10 Early Sexist Red Flags To Watch Out For While Your Son Is Still Young
No wants to raise a sexist kid (I mean, I'm hoping). We want our children to be better versions of ourselves, especially our sons who, like it or not, are born with a greater privilege, simply by being assigned male and basically given the keys to the kingdom. Our culture, which is still broadly misogynistic and patriarchal in nature, still greatly values the (imagined, superior) abilities of men over women, especially if that man happens to be heterosexual and white. All of which means that parents who have sons have a unique and vital responsibility to raise members of society who won't take advantage of their male privilege but, instead, uses it to further gender equality.
It's kind of a huge deal, and it starts earlier than you think.
We don't want to bog our children down with a sense of social duty at a far too early age — as a mom to an 18-month-old son, I can say firsthand that I want my kid to simply be a kid, and wait to worry about the social implications of his gender for as long as humanly possible — but eventually, our sons will face moments of sexism, in which our culture will play to their favor, and it's up to us to equip them with the moral obligation to work towards equality, instead of play into the lazy, easy sexist tropes that celebrate them, and condemn roughly half of the population they share their world with.
That's a lot of pressure, if I do say so myself. I am acutely aware of the job I have ahead of me, as a feminist mother who hopes to raise a feminist son. Which is why these 10 sexist red flags are worth watching out for while raising a son. Like they say, the best offense is a good defense.
He Thinks Girls Are Weak
It could be as harmless as, "She's a girl so I should help her," or as outright detrimental as, "She's a girl, so she can't do that thing at all." If your son starts to think that he's capable of doing something simply because he's a boy, and a little girl is incapable of doing something just because she's a girl, there might be a problem. Gender does not determine strength or capability, but there are so many subtle messages swimming around your son's head that it can be so easy for him to gain that impression, which is obviously something you want to nip in the bud.
He Doesn't Think A Girl Can Do Something A Boy Can Do
"You play baseball like a girl!" has become a notorious line in an otherwise fun-loving classic movie, yet the message behind that now-infamous line is dangerous. If your son starts to mimic the "wisdom" of The Sandlot's Ham Porter, chances are he's starting to think that an individual's gender identity somehow influences their abilities.
He Doesn't Think He Can Or Should Cry
Be weary and concerned if your son says he can't or shouldn't cry "because he's a boy." If he's denying himself the very real, very necessary ability to be emotional, he's probably equating specific feelings to a specific weakness. "Only girl's cry" or "only girl's get sad" or "sympathy is weak" are all signs that your son is starting to buy into the idea, although aging and severely out-dated, that's still prevalent that says men can't and shouldn't express emotion.
He's Mean To Girls "Because He Likes Them"
This type of behavior falls right in line with the "boys will be boys" mentality, that rid men of the consequences of their often invasive (or even harassing, or even violent) actions, simply because they are men. The truth is, hitting or pushing or being rude to someone is never an acceptable form of behavior. This is true even if you're a kid and you're nervous because you have a crush on someone and you're unsure of how to act around them.
He Doesn't Think He Should Wear Pink Or Play With Dolls
If your son doesn't think that wearing pink, playing house, liking dolls, or fake cooking in his fake kitchen is appropriate for him because he's a boy, he's likely learned a sexist tendency or two. I mean, it's obviously fine if he's just not into any of that stuff (just like it's fine if girls aren't into it either), but if your son says things that imply he's intentionally opting out of those activities because of his gender, that's a problem. The idea that the kitchen or the color pink or specific toys are for girls, while other toys or preferences are specific for boys, is learned. Our children don't naturally inherit these gender identifiers: They're thrust upon them by a culture that believes people should be divided up into sections, judged by their actions, and beholden to gender stereotypes that honestly serve zero purpose.
He Tells You Moms Can't Do Certain Things
If your kid says, "You can't do that mom, because you're a mom," it's time to stop and take notice. It might be a harmless happenstance, but it could be indicative of a larger problem. Our society has a very narrow view of motherhood, and it's often one that seems to strip women of their personalities so that they can fit into a preconceived, carefully constructed ideal of mom-ness (whatever the hell that means). Moms can't be sexual and mothers shouldn't work, but stay-at-home moms are lazy, but mothers who look for fulfillment outside of their families are selfish... It's all counterintuitive and dangerous and rampant in a society that seems to be constantly inventing new ways to make women feel bad about their life choices, in general. It might not seem like your little son is aware of any of that, and to be fair, he probably isn't...but that doesn't mean it's any less worth addressing when he makes comments about things you can/cannot or should/should not do based on your being his mom.
He Gets Frustrated And Aggressive Easily
Aggression and/or violence are seemingly acceptable characteristics for little boys. While women are criticized for "acting out" or even being passionate about an opinion or feeling (stop me, ladies, if you've been told you're "too emotional" or "need to calm down"), men are provided the social freedom to be intrusive, contentious, and even belligerent. If your little man seems to act out on on the regular, and doesn't see anything wrong with being violent or hostile, and seems to tie those things to his identity as a boy, there's something wrong with that.
He Is Rudely Competitive
I'll be the first to admit: I'm a competitive person. I don't think there's anything wrong with a (healthy) competitive nature. However, if you see your son turning most situations into a "he vs. she" rivalry, there might a problem. Separating humanity into binary categories like "male" and "female" isn't necessarily healthy in and of itself. Once you pit genders against one another, especially at a young age, sexist mindsets are just around the corner.
He Blames Girls For His Actions And Problems
Kids are going to act out and get in trouble. It's a foregone conclusion and honestly, an important part of self-discovery, evolution, and positive learning. However, if your son tends to blame others for his behavior — especially girls — there could be a problem. Our culture is quick to blame women for the negative actions of men; i.e. victim blaming, slut-shaming, etc. It's easy for our sons to learn that they're not responsible for the manners in which they conduct themselves. In fact, schools teach our sons to be sexist in a variety of ways, like enforcing ridiculous dress codes on their female students because they're "distracting" to boys, or separating students based on their gender.
His Friends Are Mean
We all like to see the best in our children, but we can learn a lot about how our kids act when they're away from us based on how their friends act. If your kid's friends are rude, sexist, and generally unpleasant to their female counterparts, chances are (and I'm sorry to break it to you so bluntly) your kid might be too. I'm not saying to police your kids' friends (how and to what degree you do that is totally up to you), but I am saying it doesn't hurt to be weary of who your son spends time with — his peers are going to shape his world views just as strongly as you will. If you see problematic, sexist tendencies popping up in his friends' behaviors, at the very least, there's nothing to be lost by having a conversation with your son about what's right and wrong on those issues.