I am raising a man. Despite that he is three, a sweet-cheeked little tyke with cowlicks who likes to cuddle his mama and sleeps with a horde of stuffed animals, I try to remember this every day.
Though this man-in-progress is just as prone to ask to wear his fairy wings as he is to turn his dinner sausages into things that shoot, I feel a wretched kind of tenderness watching him move from baby to boy—from a being who has very little consciousness of his gender to one who, at age three, already has gleaned that the culture around him says “pink is for girls,” “boys are naughty” and other such gems.
Regularly, I hear terrible things said of men. Whether in the casual way that women sometimes talk about men who have wronged them: “He’s an immature idiot. Men just don’t understand feelings. Men are pigs.” Or on the larger scale: Men are rapists, seek to dominate, men are greedy, gluttonous powerbrokers. Or worse, because of its prevalence: the offensive TV stereotypes of men as ignorant, lazy, reluctant breadwinners who fantasize about hot chicks while they keep their nagging wives at bay so they can watch sports; the ones who can’t make their children lunches or change a diaper. Every time, a part of me cringes, my mama arms want to reach out and shield my son from becoming a person who may someday be lumped into a category that says: your gender makes you bad/stupid.
On the playground, in school, in groups, I see it all the time: people think girls are easier, better, somehow superior. And as a woman, a feminist, raised in a culture where the hard evidence over the centuries is that yes, women have been subjugated/mistreated, I continually find myself in a bind. The only answer is to come back to the one that feminism and really, any sort of activism, is striving for: equality.
I can’t leave it to society to teach him how to be the kind of man I hope he will be, one who strives for and values equality. It’s up to us, his parents, to teach him to tune it out, look through the hype, somehow combat the pack mentality that will hit in his teens. It’s our job to remind him: You are tender, you are human, you are bigger than the stereotypes that will try to pull you down and under, that will try to shave off your decency and humanity because of that x chromosome.
And there will be people who think that my effort to do this means I will aim to make my son weak, feminine, less than. But I don’t care–that attitude is stupidity to me.
I’m raising a man. I hope a strong, sensitive, fair-minded, equality-loving man.