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10 Things No Grown-Ass Man Should Ever Say To My Son

As a mom, I have a few simple goals for my son. I want him to be safe and healthy. I want him to be honest, empathetic, and kind to everyone he meets, to stand up for himself and anyone else who is being mistreated, and to feel the deep joy and fulfillment that comes from being his own best self. None of that is gender specific, which is why I find it frustrating that people, particularly men, are already trying to stuff him into the “man box.” There are certain things no grown-ass man should ever say to my son, for any reason, because they have nothing to do with being a good person, and everything to do with a set of bad ideas that make life worse for people of all genders.

Presumably, my son is cisgender, though we honestly won't know for sure what his gender identity is until he gets old enough to understand it and tell us. Regardless of what that turns out to be, I want him to have the freedom to define that for himself, rather than feeling pressured to act a certain way because of what other people believe about people who were born with similar body parts to his. I also don't want people telling him things that suggest he's only allowed to feel certain feelings, or that he can only pursue interests they think are for people like him. It makes my job as a mom a lot harder when other people try to teach him to hide or otherwise lie about what he thinks, feels, and likes on a regular basis. Pretending to do and be only the things society assigns to your gender is not a path to being an honest, fulfilled person.

Also, if #MasculinitySoFragile that random dudes feel threatened when a toddler doesn't “act like a man” while out in public, then the whole concept is overdue for an absolute destruction. If the future of "manhood" rests on whether or not my son cries after dropping his free sample at Costco, it belongs in the trash can of history, next to his dirty bite of ravioli.

“Be A Man”

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Nope, nope, nope. My son is a child, not an adult, so it is not his job to “be a man.” He doesn't have to “be a man” ever, really, ‘cause his gender identity is his business. But even given the strong likelihood that he's a cisgender male, he still doesn't have to “be a man” until he turns 18, and even then he won't need anyone to tell him to do that. Just by continuing to exist and be male, he will be being a man. “Be a man” is at best an unnecessary, and at worst a stupid and sexist, thing to say.

“Man Up”

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Again, nope. As a child, he has no responsibility to manhood, period. Also, if what they mean to say with this phrase is “be brave,” then that's what they should say. Bravery isn't gender-specific.

“Nut Up” (Or Any Variants Thereof)

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Courage has nothing to do with genitalia (though if it did, vaginas would obviously be a much stronger candidate to represent strength and bravery). If my son, or any child, needs to be encouraged to tap into their innate bravery, it makes way more sense to remind them of all their strong character traits and things they've successfully faced in the past, than to appeal to a weird and off-the-mark comment about male genitalia.

“Don't Be Such A Baby”

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Unlike most of these shaming remarks, this is often leveled at people of all genders who dare to express an emotion other than happiness or anger. But all people, of all ages, are entitled to feel the full range of human emotions, my son included.

“Don't Be A P*ssy”

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Do I even have to explain why uttering this phrase would get a person banned from our lives forever? No shaming, no using derogatory words for female anatomy to assist in said shaming, and no telling my son he's not allowed to feel however he feels at a given time.

“Girls Won't Like You If You…”

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I find it especially baffling that men are already saying this to my son. One, everyone likes him because he's get-away-with-murder levels of adorable, so he's not sweating the prospect of anyone not liking him. Two, “girls” are not a monolithic group that thinks and feels the same about things, nor did they all vote and authorize anyone who says stuff like this to be their official spokesperson. Three, the only reason he should be especially concerned with what girls (versus people more generally) think of him, is if he's romantically interested in them. He may well be romantically interested in them someday, but he's not now, because he's a toddler.

“Don't Cry”

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People are allowed to cry if something makes them feel like crying. My son is a person. Therefore, he is allowed to cry.

“You're Too Sensitive”

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This is another one that gets leveled at people of all genders, though the threshold for what's considered “too sensitive” seems to be a lot lower for boys and men. But this is ridiculous because there is no single acceptable level of being “sensitive,” that other people get to decide for us.

If my son — or any other child — needs help making better behavioral choices in response to their feelings, that's a separate issue. The issue isn't that he needs to feel less, it's that he needs help managing his behavior. (But honestly? A person who thinks it's OK to tell others they're “too sensitive” probably isn't my idea of a role model on this front, so I’d prefer that they just let me and my partner handle it.)

“That's For Girls”

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Nope. He can wear, play with, or do whatever activities he wants. He's allowed to follow his own tastes, preferences, and interests, because he's not responsible for upholding someone else’s idea of what it means to be a boy. He's responsible for being a good person, and being true to himself.

“Real Men [X]”

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All men are real men, so trying to get him to act a certain way by telling him it's what “real men” do makes no sense. If they mean to teach him to be honorable and good, they should just say that, because being a good person has nothing to do with gender, and should be a worthwhile goal on its own, not just if it gets him the privilege that goes along with being considered a “real man.”

And if being a “real man” means anything besides being a good person, then I don't want anyone teaching my son anything about it, anyway.