Tag Archives: how to raise a feminist son

Parenting in the face of misogyny

Last week I wrote this post about how I’m trying to raise a confident, kick-ass kid who will be happy to have a penis and wear pink shoes his whole life. He’ll totally be able to stand up to bullies, and is the future of paradigm shifting in the world. My kid is awesome, and, in this respect, kidlet’s dad and I are rocking this parenting gig.

And then Unladylike Musings left a comment that drives home a lot of the fear I have for raising my kid.

“You have so much power over who that little person becomes. You know who you want them to be. Someone who is courageous. Someone who isn’t tied down by the gendering of small children. But there’s only so much a parent can do. Society, other children, other parents, and teachers can also have a huge impression on your child, for good or bad. And that, to me, is terrifying.”

PARENTING IS TERRIFYING. WHAT IF I FUCK IT UP? WHAT IF, DESPITE MY BEST INTENTIONS, MY KID TURNS INTO AN ASSHOLE?

This is a fear I felt to my toes when I found out I was pregnant with a boy. I cried, big, sobbing, gasping for breath tears. Not because I was unhappy I was going to birth a boy, please don’t misunderstand this, but because I felt so utterly un-equipped to raise him in a culture that encourages violence, misogyny, and sexual aggression from our boys. FROM MY SON.

And all of that fear came rushing back to me, like an avalanche, as I read Soraya Chemaly‘s piece at Feministe about Facebook’s newest fuckwittery, the “12 Year Old Slut Meme” page. A Facebook page which advocates public branding, and shaming of TWELVE YEAR OLD GIRLS.  Status update from the page,

“As long as there are sluts, we will put them in their place. “

The page has 215 THOUSAND ‘likes.’

I read this Friday and I cried a little. I remember being that girl, the object of this type of harassment. I remember that hot anxiety that would overcome me, well into my twenties, when I found myself in a group of a certain type of men. When I knew I was being sized up, judged, and would probably be subjected to some subtle, or maybe not, harassment. When standing up for myself would lead to nothing but more judgment and ridicule. I remember wondering, through my tears, what I should do differently so that I wouldn’t be subjected to these assholes.

WHAT IF MY SON TURNS OUT TO BE ONE OF THOSE BOYS? What if he toes the USian rape culture line, embracing his middle-class white male privileged status with a gleeful smile on his face? What if all of my efforts and best intentions yield nothing? OH MY MAUDE I worry about this daily.

But I have to believe, I have to believe that my efforts will yield an empathetic, inclusive, confident person who will appreciate and seek out differences in people. And who will be courageous enough to turn to his friends, when they try on these hyper-masculine costumes of assholery, and gently but firmly and repeatedly tell them to knock it the fuck off.

 

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Not that gender neutral nonsense again.

Gender neutral parenting. It’s a big buzz word these days. Parents who want to give their children the freedom to explore gender constructs on their own terms and without shame. Shocking!

It gets a bad rap sometimes. It seems a great number of parents are perfectly  happy telling their sons that pink, and dolls are for girls, and teaching their daughters that firefighting costumes, and trucks are for boys. I can’t blame them exactly, consciously counteracting the prevailing social norms is exhausting, and confusing, and often leads to alcohol consumption to combat the never-ending feelings of frustration with the world. Walk into any major toy store (and even an independent one) and you’ll be assaulted with the “toy section” and the “pink section.” It’s nearly impossible (nearly? It might BE impossible) to avoid the influence that gender stereotypes have on our children.

I’m gonna wade in with two of my own experiences, one that’s cute and satisfies me perversely, and the other that makes my little feminist heart sing.

Kidlet wears a ponytail. For the last month or so, nearly every morning he says, “Mama, put mah hair in ponytail!” We sit down on the floor together while I comb his hair, and he holds the rubber band. Then he spends the rest of the day checking to make sure it’s still there. Apparently ponytails are the major gender indicator for toddlers, as everywhere we go, people refer to him as “she.” He’s often dressed in clothes from the boy section, though I try very consciously to not buy him clothes that have construction equipment or sports motifs on it, and I know he has a penis, so to ME he looks like a boy. But I guess because of the ponytail, people assume he’s a girl. I’m cool with that. Doesn’t bother me in the slightest. But, HOOO WHEEE does it bother other people. I don’t bother to correct people unless I’m asked a direct question like, “How old is she?” then I’ll reply, “He’s…” Here it is – boys don’t have to have short hair, and girls don’t have to have long hair. It’s really that simple. So, my piece of performing masculinity subversion, acted out through my son. Yeah, yeah, I’m using my kid to further my own agenda. Know what? I’m ok with it.

The second piece is significantly more important to me. This toy is pretty popular in our house these days:

Kidlet calls this toy his FIREFIGHTER. YES!!! A thousand yesses! Instead of calling it a fireman, my kid has picked up on the efforts of his dad and I to speak in gender neutral terms whenever we are given the opportunity and now speaks in them too! I love this. This is so important to me because so many professions represented to children are represented as male, which winds up creating a subliminal understanding that boys have certain opportunities that girls don’t. I think the language we choose to speak in, with it’s ageist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, and violent  roots teaches our children VOLUMES more than we think it does. So, to hear his little 2year old mouth speaking to me in gender neutral terms…well, it just makes my day.

How do you support your children in their gender exploration?

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