Boys to Men
I’ll never forget that bright morning when the sonographer told me I was having a boy. She moved her chilly, flat wand across my belly, showing me all of my son’s emerging contours and creases, focusing in on that one piece of incontrovertible evidence — the marker of his masculinity. “Yup, there it is,” she said, settling on his tiny penis. My husband and I giggled on cue. A boy! I think we were meant to feel triumphant, like in the movies. A boy!
I walked around London for days in a daze.
What would I do with a boy? A grubby, boisterous boy. What did I know of boys? The men in my life — the loved and the lovers — all remained mysteries to me — their blunt simplicity endearing and maddening and cruel, often all at once.
I kept walking, looking for comfort in the green, damp blooms of a London spring.
Then in April my son came to me. And I held him, for hours I couldn’t let him go. I clutched him like nothing I’d ever held before, loved him like no one before. His body a part of my body, his cries somehow linked to my own. A part of me now walked in the world. In the body of a boy.
Then a few years later my little one joined us: a fiery, friendly boy, whose big, round eyes fixed on me with familiarity and knowing. Everyone consoled me for not having a girl, but it was fine, I told them. I wanted another boy. And it was true.
My two boys. It’s difficult to describe the emotional landscape of parenting without reverting to cliché. But suffice it to say my two sons have shown me joy — before them it was just an idea.
My older son turns nine in two weeks. So many attitudes and opinions, rhythms and rhymes fill that lanky body. His little brother is six, his belly now flat and his biceps gaining shape. They’re both so cool and so mouthy. So beautiful. Such boys. Boys becoming men.
And there are days now where I walk around Cape Town in a daze. Two boys. How am I meant to raise them? What do I know about raising boys? Today. With the world as it is, and as I suspect it will be as their bodies and minds continue to fill out and take shape.
I’d know how to raise a girl– to be a fighter and a friend, prepared to head out and claim all that she is rightfully due. I would tell her never to apologise for her being, and never to shrink to make others comfortable. I would raise her to revel in her feminine power.
Can I raise my sons to be powerful? Without apologies or disclaimers, can I raise them to revel in their masculine power? Or is that power now considered inherently dangerous or destructive or grossly dominant? Did the genetic lottery confer upon my boys a claim to power and privilege now tainted with an air of illegitimacy?
Must my boys’ power necessarily come at the expense of others?
Masculinity today is at best troubled, at worst toxic. A negative space. Evolving, most certainly, as femininity is, but without any public language to describe it, without any shared community of experience, without any accepted label to name it.
Without doubt, men continue to hold the bulk of power and privilege worldwide, so it’s not sympathy they need. Just space. Space to define and redefine themselves — publicly and with each other. Space to experience their evolution in something other than quiet confusion. To regard that same evolution as something other than an attrition of their rightful identity.
Space to become their whole, integrated selves — every day. Space to not have to apologize for being a man or shrink to make others comfortable.
Our future belongs to women. I believe that. But can’t it belong to men too? Musn’t it belong to men too?
Because if we want to see an end to poverty, violence and terror — if we want to see the backside of the likes of Zuma and Trump and ISIS — then we need to emancipate masculinity. Give it a healthy, public space in which to become as rich and as varied as the men of this world.
We need to see men and women rising together: a men’s movement forming as a vital companion to the women’s movement.
We need to see men in the streets, staking their claim in a just society.
If I have my way, my sons will be there. Somewhere on the world’s streets. Maybe wearing penis hats instead of pussy hats. Maybe holding their mother’s hand. Or perhaps just pushing me along.