As a socially conscious person, I make it a point to watch what I say and how I say it. I value the thoughts, opinions, beliefs and feelings of those around me, so I don't say whatever comes to mind and with complete disregard of others. As a mother, I have made an even greater effort to watch what I say and how I say it, especially to my son. I've also realized that I'm not the only person my son listens to, which is why I'm acutely aware of the things we need to stop saying to our sons, immediately.
I know all about the horrific messages young girls and women are inundated with on a daily basis, because I was a young girl once and I am a woman, now. I know that I am valued more for my body or appearance or perceived sexuality, than I am for my strength or my courage or my thoughts and beliefs and intelligence. I know that many would rather see me, than hear me, and that I shouldn't be "bossy," which really means I shouldn't voice an opinion or have thoughts independent from and different than a man's. I didn't realize, however, how difficult men have it, too. Of course, they are not sexualized the way women are, or deal with the blatant sexism women face on a daily basis. They may not have to fight for the right to control their own bodies or the right to be paid equally for equal work, but the patriarchy and gender stereotypes hurt men, too, and I see the potential dangers my son (even with the privileges that come with being male, if that is the gender he continues to identify with) will face.
So, just like there are things we need to stop saying to our daughters, there are things we need to stop saying to our sons, too. Especially if want to raise happy, fulfilled, self-sufficient and well-rounded individuals who feel empowered and free to experience every aspect of human existence. Definitely if we want to raise kind, productive and socially conscious members of society that will work to end gender stereotypes and rape culture and other social injustices that hurt, well, everyone.
"Suck It Up"
Society is constantly telling men and young boys that they need to "suck it up" when they're sad or scared or hurt or afraid. While women are generalized as over-sensitive, men are chastised for having any feelings that haven't arbitrarily been deemed "masculine," i.e. anger or courage. Men are taught, instead, that in order to appear "tough," they must stifle their very real, very valid and very human emotions.
Instead of telling our sons that they need to be "tough," we need to encourage them to simply be. Be a human being. Cry and laugh and get scared and allow yourself to voice the fact that you're afraid and be a well-rounded, fully functioning human. Don't keep yourself from experiencing every single ounce of human existence, by stifling very real emotions that, while painful and sometimes uncomfortable, foster some of the best humanity has to offer us all.
"Don't Act Like A Girl"
I honestly can't tell you what it means to "act like a girl" or "act like a boy," especially now that I'm a mother and have witnessed a human being grow and learn and evolve. My son acts no differently than my friend's daughter. Literally, there is no difference in how they play or how they learn or how they interpret their world. Sure, they have their own unique personalities, but how they act is not indicitive or because of their assigned gender. So, before I can even highlight how hurtful this statement is, I have to talk about how ridiculous it is. Because, well, it is.
However, telling a little boy not to "act like a girl" is essentially establishing a fictitious hierarchy of the sexes. You're telling that little boy that women are somehow less than men, and to act like a woman is to act like a subset of humanity. False. So damn false it freakin' hurts. I, for one, will not be teaching my son that acting like his mother is a bad thing.
"Be A Man"
Again, I have no idea what this means, other than the undeniable fact that the patriarchy is still alive and well (despite the best efforts of so many flawless feminists).
When you tell a little boy to "be a man," you're telling him to adhere to certain gender stereotypes that reinforce dangerous concepts of masculinity. You're telling him not to cry, not to be kind or empathetic, not to be nurturing and not to, well, do anything that could be remotely perceived as feminine, because feminine is weak and masculine is strong. These are outdates social constructs that all of us would benefit from ditching. Like, immediately.
"Don't You Want To Grow Up To Be Big And Strong?"
This question (which, I'm sure, no one is looking to have a child actually answer) is telling little boys that the only thing they have to offer the world is their strength and size. That if they don't fulfill a certain (often unhealthy and unattainable) body image, they are failing at being "men." Our sons are already being inundated with dangerous body images (i.e. action figures with seventeen protruding abs and gigantic arms) and images of "men being men" when they're rescuing some damsel or shooting guns or pushing through an inordinate amount of pain in the name of some super secret mission.
I, personally, couldn't give two freakin' sh*ts about my son's potential size or weight, as long as he is healthy and happy. He doesn't need to be able to bench a certain weight or be a certain build, in order to feel or be labeled worthwhile.
"That's Not For Boys..."
It's nothing short of infuriating that we, as a society, have randomly decided to gender articles of clothing or toys or likes and dislikes. Every time I go to the toy aisle of any store, I just get freakin' mad.
Whatever my son plays with, is a toy he can play with (as long as it's safe and not, like, a power outlet). He has a pink puppy he absolutely loves, and he enjoys wearing my jewelry. He also plays with trucks and superhero action figures. Then, of course, he plays with a small doll that he likes to strap into a toy stroller and push around our apartment. My partner and I refuse to tell him that he can't play with something that brings him joy, simply because our culture likes to put people (and the things they do) in a box.
"...And You Don't Want People To Think You're A Girl, Right?"
My son has long eyelashes and long hair (because he doesn't want us to cut it and we respect his toddler-wishes when appropriate and safe) so strangers are constantly referring to him as "her" or a "cute little girl." I couldn't care less. Seriously. There's nothing wrong with being a girl, and I'm certainly not going to instill the belief that being a girl is inherently bad or somehow a step down from being a boy.
Simultaneously and perhaps most importantly, I don't know if the gender my partner and I assigned our son at birth is, in fact, the gender he will inevitably identity with and claim as his own. One day, he may come to us and tell us that he is a girl, and I don't want any past messages to make him (or her) feel like that conversation would be anything other than easy and pleasant and end with our unending support and understanding.
"Boys Don't Cry"
Except, well, they do. Crying is not a weakness and, honestly, weakness isn't "bad." We are all strong and weak at different times in our lives, regardless of gender, and acknowledging that we can be both (sometimes simultaneously) is to celebrate the wonderful complexity of humanity.
"It'll Put Hair On Your Chest"
I'm pretty excited, personally, that I don't hear this statement uttered in or around my presence. I feel like (thankfully) this is a dying sentiment. However, it's still stooped in the idea that what a little boy does (hell, everything that he does) should work towards making him this hyper-masculine man that doesn't have feeling or emotions and doesn't experience pain or fear or doubt or anything remotely human.
"Boys Will Be Boys"
This sentiment is dangerous for so many reasons, I'm often filled with far too much rage before I can even articulate why it's horrible. However, and sadly, since this statement is regurgitated ad nauseam, I have since learned how to stifle that rage and argue against such ridiculousness.
Telling men (and young men and boys) that "boys will be boys," is telling men that they are not responsible for their actions. It sends the message that, because they're boys, they cannot control their thoughts or emotions or urges. It creates a culture that fosters hurtful, irresponsible and dangerous men, who simply believe that their actions are OK because, well, they're boys. They can't help it. It's who they are on some molecular level. False.
It also downplays the abilities of our sons. I know that my son can, in fact, learn to be kind and to not hit someone on the playground, even when he wants to and even when they have hijacked his scooter without asking. I know that he can grow out of his toddler tendencies to pitch a fit because he's not getting what he wants, or take something that doesn't belong to him simply because he wants it. Hell, I see him learn and grow and evolve on a daily basis, and I will not buy into the belief that his capacity to learn will end "early," just because he's a boy and "that's just what boys do."
"You're Acting Like Such A Girl"
It pains me to admit that, sadly, my son will probably hear this from the mouth of some ill-informed little boy (or boys) on the playground or at school or at some playdate. I probably won't be around to tell him the many reasons why this isn't an insult and shouldn't be construed as such. Thankfully, though, I will have already done the work so that when this day inevitably comes, he won't care.
Acting like a girl isn't bad. Throwing like a girl isn't bad. Looking like a girl isn't bad and dressing like a girl isn't bad and talking like a girl isn't bad. Nothing about being a girl is bad, and I truly hope I'm raising a son that will say, "Thank you," when someone says he's "being a girl," because he'll know that being a girl is pretty badass.