comparison to mums and sons.

Dads and their daughters obviously have a strong bond which is special. Yet, when I was sat there on the mat, I witnessed a young girl attempting a tiger problem (V1-V2). Instead of the girl tackling the problem head-first, the dad stepped in and explained the route that his daughter will take; not should. Even after walking her through the problem, his daughter still bailed, and yet, his little princess was not encouraged to complete it. No. Instead, the daughter said it was too hard and dad said nothing further.

Contrast the dad and daughter relationship with mother and son – yes, mothers take their son’s bouldering as well – and the contrast couldn’t be starker. Mums trail their sons, regardless of age. Mums leave them to tackle problems and sons don’t wait to be told what to do or how to approach it. Obviously, both dads and mums love their children but how does hand holding your daughter help in her development? Clearly, this is nascent gendering and, what dad doesn’t realise is, what happens on the bouldering mats (repeatedly) at age 6-8 will significantly define who she is as an adult.

It goes without saying, women can boulder without men and there are ample examples of great female athletes. Returning to the mum and son example, why do mums leave their sons to get on with it? One possible answer is this: How parents react to their cherubs falling over. Boy falls over; they cry, parents, don’t bat an eyelid. Girl falls over – and I’ve seen this at Ally Pally – parent sweeps in from outer fucking space to stop her from making contact with concrete. Parent fails but that’s not the point. The point is, boys are expected to accept pain on their own. Girls are taught someone will be there to comfort them. Needless to say, these are pretty basic examples of gendering but they speak volumes by the time boy and girl reach 30.

The key question to ask is, should we be gendering our sons and daughters to this extent? However, I’m not for one moment saying that this is a new thing, it isn’t. But the problem is this: girls learn from an early age that someone will tell them how to do something and when it’s too hard no one will tell them to try again. Maybe this is a good thing? It helps men and women differentiate themselves and their roles in society as sexually mature -adults. However, I’m drawn to the dad-daughter relationship. Is the dad stifling his daughter’s development? Is he – and others like him – being condescending?

Either way, it’s fascinating to observe how parents foster gender in their children from a young age. I’m not for one moment saying that dad’s approach is wrong or that mum is right. What I am saying is, perhaps, the daughter should be given more room to explore the problem (and hence life) and be encouraged to try again. Nevertheless, parenting, I imagine is hard work. Any time a dad gets to spend with his children is precious and that’s probably why the dad-daughter dynamic looks so different at the bouldering wall? After all, mum sees son a lot and is probably glad that she only has to check he doesn’t fall rather than being more hands on.

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