I grew up in a typical Mexican-American family in Southern California, surrounded by familia—aunts, uncles, cousins, my siblings and our grandparents. My mother was newly divorced, so our extended family was a constant in our lives, especially her four brothers. Observing the way our family functioned, I got the subtle feeling that women were inferior to men. Then, men did what they pleased and the women served them. Steeped in tradition, I chafed under the culture of machismo.
The men were catered to, their clothes laid out for them, they never helped out around the house and all of their meals magically appeared before them—steaming hot—the minute they pulled up a chair at the kitchen table. And it wasn't just the grown men, this included the younger men and the boys, too. This bugged me even more.
The raging 8-year-old feminist in me was not very happy when I was told I couldn't do the same things my brother did. In fact, it drove me nuts. Whether it was riding my bike up and down the street, hanging out at a friend's house, going to a birthday party, or playing sports, it wasn't fair to say I couldn't do it when my brother could. When I was allowed to do something, my brother was appointed my chaperone, even though I was a year older (and a whole head taller) than he was.
I vividly recall making a promise to myself that if I ever had a son and daughter, I wouldn't make my son's life more valuable than my daughter's. I would also make the conscious effort to teach my sons to be self-sufficient and helpful, and not the stereotypical Latino male that expects to be catered to. Fast forward several years and I'm now the mother to six children, four sons (ages 12, 14, 16 and 17) and two daughters (ages 9 and 11).
I've tried my best to teach my sons how to cook for themselves, how to wash their own laundry, change their sheets, clean the bathroom, mow the lawn, fix things around house—basically, all the things they'll need to know when they're on their own, not to mention when they're husbands one day. I don't want my sons to think their wives have to do everything for them, either. I want a happy daughter-in-law who will be content to raise my grandchildren.
I hope that I'm also doing a good thing for my daughters, too. Not only are they learning how to do all of these things their brothers are, they are seeing gender roles play out differently than I did as a young girl. I want them to understand they're just as valuable as their brothers.
I hope my sons understand that a man should know how to take care of themselves. Doing kind things for your partner is a beautiful thing and it's how we convey our love for one another, but there is something to be said about a man who is capable and willing. That is what I want for my sons.