Language is important, and one could argue that it’s never more important than when you're raising children. When and how you choose to speak to your kids, what words and phrases you use, the tone of your voice: all of these decisions can have lasting effects. They’re learning about the world through you, and that’s why it’s important to speak carefully and mindfully around your children. As such, there are many things you shouldn’t say to your sons around your daughters, and vice versa.
As my son begins to speak more and more, I know he’s absorbing more and more messages about the world. While I do my best to try and raise him in a more gender neutral environment, I can tell he’s already beginning to see gender. While I try and explain to him that we should all treat each other equally and with kindness, I’m sure there will come a time when someone tries to tell him otherwise.
As a feminist mom, I want to make sure that I raise a feminist son — one who champions the causes of those who have less privilege than him, who isn’t afraid to speak up and speak out, and who recognizes how important it is to treat everyone with respect. I know that I must make sure to never say the following phrases and statements to him, especially when in the presence of other impressionable children and girls.
"Are You Going To Let Her Show You Up Like That?"
There’s still this macho attitude in the world when it comes to women "showing men up." Some boys are alright with playing with girls, but will draw the line when it comes to losing to them competitively. It’s beyond ridiculous and I don’t ever want my son to feel like he is a lesser person for losing to anyone (girl, boy, or gender non-conforming), nor do I ever want him to be a sore loser because someone of a different gender beat him at something.
"You Don’t Want To Play With Those Girl Toys"
Toys do not have gender. I repeat: toys are not gendered. Therefore, all children should be allowed to play with any toy of their choosing available to them, whether that be a soccer ball, a chemistry set, a race car, a fashion doll, a tea set, or anything else.
"Don’t Worry, She Can Help Mom Clear The Table" (And Other Gendered Tasks)
Gendered division of labor often starts in childhood. Little boys are asked to take out the trash, or help their dad change the car oil. Little girls are often told to set and clear the table, and to sweep or mop or dust. What we should really be doing is teaching all kids a variety of life skills.
"You _______ Like A Girl"
Although many have been working toward eliminating this as a negative saying by way of advertising, there are still many who believe that doing something “like a girl” means they are doing a lesser job, or that it should be demeaning somehow. But saying one is doing things “like a girl” is purely arbitrary. What we need is less shaming of how girls act and perform, and more encouragement of all children.
"C’mon, Tough Guy"
This is often told to little boys in order to gain a reaction from them. A parent might be roughhousing with his son and the son might want to stop, but then he’s provoked and told to act tough for no real reason. Pushing our sons to act violently in any way is never beneficial to them, in the short or long term, nor is it helpful to normalize these attitudes in the presence of girls.
"Boys Don’t Cry"
This phrase is often thrown at boys after a “tough guy” incident. To young boys, we are saying that some of their emotions (like sadness and fear) are unimportant and need to be shut down. Meanwhile our daughters hear this and suddenly begin to equate manliness with stoicness. This all ends up perpetuating what is known as toxic masculinity.
"Give Her Your _______"
Boys (especially those with sisters or female cousins) are often asked to give things up for girls. You may have been sitting there first, but when the girl arrives, you’re to give her your seat. Or you may have been playing with a toy, but if she wants it, you should give it to her. It makes little boys feel as though their wants and needs aren’t as important. Being polite is one thing, but being forced to give up your things every time is another.
"Don’t Let Any Boys Near Her"
This is problematic, and on so many levels. With this statement, young boys are taught they have authority over girls and girls’ bodies. The girls are taught they’re supposed to be protected by the boys in their lives, but that they also shouldn’t be trusted to make their own decisions. All the nope.
"Why Can’t You Be More Well-Behaved Like Your (Female Relative)"
There is no inherent reason for boys to be “wild” and girls to be “calm,” and there certainly is no steadfast rule that this is actually true. Still, stereotypes continue to prevail and you’ll still hear little boys being scolded and told they should act more “proper” like their sisters or female cousins or classmates. Comparing children in general is wrong, but it’s even more so when you make it about their gender.