I first started paying attention to the things people said around children after I had my daughter. She'd be on the receiving end of those "aren't you a little princess?" comments that made my skin crawl. At first, I didn't really understand why I was so unnerved by such statements, but later realized it's because such remarks perpetuated gender stereotypes I was trying to avoid. Then, after my second child was born, I was forced to confront the creepy things people said to my son, often times right in front of me. Every single remark would ricochet through my nerves and hit me straight in the gut. Every single remark also made me more determined to fight against these messages than ever before.
They say people learn from their mistakes, and that older generally means wiser. I don't know if I've become wiser with age, but I'm definitely more aware of my language and how my words affect those around me. I used to be somewhat careless about the things I said to or around people. I figured most of the things I said were harmless, timeless adages; you know, silly humorous idioms of sorts. Then, as I learned more about the world and its people, I realized that much of what I said was not at all harmless. Much of what I used to say was actually ridiculously biased and deeply rooted in gender stereotypes and gender roles.
I know most of the things we say to kids are in the moment. As adults, we think it and then we say it. But what many people don't realize is that words have lasting effects, and mean more than we realize. These comments, that people have said to or about my son, aren't inherently malicious. These people aren't trying to be horrible people, they just don't realize that their words carry a deep connotation that may be rooted in patriarchy. And in order to fight that patriarchy, people need to pay attention to what they say to impressionable children. So with that in mind, here's what a few people have said to my son, right in front of me, that only perpetuate toxic masculinity and outdated stereotypes we'd all be better off without:
"Aw, Boys Don't Cry"
When my son was 3, we were at a pool party at our friend's house. We were having a great time, my son was jumping in the pool, and my husband was tossing him playfully into the water. All was well until he scraped his foot on the side of the pool. Suddenly, all of the fun he was having disappeared and, instead, there was nothing but tears and screams. I came to his rescue and brought him over to a table full of adults.
As I was comforting him, one of my male friends leaned over, and in a super condescending tone, said, "C'mon, man. Boys don't cry. You have to be tough." The rage I felt in that moment was all too real. Instead of getting into it with this grown-ass man who should've know better, I looked at my son and, in my most passive-aggressive tone, told him that "everyone cries" and that "it's healthy, even necessary, to express whatever emotion you are feeling" and that "pain is real, and crying when you're hurt is totally normal."
"Did You Know That Real Men..."
There goes that toxic masculinity again. What is a "real" man anyway? Is it someone who is emotionally stunted because he has been told his whole like that "real" men don't show emotions? Or is it someone who abuses his partner, because he was led to believe that you show love via control and anger and violence? Why don't we teach our sons how to be "real" men in the same way we teach them how to be real humans? Like, for starters, feeling every emotions humans are entitled to feel and expressing those emotions in a healthy way.
"You're Going To Be My Little Boyfriend"
No. My son is no one's boyfriend. He's 4. When he decides to be someone's boyfriend, he'll let you know.
"He's Going To Be A Heartbreaker"
Yes, I too think my son is adorable, too. Hell, what mother doesn't think her son is the cutest, right? But even though I think my son is the most handsome child in the universe, he is not going to be a heartbreaker. He is going to be respectful of the feelings of whomever he chooses to date, if he chooses to date. He will not be breaking hearts, he will be kind and compassionate.
"His Hair Is Getting Too Long"
And his hair will keep getting as long as he sees fit. Listen, I don't care how long or how short my kids' hair is. Honestly. If my son wants to grow out his hair, he is more that welcome to do so. Hair doesn't make the person.
"Are You The Man Of The House?"
There is no "man of the house" because we are a family unit. Everyone is equal. Everyone does equal amount of work. Everyone contributes on an equal level.
And, again, my son is 4.