Parenting The Enemy

8 Feb

I wanted a girl. No question. Oh, sure, I told people I just wanted a healthy baby, but really, I wanted a girl. So, when my son was born, it was more than drugs and exhaustion that had me on emotional overload.

I was a feminist. I was prepared to rear a strong, self-possessed woman. In my feminist readings, I ran across a piece on women in heterosexual relationships that likened being married to a man to sleeping with the enemy.  How the hell was I supposed to parent the enemy?

The first week of parenthood featured little sleep, lots of poop and a humiliating tendency for my body to do really revolting things completely out of my control. I remember one day, though, sitting on my back porch. The Little Enemy was asleep, finally. I had a lovely rose garden, but I wasn’t admiring it. I was completely absorbed in an epic wallow of self-pity. I had a boy. Boy, boy, boy. No little soul sister, I had a miniature man.

I started to cry. I stared out at my rose garden and wept. I got maudlin. I wept for the sassy girl I wouldn’t have and the beautiful woman I wouldn’t know. I wept because my child would never wear my wedding dress. And then I thought of Dennis Rodman and I laughed out loud. At that time, Mr. Rodman was wildly infamous for his outrageous behavior, which included going clubbing in a wedding dress. Immediately after lamenting that my child wouldn’t wear my gown, I pictured the beastly ugly Rodman in his and thought, “God, I hope not!”

I’ve said that nothing made me more of a feminist than raising a son. When I do, more than a few women look at me like I’ve either lost my mind or made a very unfunny joke. But it’s no joke. If our society beats down girls, it beats down boys just as cruelly. The problem is that while we’re eager to help girls with their self-esteem, their body image, their academic standings and their professional opportunities, most people don’t even want to recognize that boys are bound and gagged by our society, too. After all, helping boys would be the societal equivalent of aiding and abetting enemy combatants.

At this point, you may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Boys don’t need help; boys aren’t discriminated against. Boys never had to fight to get into anything. From Little League to Harvard to the White House, boys—especially white ones—have been living the high life.

I am not delusional, though. From the time my son was born, he was treated differently than a daughter would have been. Even in infancy, we expect boys to be tough. Baby boys are picked up less frequently than baby girls. Just because of a roll of the biological dice, one child is cuddled when she cries and the other is left to seek comfort in his little blue blankie. Being born male even reduces your chances of being adopted. Globally, more girls are adopted than boys, not because more girls are available but because people feel safer adopting a girl. In fact, you can probably cut your wait time to adopt merely by stating a preference for a boy.

School is supposed to be where the rubber begins to hit the road in discrimination against girls. But, seen through the eyes of boys and their mothers, school is set up for the male to fail. Standing in lines, communicating verbally, sitting still, pleasing the teacher are all behaviors that, for whatever reason, girls seem to master more quickly and easily than boys. Let’s not get sidetracked discussing why girls are able to do it. Let’s think about what it means to boys that their genetically codified behavior is more likely to get them a pass to the principal than a gentle reminder or exasperated sigh.

I don’t have enough space left to discuss how my son’s middle school career might have differed if he were a girl. I have a hard time imagining he would have been called lazy and unmotivated if he were a girl failing in the gifted program, though. One day he forgot to bring pencil and paper to the library. His teacher gave him a detention for defiance. If his name were Emily, I wonder if she’d just roll her eyes and hand her some paper.

As my son gets older, I’m less and less concerned about how his school treats him and more concerned with how his society treats him. Recently, a friend posted a screed on her Facebook wall. The gist of the post is this: if the parents of boys raised sons who kept their hands to themselves unless invited, then the parents of girls wouldn’t have to worry how their daughters are dressed.

At the same time, I’m dealing with my son’s sexual maturity. Overwhelmingly, his society paints him as barely able to contain his desires. If he has unprotected sex with a girl and she gets pregnant, it will be his fault. Don’t think so? When was the last time you heard someone refer to the boy involved in a teen pregnancy as “a nice young man”? Nope. He’ll be “that jackass who got Susie pregnant.”

The idea that boys have to be controlled for the world to be safe is insulting at best and hypocritical at worst. At the same time we are telling little boys to keep their hands to themselves, we think it’s cute when little girls chase them to steal a kiss. The boys don’t think it’s cute. The boys think it’s harassment and they get mad when we don’t stop the girls.

We ridicule boys who dance, want to be nurses and love to play with dolls. If you think we don’t, then you haven’t raised a boy. When a girl wants to box, play hockey or quarterback a football team, we say “Why not?” We may even get angry if she’s not allowed to. Imagine the reaction to a boy who wants to dance Giselle. Not really seeing the outrage, are you?

Let’s call a truce. Let’s teach boys and girls to keep their hands to themselves. Let’s admit that girls want to have sex as much as boys do. Let’s teach all of our children that they can be whatever they want to be . . .and mean it.

28 Responses to “Parenting The Enemy”

  1. Jennie Maloney February 9, 2012 at 10:14 am #

    Oh Janice, this was SO well done! Thanks for bringing this important topic to light. Our 11-yr-old son asked me the other night why I had so many books laying around the house about “boys.” Real Boys, Raising Cain, How to Raise a Self-Confident Boy, etc…. I told him that they were my homework to do a good job being a Mom to a boy. He liked that idea. I tell everyone to read the book, Real Boys. Our societal conditioning of boys as described in the literature is astonishingly eye-opening. It makes a mother want to scream, protect, and change things.

    • jmlindy422 February 9, 2012 at 11:24 am #

      Jen, I think I read “Real Boys,” but I’ll have to read it again. Thanks for the kind words.

  2. Emily February 9, 2012 at 10:25 am #

    By far, my very favorite of all your blogs, Janice. This is my very favorite lesson to teach to high schoolers. I’ve never had such wonderful, eyeopening discussion with teenagers. People just don’t see tjhe double standards (that go both directions) because we’ve been conditioned from birth. It’s a crying shame, a travesty of massive proportions, and harmful to everyone. My sons are getting dolls to play with. And they’ll dress in any color they want 🙂

  3. jmlindy422 February 9, 2012 at 11:27 am #

    Emily, is there literature that you use to teach this lesson? It would be very interesting to read some things that turn the boy-hero thing on it’s head. Every notice that the “good student” in Harry Potter is Hermione. Harry and Ron are constantly getting in trouble and we applaud them. How about a boy being the good student for once? I think I love the book, “Scrawl,” so much because it has a protagonist who looks to be the typical trouble making boy. I won’t give anything away, but you have to read it if you haven’t already.

  4. scribblechic February 9, 2012 at 11:53 am #

    Last year a teacher criticized my son for demonstrating emotion. Another child had been cruel and he cried out of anger, sadness, and frustration. The immediate response to the conflict was to teach my son how to control his emotions rather than address the unkindness that had created the emotion. I was told it wasn’t age appropriate to demonstrate such feelings publicly. We have so far to go when we cannot allow a sad child to cry, regardless of gender.

    • jmlindy422 February 9, 2012 at 11:58 am #

      My god, that’s heartless! I hope you raised a stink. I got to the point where I just didn’t give a damn who didn’t like me. I openly criticized some of my son’s teachers in front of just about everyone important in their professional lives. Diplomacy be damned; they were harming my child.

      • scribblechic February 9, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

        I was humbled when my son, still emotional, responded to the teacher respectfully articulating that his feelings were justified and, more importantly, that he didn’t care what others thought.

        I did ask the teacher to explain his (yes, his) perspective. He felt teaching my son to hide his feelings would protect him from unkindness. I think too often adults react blindly rather than endeavor to be proactive and encourage thoughts and behaviors outside traditional boundaries.

        The good news is, there are others like yourself raising consciousness and encouraging conversations among adults and children. Such an important topic!

  5. The Waiting February 9, 2012 at 12:26 pm #

    I remember thinking even as a child that school didn’t seem to be quite “fair” for boys, what with all the sitting quietly and discussion-oriented curricula. I noticed that it was primarily girls who were flourishing in the school; at the time I wondered why boys just couldn’t “play the game right”. When I taught kindergarten and elementary kids, I realized that the deck is just stacked against boys in the classroom. They are often damned the instant they walk in the door just for being boys, and often when they do behave in such a way that we identify as “feminine”, they are criticized again. Scribblechic’s comment demonstrates this.

    • jmlindy422 February 9, 2012 at 1:19 pm #

      Glad to have another teacher chime in about school. I think it’s very interesting that you, Emily, recall school being unfair for boys. Maybe you had a feminist mother? BTW, the person who wrote the screed I reference is a man.

  6. jmlindy422 February 9, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Scribblechic, hooray for your son!

  7. Rayme Wells @ A Clean Surface February 9, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    What a great discussion! I have three boys ranging from early adolescent to early adulthood. We sometimes discourage crying if it is a reaction to not getting their way (pouting over insignificant events) but would never criticize emotion as a reaction to being hurt (either physically or emotionally).
    I used to hide my own tears from my children, thinking it might make them feel insecure (because adults are supposed to be in control) but as they get older, I let them see and hear more of my feelings and I hope it helps them process their own feelings.
    The world is tough for everyone, for different reasons.

  8. Ann Brady February 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm #

    What a great essay! I identified. When my now 13-year-old son was born, I felt the same way, I wanted a girl. I was a girl! What did I know about boys? I wanted to raise a feminist. A friend said, “You will. He’ll just be a boy feminist.” I’m not sure how I’m doing. But when he was 5 (and his favorite color was pink, and he had a Barbie), I got a promotion and became the director. It was Christmastime, he was curious about Santa. Did he make all the toys himself or did he have help? I explained about the elves, they made the toys, Santa was more like the director. My son paused, I could see his mental gears working, trying to understand. “But can men be directors?”
    I won’t tell you how I answered him, but I learned a lot about perception and how I could help to shape his view of the world.

    • jmlindy422 February 9, 2012 at 8:47 pm #

      Thanks, Ann. I have a friend whose son laughed when my friend mentioned that someone’s dad was a doctor. The kid said, “Oh, Mom, men can’t be doctors!”

  9. philosophermouseofthehedge February 9, 2012 at 6:17 pm #

    Not your imagination. Middle schools are especially hard on boys. (and the little girls start chasing after them at a very early age).

    • jmlindy422 February 9, 2012 at 8:52 pm #

      Amen, philosophermouse. BTW, I have a daughter now and she is not the chasing boys type. She wants to be a ninja when she grows up, so she’s learning gymnastics and shopping around for martial arts classes.

  10. nevercontrary February 9, 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    Teaching high school kids for years now. I can say the I rarely say it was the boys fault. Let me tell you those girls know exactly what they are doing too.

    • jmlindy422 February 9, 2012 at 8:53 pm #

      I recall the boys in high school being particularly clueless. Maybe I was just an old soul but they all seemed so YOUNG!

  11. Toby February 10, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    What a very honest and thought-provoking post. I know from experience that steering boys through the teenage years is no bed of roses. They can be every bit as sensitive to issues about body image, friendship groups, sex, social media etc as girls.

    • jmlindy422 February 10, 2012 at 9:21 am #

      Thanks! It is much more of a challenge than I expected. BTW, I now also have a daughter. We adopted her from China eight years ago. I expected all kinds of problems due to her early experiences. Haven’t had problems with her, but with people who say really insensitive things (mostly out of ignorance) about adoption.

  12. Toby February 10, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    Ignorance can lead to so much hurt (although that’s not to say that I’m free of it). My eldest son is gay, and I think many people (especially men) who’ve not had any first-hand experience of the issues involved have no idea how jokes and comments can come across.

  13. twistingthreads February 13, 2012 at 3:27 am #

    Hear, hear! I also have a feminist bent, but I don’t think feminist means avoiding the fact that males are treated differently, too, or giving females a free pass for bad behavior. I think it means equal opportunity and treatment, but maybe I’m screwy…I’ve heard of the book you spoke of, and was kind of upset at the implication that all sex was rape. That particular feminist went a bit too far in my opinion. I get angry every time I hear someone say “All men are (insert derogatory word here)”. I’m sorry some people have had negative experiences with men on some occasions, but most men aren’t rapists, woman-batters, etc. I love my husband all the more for having the confidence to be himself and embrace any hobby he likes whether it’s considered a “girl” hobby or a “boy” hobby, and I think we should worry more about raising children to respect themselves and others, rather than trying to mold them into a definitive gender or stereotype. I was planning on writing a post on this at some point, and probably still will, but it’s nice to hear from someone else with a similar viewpoint. Hopefully I’ll remember where I read this and link back to you when I do.

    • jmlindy422 February 13, 2012 at 12:28 pm #

      I, too, have always thought of equality as being liberating for men as well as women. I do hope you post on this and remember to link back. Thanks!

  14. sukanya February 13, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Amen Janice! this is parenting 101, a post all parents should/must read.

    • jmlindy422 February 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

      Thanks, so much! What a compliment.

  15. keynoncoaching March 2, 2012 at 6:11 am #

    I remember having to point out to my son’s first grade teacher during a conference once, that my son was not a ‘fire starter’!. She could not handle the fact that he was just a boy who had a hard time sitting for long periods of time. He would fiddle with things in his desk and for some reason she was bothered by this (even though he always knew the answer when she called on him…..). At 22 he is growing into a wonderful man but I do have to wonder where he would be now (and if we would have avoided some of the difficulties we had for several years) if school was more his ‘style’. He is exceedingly bright but I feel that this got missed in a big way by the educational system! Great blog!! You have a wonderful way of communicating through the written word! Kathy

    • jmlindy422 March 2, 2012 at 8:34 am #

      My son attended a private Montessori school from Kindergarten through 3rd grade. No leveling; children are allowed to proceed as their intellect requires. Also, no assigned seats, so no desk in which to put things with which to fiddle. We still had some issues because, as we found out later, he has ADHD, but I think it gave him a great start.

      Thanks for the lovely compliments.

  16. natasha devalia March 9, 2012 at 12:58 pm #

    Great Post! I’ve been thinking about these things a bit too. Thanks for putting it out there. My son has a sot toy he carries around, and I have been asked if it his or my daughters. I proudly said it’s his. He likes to dance too – and no one outside the family thinks it’s much more than a passing phase. Would you be interested in posting this or whatever else you feel like at MM?

  17. jmlindy422 March 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm #

    Natasha, thanks. I’ll put it up. I have been trying to find time to write a piece on parenting a child from a different culture (ie a white lady raising a Chinese child), but I can put up something I’ve already written in the meantime. Great idea!

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