Yep, a boy. I have one of those, a 14-month-old tyke who’s currently obsessed with animals and tractors, who climbs the sofa, and tries to eat daisies. How do I raise that gorgeously innocent boy in our sexist and unequal society?
The feminist in me would have known exactly what to do with a girl. I’d have banned the princesses and taken her to science museums. I’d have bought her every colour other than pink. I’d have explained that she could be anything she wanted, that she didn’t need to be pretty to be valued, that she had a right to speak her mind AND be heard.
I would also have had to prepare her for life as woman in a world that values men and ‘male’ characteristics: dominance, detachment, physical strength. I’d have had to accept the fact that, like me, she would probably learn to always be on her guard, to always worry about her safety, to feel she couldn’t do certain things. Like me, she’d encounter misogyny in all areas of life (and if you think I’m exaggerating, go read The Everyday Sexism Project. I could add at least 10 entries off the top of my head, though fortunately none of serious abuse).
I’m certain that I would have felt frustrated at times, and worried about her continued exposure to pinkified toys, biased books, unrealistic magazine shoots and boobs masquerading as news. And that’s just the things in my own, relatively tame backyard. But at least I would have known what battles to pick.
With my boy? I have no idea. And yet I do feel I need to formulate a battle-plan, partly because I don’t want him to become one of the men who thinks that cat-calling is okay (or worse, but I can’t bear to think about that), and partly because boys and men also suffer in a sexist and unequal world. There is huge pressure on men to be stoical, successful, muscular, driven, wealthy, and so on. Many a conversation between myself and Mr P&P on shared childcare responsibilities has boiled down to him lamenting the fact that neither society-at-large nor many corporate environments support men who wish to prioritise their families in any way. We are ‘lucky’ in that, as an academic, his work schedule is fairly flexible and he managed to take 16 days paternity leave as opposed to the 3 that are usual in Italy…
And then there is the effect of everyday stereotypes on boys, that only girls are allowed to show emotion, to coo over animals and play parent, to cry whenever they like without being told to ‘man up’. Although I’m sure every parent thinks this about their child, M is a sensitive soul – he loves cuddles and kisses, hates being alone, and when he isn’t trying to eat the daisies he will bring them over to his mummy one-by-one. It breaks my heart to think that he might grow up to think that he has to just ‘suck it up’ if he feels depressed, anxious, or lonely.
So the feminist in me has decided to fight just as hard for my boy as I would have done for a daughter. Because to me, being a feminist isn’t really about hating pink and princesses (though I do), or encouraging girls to take up science (though we should). It’s about supporting not only One Billion Rising but also celebrating male feminists (they do exist) and giving men who don’t feel like ‘manning up’ somewhere to go. It’s about fighting for equal opportunities for women AND better parental leave arrangements for men. It’s about teaching boys to believe in themselves, in their choices, and in their ability to stand up to social injustice of any kind. It’s just as much about instilling body confidence in boys as it is in girls. It’s about all of us standing up to prejudice, hatred and inequality because Inspiring Change in only half the population isn’t really much good.
I’m still figuring out how I’m going to do all that when it’s at home, but do it I will. Do it WE will.