This morning the lilEinstien asked me that question to which the hubby laughed and blurted out, “yes, and it gets worse as they get older. Get used to it!” I was not amused.
You see, I am trying to raise feminist sons. Not emasculated boys who cannot feel comfortable in their own skins. I want them to grow into men who will respect women. And the lilEinstien’s question was a fair one given the media and social influences in our society that lead him to question what makes a person good or bad while he is also considering the larger social constructs of the kind of false-beauty as he sees it on tv and in the movies in contrast to the beauty he sees in the people he loves and cares about in our circle of loveys.
The hubby’s clarification was trite after being on the receiving end of my mama-glare. “It’s more complicated than that,” he told the lilEinstien, “sometimes the pretty girls are really mean and the ugly girls are nice.” Whatever that means to a 7 year old.
My boys may not grow up to call themselves feminist. But they are growing up to respect the ways in which girls are different than boys and also the ways in which girls are the same as boys. You see, it is not a hard and fast line between the girl/boy gender dichotomy even if that is what our kids see on tv. So we talk about the differences and the samenesses and we challenge what they “know” about being a boy versus being a girl in their daily lives. When the ePrince and buddies talk about a girl being less than virtuous, we talk about why her choices might cause herself harm, but their judgments about her behavior are just that – judgmental. We turn these kinds of discussions over and around until they can see the fallacy of perceived good-girl behavior and contrast that with the larger picture of what is acceptable conduct for boys.
And I know, as their feminist mother, that there are some battles I am going to lose. Try as I might, I have never been able to convince an elementary school teacher to disrupt the girls line and boys line in walking to class. Despite this strategy for organizing children as having fallen out of favor in most of the rest of the country, my homestate still utilizes this convenient gender-normative practice. Nevermind the child who doesn’t really know which line is best for them – the other kids will pour on the social pressure and demand that kid fall into a gender appropriate line as defined by the class.
At our house we have some simple rules about respect and not just for women, but all kinds of people. We don’t ever tell our boys to “man up” because that just doesn’t make any kind of sense in a household like ours. And that is not to say that our boys are not rough and tumble, they most certainly are. Still, the hubby is not always on board with the feministing of our boys. Sometimes he is downright frustrated with always having to hash out every issue through the lens of women’s studies theory. Sometimes he finds it convenient to take advantage of our assigned gender roles to get what he wants in the world outside of our house.
But inside our house, I am responsible for the care and keeping of the children while managing the powertool-type jobs that need to be accomplished. The hubby cooks and is our breadwinner. We share the folding of the laundry and the cleaning of the floors. I am a hellion to cross and the hubby can be passive-aggressive. We have a somewhat equal relationship. Our family life does not mesh well with the vision of “family” as marketed for the masses. And we talk about that too. Going to the hardware store can have me furious and ranting about sexist men while the Housewives of… has the hubby fuming over guileless female victims. We talk and talk and talk some more about the roles we are expected to play in our society and the way we are actually most comfortable living.
I think some of this talk is rubbing off on our boys. We are all modelling more equal and respectful kinds of relationships (even if in my marriage it is a hard won kind of equality). My guys may not muddy the waters of gender normativity on the surface, but in raising them to be conscious consumers of socialization and culture we are challenging those perceptions of self as foisted on them by the larger community in which we live. This methodology of raising children feels like a great social experiment! Watching my 16 year old ePrince develop into his manliness and the lilEinstien being sharp enough to ask this question of the day makes me feel like I just might have done something right as a mama. But their child-rearin’ is not yet over and it is too soon to tell how it will all come out; lest you think I’m basking in some self-righteous glory. I know I still have mama-work to do that will not end, even into their adult lives, when they will have even more pressure to conform to ideas of manhood.
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