To My Son on Mother’s Day

As Mother’s Day approaches, I am reminded that being both a feminist and a mother of a son can often create internal conflicts. This year I’m wondering how I can bring these two sides of myself together.

Yes, I’m a feminist. Let’s get that out on the table. I have been fighting for women’s rights since I picked up my first copy of MS in… just say a long time ago. This passion has put me in the position of advocating for and giving a lot of attention to today’s young women, women my son’s age.

The mother in me wants my son to be happy and to succeed. My son is a not a misogynist. He is a kind, introverted, brilliant programmer who cares only that the code he writes is elegant. He doesn’t see race, gender or sexual identity as a threat, but as part of the fabric of his world — a fabric that makes his world much more interesting.

But my son, who is new to the world of work, also doesn’t yet understand that he has won the lottery — he was born a white, male in a country where those two conditions are a ticket to a seat at the table in nearly every conference room in the world. And if women and other underrepresented minorities continue to push for inclusion at that table, he may someday feel threatened, excluded, pushed out and overlooked. He will feel that sense of loss.

As his mother, I am conflicted. On one hand, I want him to succeed and be recognized. On the other, I want a diversified, inclusive workplace for him as well. When workplaces are diversified and inclusive, how will men, like him, feel? Here are a few thoughts I had. Perhaps you have more. Add your thoughts to this conversation because it is important.

When it is working for all of us, men will ….

  1. Be able to take off the afternoon to coach the soccer team, take a sick child to the doctor or be available for a dance recital without feeling guilty or without having to answer “Where is the mother?”
  2. Feel empowered to express their feelings about a situation instead of always having to “position” them in sports terms.
  3. Know that the most qualified person got a job … not that they were overlooked for promotions or the next new opportunity because the company was trying to advance women.
  4. Be comfortable in a work atmosphere without sexual innuendo, racist jokes and locker room language.
  5. Be excited by the different perspectives that can be brought to the solution of a problem and admire that their own perspectives are appreciated and included in the final decisions.

As I try to bring together my hopes and dreams as both a mother and a feminist, I become more convinced that in the end, our energies need to focus on inclusion for all people. As working women, we want to share in the benefits that have been traditionally awarded to men — power and freedom to make our own choices for pay, advancement and consideration in a host of societal situations. But as we get more of these benefits, it will mean someone else has to give up something. For men, this will sometimes mean the loss of privileges they have gained or inherited collectively over generations. We need to help them understand that their loss of privilege, their loss of the seat at the table is part of the journey to equality for all.

So as a feminist mother of a son, I will remember this Mother’s Day to show compassion for the men of my son’s generation who may face loss even as we work with passion to help women make gains.