You'd think that having a girl would be the ultimate parental exercise in facing sexism. Don't get me wrong — it's an ordeal. People say people say creepy things to my daughter all the time. But unfortunately the chauvanistic, crappy fun doesn't stop there. Turns out there's enough gender normative nonsense for boys and girls. Wheeeeeeee! And here you were, parents of boys, worried that you would be bored.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: feminism is good for everyone. And not just in a "everyone is happy when the ladies are happy" kind of way. Just as there are gender expectations for girls that are damaging, limiting, and dangerous, so too do those same forces exist for boys, and it's heartbreaking. I mean, you've all seen Billy Elliot, yes? If you have seen it, you basically already get everything I'm about to talk about. (And you can take a moment to remember Billy's audition scene with me. God, what a good movie.) If you haven't seen this 16-year-old classic, please bookmark this article, go get the movie, watch it, sob, and then come back and read this article with a newfound understanding of how gender expectation (and yes, crushing poverty, socio-political upheaval, and personal loss) hurts boys.
OK. Are we all good? Are we all ready? Great. Let's look at some of the terribly unnecessary, creepy, and weird things our boys have to deal with.
When someone is telling someone else to man up, they're either telling them:
- To demonstrate perseverance
- To suffer in silence
- To supress emotion
OK. Working backwards here. Why would you tell anyone to supress their emotions? No good ever came of that! You can't tell me y0u haven't seen Frozen. "Conceal, don't feel, don't let them know" is not a good life strategy. As for suffering in silence: Dude. These are kids. Come on now. And finally, why would you only equate perseverance with maleness? That's weird and sexist at the same time.
"That's For Girls"
Whenever someone suggests to my son why something is for girls (My Little Pony, a princess dress, a particular toy) I challenge them to tell me why. I have yet to hear an even half-way logical answer.
Be they thinly veiled or overt, gay jokes aren't acceptable. Too often I hear adults (actual, fully formed adults) chuckling/pretending to be nervous about the possibility that a young boy might be gay. Example: If a young boy walks out of his parents' room wearing his mom's high heels and some adult in the room present says, "Oh boy! You're going to have to deal with that or you're going to be listening to a lot of show tunes in the future." For one, OMG he's a kid, please stop. For another, you're implying that being gay is something to be fought against. Not only does it absolutely not work like that, but even if it did, there's nothing wrong with being gay. Stop trying to recruit the next generation of bro-y little homophobes into your club.
Again, you're talking to a child here. Kids cry, including boys. Look, I'm sorry you're falling victim to Toxic Masculinity, but let's not push it on little boys.
"What A Flirt!"
He's not flirting. He's 3 months old and he smiles when he has gas. Stop being creepy.
Any Unsolicited Opinion Regarding Circumcision
WOW, NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK SHOULD HAPPEN TO A FORESKIN, SO PLEASE STFU ABOUT THIS ONE ALREADY. Let it go. Fortunately, no one actually talks about this with my son, but they talked to me about it, largely before my son was born, spouting their opinions. I'm not saying there's no intelligent discussion to be had on the topic, but let's maybe talk about it generally rather than telling one another what we should do about our babies' penises.
"What Are You Going To Do About [Gender Non-Conforming Behavior] When He Gets Older?"
Ummm. Nothing? Yeah, probably a whole heap of nothing. Because it doesn't matter, so I'm not concerned. I am, however, concerned that with your preoccupation with my child's future gender expressions. What's the deal with that?
"You Don't Want That"
Very similar to "that's for girls," but taking things one creepy step farther by overtly dictating what is acceptable and unacceptable gender performance. Like, of course my son wants to play dolls. He picked up the doll and started rocking it. In what universe does that translate to "you don't want that"?
"He's Not Cute — He's Tough!"
He's not so tough. He weighs 40 pounds and I could definitely take him in a fight (which I wouldn't because I'm not a psycho or a monster). But for real, why should a little kid be concerned with being "tough"? And why can't you be tough and cute at the same time, like a seal? (Don't believe seals are tough? They live under mountains of frozen ice, leap out of the water, and eat penguins in a single gulp — seals are metal AF. And also totally cute.)
"Don't Hit Girls"
Even when I was little, this was super weird to me. Why just girls? Isn't it good advice not to hit anyone? "Well, in self-defense, it's OK to hit another boy," some have replied. Sure, why not, let's hypothetically say that someone is assaulting you and literally has you backed into a corner and your only hope is to punch your way out. So... if that person is a girl, self-defense isn't a valid excuse to hit someone anymore? I has a confused. And that's because when a lot of people back up their "don't hit girls" argument, what they mean is "hit other boys for the purpose of proving you're a Real Man, but only after they've thrown the first punch." It's all a mess, this whole statement and the sentiments behind it.
It's a color. A color. It's a completely arbitrary assignment that didn't even exist until a few decades ago. Just let them like or wear whatever color they damn well please. We have so, so, so many creepy-ass ideas about what it means to be a boy and a man. Let's just all agree, as civilized people here and now, to break the cycle and let boys be boys... and by that I mean "let boys be themselves rather than your bizarre expectations of what boy even means."