I'm all about empowering girls and I always have been. When I found out I was having a son, I was in new territory. So I started to think more about the negative pressures boys face in society. It turns out, girls aren't the only ones who suffer from narrow definitions of womanhood. Boys, too, are limited by the culture and people around them.
When I looked into it, I realized that many of the issues plaguing women could also be addressed by making sure we raise our boys differently. I decided to try to do better, starting with how my partner and I raise our son.
Here are 10 things we're doing to raise our boy, that I hope more people will also do. You and your daughters can thank me later.
1. No gendered clothing
When I was pregnant, I told close friends I didn't want gendered clothing. I didn't want my male child to wear onesies that said things like, "Strong and Brave." This doesn't mean I don't want my son to be those things, it means that I recognize how we start pressuring babies from birth to subscribe to very specific notions of what it means to be masculine. Just like how our girls aren't born to wait for Prince Charming, our sons aren't born to be Prince Charming.
I don't assume that my son will express his gender in any particular way, and I don't assume that he will be attracted to women.
2. We don't encourage a love of superheroes
Let me explain: We have not banned superheroes, but we also don't encourage it. Look, superheroes are too violent for a toddler. Again, my son hasn't asked for any and, if he did, we would oblige. But I try to limit watching violent movies or depictions of superheroes around him. I secretly thought I was being crazy (and maybe you think so, too), but his preschool director agreed and she encourages families to refrain from giving young children superhero items.
I know this makes us an aberration in our superhero obsessed culture, but, again where are the female superheroes in films? Don't get me started.
3. All toys are on the table
Pink cars? Yeah, my kid has them. Masculinity isn't defined by rejecting all things female. Think about the message it sends boys when we tell them that all things for girls are bad for them, while we have reached a point where we tell girls they can be anything they want to be. Boys are still existing in this space where they are supposed to reject all things associated with being female. I don't think that's fair, healthy or even natural.
4. Dad does everything Mom does—sometimes more
You don't know how happy I am to have a feminist partner. He's the best choice I've ever made. Gendered roles don't exist in our house for the most part, and I don't just mean housework. (We both hate doing it, so we are equal that way.) What I mean is that Dad books and takes times off work for doctor's appointments, and he coordinates drop off and pick-up for preschool. He checks in with our son's teachers, he takes time off for parent-teacher conferences. We don't default to me being the one who does all things parenting related.
5. We don't assume heterosexuality or gender expression
I don't assume that my son will express his gender in any particular way, and I don't assume that he will be attracted to women. Who he dates, who he loves, will be entirely up to him. He has a half-sister, and we don't tell her she has to wear dresses or dress in "feminine" ways or act like a lady if she chooses not to. Does she need to be polite and have manners? Yes, not because she is female but because she is a person. The same will go for him as he gets older and expresses his own preferences.
Look, I'm not saying girls and boys are not different. But I also won't excuse certain behaviors in him that I wouldn't accept in a little girl, just because he is a male child.
6. We talk a lot about our feelings
We are deliberate in talking about our feelings openly around our son. He is very young, but we hope to continue this as he grows. Why? Because men need outlets for their feelings, too, and our inability to give them tools to do so is resulting in young men who feel that the only outlet is violence and aggression.
We talk openly about our family history with anxiety and depression. Our son is predisposed to these things and, while it's not something we hope he has to deal with, we want him to know that these topics will be up for discussion.
7. We don't slut shame
Comments about women's attire or their behavior are not discussed around him, first, because he is young so he mostly just wants me to sing, "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," second, because we just try to avoid it all together. When we model to our boys that we judge women for wearing clothes that are too revealing, too manly or too "slutty," we are perpetuating an idea that women bear the burden of morality. Yeah, he's young, but I believe children understand more than we think they do.
Look, I'm not saying girls and boys are not different. But I also won't excuse certain behaviors in him that I wouldn't accept in a little girl, just because he is a male child. Just like girls are not polite and dainty by default, male children are not all necessarily born with certain masculine traits, as we have been led to believe. I'm advocating that we examine the ways we tell boys that "they are just being boys," and how that mentality, taken to an extreme, is dangerous for our society. Children rise to the expectations we set for them. So if telling them they are violent creatures that cannot control their impulses, they might just behave in that way.
Call me crazy, but I think that creating a better world for our girls isn't just the responsibility of those raising daughters. It's also on we parents of sons. In the end, it's really about creating a better society for all of us.