I am new to the world of parenting. I am raising a boy and I am scared.
Ten months in, I have just about secured my confidence in my ability to feed, clothe and change my baby boy. But, he is starting to become much more complicated. He is listening and storing everything I say and everything I do. I think of him as a little tape recorder I carry around with me, its red light flashing, which I expect will one day be used against me.
I am terrified I will raise a misogynist, contributing another male who is prejudice against women into our society. One that is filled with assumptions about what a woman is and isn’t capable of, what a woman should and shouldn’t look like.
I consider myself a feminist. I want to break the cycle of inequality amongst the sexes but I am not really sure I know how.
At university I was the first to judge the young adult men who came to me asking how to sort and load their laundry. Along with my other female friends we blamed their mothers: how could they send their poor boys off to university with a severe lack of life skills? (Why didn’t we blame their fathers too?) Sure, they knew how to handle money and social situations, perhaps, but those skills that so often fall into female hands were rare amongst the male students.
I worry about the endless reels my son has ‘recorded’ of me cooking, cleaning, folding and ironing, whilst my partner works upstairs. I worry that he will firmly associate those tasks with women and more specifically, Mum, with no evidence to prove I, or we, are capable of anything else.
If I played the ‘recordings’ I made when I was little, they would show a few sexist prejudices. When I was a kid, my Mother was the butt of the jokes. I guess today we would call it ‘banter’ although I am not sure the word was as used back then. Dad called her “Silly Old Cow,” “Pain in the Neck” and “ya Mum”, anything but his loving wife.
His jokes created an air of disrespect, which I worry is still present today. I once asked him why he referred to his cars as females: Lucy Lada is the one that sticks in my head. He said it was because they always broke down; they were unreliable and nothing was ever simple with them.
I am conscious, then of my own prejudices revealed in the silly little things I say. Calling my son a “Moaning Myrtle” or “Silly Sally” when he is upset could be detrimental to the messages of strong positive women I also try to uphold.
The key to creating empathy for women from men is in lessening the gap between the sexes. I was sure I would raise a gender-neutral child. How hard could it be? I may dress him in a variety of colours, not shying away from the rosier spectrum more associated with girls but that is only superficial.
I am conscious I could be influencing his interests based on what I think he might like. Each Wednesday morning, for example, we watch the bin men coming around the corner. He seems fascinated with vehicles so I encourage this. Or is he following my lead in my assumption that boys like cars, because they do, don’t they?
Jobs for Men and Women
When our shopping is delivered, I find myself saying things like “the Tesco Man” is coming at 9am. The person that arrives with our shopping is almost always a man. I have had my shopping delivered with them for nearly 5 years, and I have encountered a total of 2 women.
Along with my references to the “nurse lady”, “the ladies at nursery”, “Post man” and of course the “bin men” I am reinforcing the stereotypes that already exist. I am potentially doing my bit in ensuring that women may be more likely to be nurses and men to be drivers. I don’t want my son to have this limited view on the world.
I want him to believe that all of these opportunities are equally as available to him as any little sister he may have.
I feel responsible for what my son is learning, and how he sees the world. But the truth is, it isn’t my sole responsibility. The little things I worry about saying and doing aren’t the whole story. The society we live in will contribute pressures of what it means to be a man (stoic, strong), and what it means to be a woman (frail, slim with nice boobs and flawless skin). Is it really going to make a difference if I call him “Moaning Myrtle” every now and then?
What I can do, however, is raise a loved and secure boy. Who, when he is old enough, will be resilient enough to fight the onslaught of misinformation the patriarchy will throw at him. I will encourage him to cry and to see me cry, because it can only be a good thing to show your emotions.
He will know that strength comes from vulnerability. He will know real women in all their dimensions. Ensuring he sees me do something other than clean and cook is a start. When he is old enough, I will explain to him that women don’t always look like they do on TV or in porn. These are unrealistic fantasies. Women have beautiful bodies, capable of extraordinary things – but they don’t look like that.
Instead of being afraid, I should see this as a unique opportunity. As a mother, I can influence one man from the very beginning and do my bit in ensuring empathy for women exists in our society, the way a mother knows best; love.