I was raised by hippie parents. And by hippie I don’t mean fun-loving, pot-smoking, free-loving flower children. Mine were more of the hard-core, politically-active, change-the-world variety. Growing up, my parents taught me that I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to do. It wasn’t until later in life that I learned the hard lessons about double standards and how difficult it can be to compete with the good old boys club when you’re not a good old boy.
When my husband and I decided to start a family I dreamed of the strong daughters I would give birth to. I couldn’t wait to teach my imaginary little girls how to stand their ground against the evil forces of misogyny. I was going to raise little feminist warriors who would go out into the world and refuse to accept anything less than equal status. I had all of my empowering stories planned out. I knew my daughters would be so inspired by my words of wisdom that they would lead the revolution against the patriarchy.
Then I had Jack. Then I had Samuel.
Today I live in a house surrounded by men: a husband, two sons, and two male rescue dogs. I am the only estrogen in my house. Football season is the longest 17 weeks of my life (playoffs not included). Boys? What could I possibly teach boys? I’ll admit it took me a while to figure out what to do with my displaced feminist zeal. But gradually over the years I saw significant opportunities to shape the perception my boys have when it comes to women. I’d have these moments of clarity in their young lives where I’d think to myself, “is this where girl-shaming starts?” And then I’d be able to squash it like a bug. Because as mothers of sons we have the unique opportunity to raise them to be our allies. And it’s not as hard as you think (or I thought).
- Female isn’t less than. From the moment we give birth to our children we tend to push them into the “girl box” or the “boy box.” Pink is for girls, blue is for boys. Dolls are for girls, trucks are for boys. Dance is for girls, football is for boys. Our children learn early on what their gender should gravitate towards. But as a mother of boys I’ve done the best I can to teach my sons that the feminine isn’t less desirable and liking what had been deemed as traditionally female doesn’t make them weak. Case in point, my sons were back east with their extended family this summer and I received several messages asking if it was okay for them to buy pink articles of clothing. If the shirts or hats were blue or black or any other color than the girly-girl color pink I’d never have been asked. But my boys don’t think of pink as being shameful. I’ve raised them to recognize the power of being feminine. Pink to them isn’t shameful or lesser. To them it is something desirable. So nothing makes me happier than them buying a pink shirt!
- Words matter. “Stop crying like a little girl.” “You throw like a girl.” I was really pretty stunned every time I heard these phrases uttered. I thought these were antiquated vestige of a bygone era but I sure was wrong! These common phrases that equate “weak” behavior to being female are often passed off as harmless. But they reinforce the notion that women are somehow less than that. And while it stabbed my heart to hear them uttered by an adult to a child it really floored me when I heard it being uttered by my own children. They thought I was being a big old freak when I came down hard on them. Truth be told I probably used some of my pent up anger still lingering over the couple of times I had heard adults using those phrases and couldn’t take them to task. My point is that there is no harmless undermining of gender equality. Even seemingly harmless old-school phrases can damage.
- Lead by example. As working mothers we teach our sons that women are just as capable of bringing home the bacon as men. This is not a knock on stay-at-home-mothers. We choose different paths but we are deserving of the same respect and as women we need to support each other. But in the case of women who work outside of the home our children see firsthand that mom and dad (or in some cases just mom) are capable of earning a pay check and financially supporting our families. For all of those late night client events, early morning meetings, and catching up on projects over the weekend we working moms feel guilt. But please know that your efforts are giving your children something you might not even be aware of. You are proving to them again and again that your financial contribution to the household is valuable. That you are a provider and a protector of your family. While that doesn’t erase all the working mommy guilt, when your son is forty and sees his female peers as absolute equals you will know it was all worth it. And maybe, just maybe we’ll never need #MeToo again.