Sometime in the last two weeks or so, I looked at Rian, and momentarily looked away. When I looked back at him again, he had suddenly changed from my eldest baby, to my little boy. Somehow, even though I have been looking at him almost constantly, he grew out of his baby like ways and morphed into this little boy, right in front of me. It’s like he went to bed one way, and woke up another. All of a sudden he seemed taller, more outspoken, more determined, he had more words and lots more attitude! It’s just amazing how fast they both change.
And it got me thinking again, about what sort of boys, men, people I want them to be. I am often fascinated at how personalities can be shaped and the things that can influence it. I wonder are we born with a certain amount of morals, ideals, and taught the rest? I often think of my three sisters and I, we all had more or less the same upbringing but of course we are all four different people. How much is taught to us and how much are we just born with, and how much of what’s left is shaped by society?
So with this in mind I often think carefully about what I want to teach the boys, how I want to shape their minds and what way will I go about it. All the usuals of course – right from wrong, kindness, honesty and right up along with all the big ones are manners – I’m a strong believer in good manners. But also – and very importantly to me – I want my boys to be feminists.
I want my sons to grow up thinking of themselves as no different to anyone else in their playgrounds. No better or worse, just equal. I don’t want them thinking they have to play football just because they’re boys, or that they can’t play football with girls because girls are girls. But it’s more than that. Feminism to me is equality – for women and for men. Someone recently used the phrase ‘cry like a girl’ within earshot of Rian, and although I am certain they used the phrase casually because, like it or not, it is often used as a passing phrase, but it really irritated me. It really is not an idea I want them to be familiar with. Cry like a girl implies girls are weak to cry. I want them to cry if they feel like crying. ‘Boys don’t cry’ is another of these phrases – but of course they do. My heart would break at the thought of Rian or Alex wanting to cry but instead they don’t, they bottle it up and think to themselves, I can’t cry, I’m a boy.
I know Feminism is much much more than that. Perhaps I’m wrong even referring to this as Feminism in the first place, . Gender based restrictions are all over the place, everywhere we look, from toy shops to workplaces. Assumptions are made based on society’s archaic ideals. We assume they’ll grow up and want to play football or rugby for example. But what if one of them wants to do ballet? I often say this to my husband, joking, just to see what he’d say. But what if one of them does? Do I say no because it’s too ‘girly’? Of course not.
I digress. This isn’t about them growing up and realising that they like things that are wrongly aimed at a particular gender. It’s not about that. They can grow up and be whoever whatever they want to be, I just want it to never occur to them that they should think twice about it, or think ‘how would this look?’ or wonder ‘ SHOULD I be doing this if I’m a boy?’. I don’t want to place my assumptions or the assumptions of society on them just because they happen to be one gender over the other.
And I’m not perfect. Of course I will make these assumptions, some consciously and some subconsciously because that’s what I’ve absorbed my whole life. But I’m determined to try my very best for them.
I often see articles and opinions shaped around how we need to raise girls more like our boys. And in one way this is great, I sometimes personally notice small day to day occurrences of casual sexism from both men and women towards eachother. But what if we need to raise children as children and not as one or the other? Or to be better than one or the other? Pink toys, blue toys. Boys games, girls games. Boys clothes, girls clothes. As a kid I DETESTED being put in anything even remotely girly and even more so detested playing ‘girly’ games like Barbie. Why can’t we forget about gender and raise them to believe they can achieve whatever they want to as long as they work hard enough for it. That they don’t have to behave according to their gender – boys and men can cry and girls and women can muscle up like Arnie if they want. I hope I manage it right. The more I think about it, the more I’m beginning to wonder if it’s actually harder to raise feminist boys over feminist girls. Generally it is more widely accepted now that we teach our girls to be anything they want and so to play with toys traditionally aimed at boys like farming toys or superhero things is fine, but, for boys to be seen playing with traditional ‘girl’ toys is much less so.
And there’s a more serious side to it. Take Donald Trump’s ‘Locker room’ comments that were highlighted during his presidency campaign. I want my boys to be the ones who turn and walk away from that, but not before pointing out how wrong it is. To stand up to their peers, tell them it’s wrong, and not to just laugh along because it’s popular. To have that strength of mind and character.
How do I plan on doing it? Like everything else in my methods of parenting, I’ll just do my best and wing it! I’ll try and lead by example. I will teach them that strength does not only mean muscly arms, but dealing with and showing emotions whenever you feel them. That often the things we view as weak or ‘feminine’ are actually signs of pure strength. The frustrating thing is that I feel it is society that will influence them most and a lot of it will be outside of my control. So to regularly talk about it and challenge views as often as possible, ask them why things need to be a certain way. Young kids don’t see differences like colour or shape or size, they just see people. So I suppose I want to try and continue this mindset as they grow up. Boys may be boys, but I will do my best to raise mine to be Men.