When I learned I was having a son, I was worried. The potential for violence, misogyny, sexism, and toxic masculinity bombarded my brain. I knew boys are taught to be strong, tough, and stoic, and I knew we had to raise our son differently. My husband is a realist — acknowledging that we can't shelter him completely — but we both knew we could try to raise him to respect others, express emotion, and be sensitive. In my conversations with other fathers, I've learned that, in many ways, dads would rather have a sensitive son than a stereotypical "tough boy," and for so many important, powerful reasons.
Many of the dads I've talked with know firsthand how important it is to teach their sons that gender roles aren't as important as being who they truly, authentically are. At the same time, they recognize that our sons pick up conflicting, and often problematic, messages from just about everywhere. Unfortunately, so many of those messages involve acting tough, suppressing emotion, and not sharing how you feel, especially if you don't fit a problematic stereotype about how boys "should" be. Worse, other boys (and even grown men) use names like girl, woman, and p*ssy to insult sensitive boys, implying that being a girl means you're weak, when girls are actually strong as hell.
I have to say that it gives me hope that so many of the dads I talked with care more about who their sons are, than about sexist stereotypes that attempt to dictate who they should be. If more dads teach their sons that being sensitive is a strength, and not a weakness, maybe we can raise our next generation to re-define masculinity in a totally new way. One can only hope.
"I recently had to correct my boys, who had picked up 'gay,' as an insult on the playground. I told them the definition, they stopped laughing, and we agreed that it was not an insult. They got past the episode quickly, but it bothered me. I remember being told how non-masculine I was in high school because of being in drama and music instead of sports. This hasn't much improved in the past 30 years.
I am not a 'traditional' male in many aspects, but there are parts of the masculine ideal (wearing a stiff upper lip, protecting the weak, providing for my family) I do embrace. And I am OK with them, when they don't get in the way of living a rich, full life as who I really am.
I want to teach my kids, though, is that being a guy doesn't require toxicity. So go ahead, kids of any gender, fix cars, watch sports, whatever. But also kiss boo-boos, cry during a good movie, and make an awesome dinner. Mix and match in life. Be who you are."
"I don’t think that strength and sensitivity are mutually exclusive. My son can and will be both strong and sensitive. But it is very important to me that my son grows up knowing there are many different ways to 'be a man.' True manhood does not require him to make anyone feel less than. Not women, not other men, not anyone. I worry that the society he was born into seems to value belittling or 'besting' others, whereas the problems of this world will only be solved by recognizing and supporting the diverse skills and knowledge of everyone he meets."
"Above all, I want my son to be happy. I think a sensitive son would be more in touch with his feelings. He'd probably be able to talk about how he feels. I think that would make him a happier person."
"I don't like the dichotomy of boys having to be strong or sensitive, when in many situations there needs to be a balance of physical and emotional strength, to the extent any limitations allow. Valuing one type of strength over the other can deprive boys and girls of being able to fully meet the challenges they may face in their lives."
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