I really like this piece by Shannon Brugh over at Rattle & Pen on the challenges of raising sons in a culture that forces kids into gender boxes and, though it claims to be equal, is still decidedly not.
Raising boys in a society that claims to be equal is not easy. It’s supposed to be equal, but of course, it’s not. As much as many of us would like to believe that it is, it’s not even close. James Brown was right. It is a man’s world. So, how do I keep my boys from perpetuating this problem?
This is where I have to get creative. Parenting requires a certain amount of creativity as it is. But teaching boys who already live in a world that applauds them simply for having a penis, to know, to believe, that girls and women are equal to them is tricky.
So how do we do it? First, I think we have to actively teach it. Confront it head on. We have to talk to our boys about respect and equity. We have to tell them that people should be treated equally regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, creed, or preference in condiments. It does not matter. People are people. Respect them and treat them as such. Then, we need to model it. We need to show our boys (and our girls, for that matter) that there is no way they have to be. They have to be respectful and kind, certainly, but they don’t have to vie for power. They don’t have to love blue or football. They don’t have to subjugate. They don’t have to marry a woman—or marry at all. It’s okay if they like pink. It’s okay if their ultimate goal is to be a daddy. It’s okay if they cry.
It’s a complicated world for our children, and our boys, like our girls, encounter contradicting role models and moral compasses every day. They’re told it’s okay to have feelings, but are then made fun of if they cry. They’re told to treat women as equals, but then encounter contradictory images by the truckload in every aspect of the media. Television, movies, video games, music videos, commercials—every aspect of media shows us that women have their place and men have theirs—and never should they overlap.
Brugh also discusses her struggles with being in the traditional feminine role in the family–staying home with the kids, doing most of the housework. She wonders how to teach her sons that this caretaking role–so undervalued and minimized because it’s been coded as feminine–is important, while simultaneously showing that there’s more to her than that. She asks, “How do I show them that women and men can be strong and powerful both in an office and in the home?”