A few months ago, I was hanging out with my son near a bouncy house, where all the kids had taken their shoes off. My little one, around 16 months at the time, found another kid’s sparkly shoe and was immediately taken with it. I was watching him, smiling and making sure he didn’t take off with it. Another parent spotted us, bent down toward him and said, “Oh, no! You don’t want that girly shoe!” It's already happening, I thought. People are already trying to stuff my baby boy into the "Man Box." It was one of many times in his still-new life that having a son has reminded me how much we all need feminism.
I’m a feminist mom because I want better for my son. If he's not actually a cisgender guy, I don't want him to grow up thinking that's the only fully legitimate way to be, and that he’s lacking somehow for not being that way. I he is, I don't want him to join the legions of hurt, angry, broken men who either struggle to learn to be full people, or fail to unlearn all the toxic stuff they've been raised with and, as a result, end up hurting other people and themselves. Feminism is as urgent for our sons as it is for the rest of our children, because toxic masculinity distorts and dehumanizes them, too, and fuels the overwhelming majority of the danger everyone of every gender faces.
Honestly, if he decides the next time we go shoe shopping that he wants sparkly shoes, I’m happy to buy them for him. The shoe my son found was awesome, and caught his eye because it was interesting. It has no gender. Fortunately, he ignored the person talking at him and kept playing until the shoe’s owner returned. I hope that as he gets bigger, he continues to tune out people like this, and that when he can’t, that what we say to him will resonate louder than the people who do things like the following.
When People Congratulate You For Having A Boy Instead Of A Girl
I'm always amazed by the number of people (men and self-hating women alike) who congratulated me for having a son after I first gave birth. “Oh, a boy! That's so great. Girls are so much drama and they're so much harder.” No, it's not at all insulting to talk a bunch of sh*t about my gender right to my face, or suggest that the person I just went to all the trouble of making from scratch is somehow inherently better than me. Grr.
When People Try To Give You Sexist Baby Clothes
No, I actually have no need for a “lock up your daughters” onesie, thanks. I prefer not to swathe my infant in glaring examples of rape culture.
All The Sexist Clothes Aimed At Baby Boys, In General
Not sexist in just the, “you can only wear variations of blue” sense, but the glaringly sexist messages, like onesies that say “Tough Like Daddy,” but never say “Tough Like Mommy.” Sure, my male partner is tough, but last I checked, it was me who pushed this kid into the world. That was pretty tough. So are any of a number of the incredibly strong, brave things moms do on a daily basis. Mothers are exemplars of toughness, just as much as fathers are. We are legitimate role models to our sons.
(Also? We could probably do without all the clothes with heteronormative, uncomfortably Oedipal messages, like that a baby boy is “Mommy’s Prince Charming.”)
When People Tell Your Child To “Man Up”
Umm, no. One, children are not grown ups, and shouldn't be held responsible for acting like they are. Two, boys are human, and they're allowed to have the full range of feelings that humans experience. Three, there's never a reason to tell another person, of any age, to “man up” or "be a man" because there's basically nothing men can do in reaction to any given situation that people of any other gender aren't also capable of doing. The statement is either sexist and inappropriate, or just completely meaningless.
When People Attribute All Of His Behavior To Being Male
My son’s personality is very similar to mine. We're both strong-willed and energetic; we're both curious and outgoing and friendly; we both love to be physically active. I could go on and on and on. Yet whenever people see him running around or doing pretty much anything, they frequently say something along the lines of, “Haha! Classic little boy,” like it couldn't possibly be that those are common behaviors to people of many genders, or that that's just his personality.
When People Apologize Too Profusely For Assuming Your Infant Son Is A Girl
Misgendering someone can be very offensive and problematic, so we should try to avoid doing that to people. However, when a passing stranger mistakes my baby’s gender, it's really not a big deal. Truthfully, we're really only guessing at what his gender is right now, so it's not set until he gets older and can tell us his thoughts on the matter. So, apologizing excessively (basically anything beyond a simple, "Oops! My bad!") for mistaking a baby boy for a baby girl reveals that they think there's something bad about being a baby girl, like they just took something from him by making that assumption. Oy.
When People Call Your Son A “Future Ladykiller”
This is especially obnoxious when the child in question is still a baby or toddler. At that stage, we have no idea what his sexual orientation is, so we shouldn't just assume he'll be interested in women. Two, WTF? I'm not entirely sure as to what “ladykiller” actually means, but it definitely doesn't sound like “man who respects women as people and as equal partners in any relationship,” so I'm not on board with it.
When People Say “Boys Will Be Boys”
Raaaaaage. Not only are people like this uttering toxic, sexist nonsense in your presence, they're often actively undermining your attempts at discipline. Boys are people, and all people must be held accountable for their behavior, period. No good parent should let sexist stereotypes lead them to raise their son to be a thoughtless jerk, or leave them more vulnerable to the social, economic, and legal consequences of being irresponsible or violent toward other people, particularly those who aren't straight, cisgender boys and men. That's exactly what the “boys will be boys” attitude promotes.
When People Try To Limit What Toys Sons Can Play With
Yes, my son can play with dolls. I'm not at all worried he'll be confused by that, though I am worried about the little boys who never get to play with dolls, or who are never allowed to play with toy kitchens and cleaning supplies. They’re the ones who often grow up to be confused, because they have to somehow reconcile the expectation that they will be doting fathers and equal contributors around the house with a lifetime of being told that caring for other people and households isn't part of what it means to be male.
When People Question Or Shame You And Your Son Over His Self-Expression
Sparkly shoes for everybody! All kids should be allowed to be who they are. They should dress how they like, do what interests them, and be friends with anyone who interests them and treats them well. When people criticize boys or their parents for choosing bright or ruffly clothes, for skipping sports in favor of other activities, or having platonic friends of other genders, it's not just sad for us and our kids, it's another glaring reminder that our work as feminists is far from done.