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I am a feminist because I have sons August 25, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in family, feminism, older son, societal commentary, younger son.
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One thing that should make any mother a feminist is having a son go through school.  Having two boys makes it doubly bad.

“What is ‘it’?”, you may ask.

In my experience, boys deal with an excess of stereotyping that is just as pervasive as what girls deal with and often times is more rigid in it’s ‘enforcement’.  I’ve had teachers complain because both of my sons played with girls.  I’ve lived in fear that my kids will get picked on because they like nail polish or My Little Pony or Dora or pink things (discussed here).  I’ve had to deal with parents who think it’s inappropriate that I let my little boys cry in public rather than getting them to suck it up.  And oh so much bullying.

I came across a graphic on Facebook this weekend that nicely sums up the situation:

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This is not a realization that came easily to me.  When it finally hit me was when the older son was in kindergarten.  I was taking a sociology class on gender roles, and I was lucky enough to have a teacher who focused a significant portion of the class on male gender roles.  She described how men are raised to be unemotional and competitive.  She described how forcing them to be stoic could later cause problems when emotionally bonding with a partner or how they can be depressed if they can no longer be involved in competitive activities (primarily sports) when they get older, especially if their identity centered around their participation in these activities.

The class was an eye-opener for me.  Having spent so long defending myself against stereotypes about women in science, I had really not had the opportunity to observe how stereotypes were affecting the men around me.  I can certainly appreciate where some of them are coming from now, though I still need help now and again to understand why I perceive circumstances a lot differently from some of the men around me.

It wasn’t long after that I got the first comment about the older son playing with girls.  (At nearly the same age, the same thing happened with the younger son.)  It was fairly apparent that neither of the boys was as rough and tumble as some of the others, and they preferred interactive/imaginative play with girls to dog-piling with the boys.  I was more disturbed that the teachers thought this was a problem.

Having one child who has nearly reached adulthood, I feel that reacting to these teachers by saying, “So?!” was definitely the right thing to do.  The older son now has an amazing ability to pick out stereotypes of both genders and explain exactly why they’re ridiculous.  It’s impressive, and I hope it’s helped him to feel comfortable with himself and not like he has to adhere to some societal norm that’s simply not him.

Being comfortable yourself and not having to adhere to someone else’s expectations is exactly what feminism is about, and it’s just as important that boys are able to break out of stereotypes as girls.

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Comments»

1. Charles J Gervasi - August 25, 2013

My 5 y/o boy starts kindergarten after Labor Day. I am very optimistic that our Waldorf school is sensitive to boys. I actually wonder more about our 3 y/o in preschool. What you say is totally true, but it seems like girls get told more nonsense on balance than boys. My girl is only 3 y/o, so this is just a guess.

If I sense gender roles are real problem, they will be at another school so fast it will make your head spin. My wife would let me do the talking b/c it’s better to hear a complaint from a geek than a feminist attorney. I could never imagine that happening at our school, but nothing shocks me anymore when it comes to kids.

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mareserinitatis - August 26, 2013

Charles, I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’ll likely run into the problem unless you’re dealing with male teachers. I’ve found that most (not all) of my sons’ teachers have a tendency toward traditional gender roles and communicate it in myriad ways. The examples I gave are just the most egregious. However, even worse is that kids enforce these gender roles with each other. I think the reason the older son has escaped a lot of it is that he was homeschooled for a good portion of his education. Mike was always very good at backing me up in discussing these issues with him. Now that he’s older, he’s been a positive role model for the younger son because he will challenge a lot of the gendered assumptions that the younger one makes, so it doesn’t have to come from me.

I guess the best advice I can give is to keep asking about and discussing those things. They happen in myriad ways and it’s going to be almost impossible to prevent exposure, even from those are well-intentioned but maybe unaware of what they’re doing.

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