raising a boy in this mess

I have always had strong male and female role models in my life. As a female, I took for granted the male role models. Of course, my father loved and respected the women in his life. Of course, he bought me flowers when I made it to the state speech competition (oh, that’s right, I was that girl) and wrote a card when I went through my first break up. Of course, my brothers treated me with the right balance of love and annoyance. Of course, they never said anything to me that was actually hurtful or terrible.

I didn’t spend much time thinking about those men. They were just constants in my life. I focused on the women. I bought a book about women in US history at the book fair (remember those?!?!) in elementary school. I honored my grandmother who was the first female president of her church council. I watched my mom in hopes of someday mastering the way she managed kids and work and life with ease. I read Rachel Carson in high school and felt the enormity of her prophesy. I wanted to be those women. I wanted to surround myself with those women.

I have invested my time in reading feminist literature. I have invested my time in strong female friendships. I have invested my time in two precious goddaughters. I have invested my time in discussing these issues with other women.

Then I had a boy. A son. A male.

I am surrounded by strong females. I am surrounded by strong females who are raising girls. Among my closest people in my geographic area, eight little girls are being raised to be strong women.

Where does this boy fit in?

I teach my teenage female patients about making smart choices, about how alcohol and drugs will affect those choices, about how who they hang out with makes a difference.

Where does this boy fit in?

My friends have girls who dress as super heroes, who read more novels than I do, who assert themselves.

Where does this boy fit in?

As women, we know the reality. We know that regardless of what we do, there are men present to squash us. There are men present to taunt us. There are men present to take credit for us.

Where does this boy fit in?

After a recent week away, I was able to indulge in several feminist titles. In the midst of this reading, a recording was leaked of a presidential candidate casually discussing sexual assault.

Where does this boy fit in?

We all know the big stuff: Don’t teach women to “avoid rape,” teach men not to rape. Don’t teach women what not to wear, teach men that what women wear is not an invitation or suggestion. Don’t teach women to be small and silent, teach men that women are equals.

But, what does this really mean? Where does this boy fit in? Shouldn’t the discussion and environment and nurturing start sooner?

In her book, We Should All Be Feminists (which is a modified version of her 2012 TED talk), Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie provides some insight.

We do a great disservice to boys in how we raise them. We stifle the humanity of boys. We define masculinity in a very narrow way. Masculinity is a hard, small cage, and we put boys inside this cage.
We teach boys to be afraid of fear, of weakness, of vulnerability. We teach them to mask their true selves, because they have to be, in Nigerian-speaks, a hard man.
— C.N.A.

In addition to teaching my son that we are each in control of our own bodies, that we need to love each other and treat each other with respect, that we are all beautifully made — my partner and I need to do more. We can help to shape his understanding of masculinity and what it means to be male. We can show him that men care for others, serve others, and tend to others. We can provide a space for him to be comfortable and vulnerable. We can accept him as he is beautifully made, rather than trying to show him some made-up version of masculinity.

I am not fully sure of what this looks like. I have not been given a “how-to”, nor do I have one to provide. Reading about it, writing about it, and talking about it seems like a decent place to start.