I’m going to be honest with you right now, I have a bedtime Facebook addiction.
And if I am going to be really honest… it’s actually an all-the-time addiction.
So of course I was on my phone, well past my bedtime, when I came across a beautiful meme that a good friend of mine had posted to her Facebook wall. I’m not one to share memes often, if at all, but this one got my wheels turning and I spent the rest of the night mulling over what implications this message had for our sons.
Here is the meme.
I don’t have a daughter. But if I did, I would teach her how to be smart, strong, fearless and apologetically herself. I would be trying my damn hardest as a mother to equip her with the confidence and resources to chase her dreams with reckless abandon. I mean, it’s only natural. It’s how my mother raised me (mom, if you’re reading this, I love you). As a society we are spending a tremendous amount of time and resources on programs for “Girl Power,” “Real Beauty,” and self-esteem centric campaigns for young girls. Am I complaining about this? Not a chance. In fact, as a young girl who had more body mass than confidence, I would have benefited greatly from more than just Sparks or Girl Guides. I am asking us to think about what we are teaching our little boys about girls. Or rather, what we are not teaching them.
I don’t have a daughter. So instead, I will teach my son what real beauty looks like.
But I won’t stop there. And I hope you won’t either. So please hear me out.
Little boys need female role models. This certainly isn’t an original idea, but much to my chagrin, it isn’t a popular one either. From a young age, whether we want to admit it or not, we actively teach boys to disassociate from their feelings so much so that most adult men cannot accurately identify a feeling if it bit them in the armpit. And then to add insult to injury, when a boy is in touch with his emotions we strategically humiliate and belittle him further by feminizing him. Because somewhere along the line, and by “line” I mean the entirety of human history, anything resembling the female psyche became a repugnant affront to the male identity.
So why, in 2018, are women are still struggling with discrimination, sexism, oppression and sexual violence? Hmmm…. That’s a tough one.
Little boys need female role models so they understand that women are smart, strong, fearless and agents wholly unto themselves. Women are necessary counterparts that are complimentary not competitive; the other side of the same coin. Yet even in 2018 boys are heavily dissuaded from admiring anything that isn’t hyper masculine. The problem with saturating boys with strictly male role models is that it leaves a lot to be desired within the subtext. Can you guess you what that subtext is? I’ll give you one guess…
Women are inferior! That’s right! (you go, Glenn Coco).
Excluding strong female leaders from the roster of people to look up to leaves boys with the impression that women are either inferior, objects to be acquired or are in desperate need of male intervention. Spoiler alert, it’s all three.
A role model, by definition, is someone you admire and look up to with reverence and esteem. Someone whose character or personality traits you respect and that serve as inspiration to improve upon yourself. That is why we need to teach our sons about the smart, strong and fearless women who have both shaped and changed the course of human history. We need to ensure they understand that that the work of women is every bit as important and valuable as the work of men. Our boys need to be raised to treat women with the same level of respect and appreciation as the other men in their lives. It needs be automatic, like the respiratory system; how the brain tells the lungs to breathe to keep the body alive without you even being aware of it. A young man needs to understand that women are the drivers of their own narrative and not the object of his.
And, without further ado, we need to teach our boys what attributes actually make a girl attractive. Here’s another hint, it’s not her Kardashian-esque silhouette. Instead, let’s show our boys how beautiful her mind is - how she thinks, solves problems and is creative - how her passion and dedication to a cause can be breathtaking. How her strength of character and generosity of spirit both round out and punctuate her grit. How her voice and wit should spark admiration and not intimidation. Our boys need to see strong outspoken girls as assets, not liabilities. There’s no more room at the inn for the damsel archetype. There’s only room now for teammates; for equals.
In my house my son will learn about the Ruth Ginsburgs, Marie Curies, Jane Goodalls and Gloria Steinems, to name just a few. And he will learn about them right alongside the Abraham Lincolns, Charles Darwins, Albert Einsteins and Winston Churchills. And if he turns out to be athletic, however unlikely due to his gene pool, if there is a poster of Tom Brady on the wall you can bet your ass there will be a poster of Serena Williams right beside it.
So this is a message to the moms of girls everywhere. You’ve been fighting a two front battle for far too long and I am here to say enough already. It is not the sole responsibility of women to liberate themselves, not when we are caught in a vicious cycle of teaching boys they are superior and then expecting them to unlearn such a deep seated societal norm later in life. I am here to tell girl moms everywhere that I stand with you as an ally. I will raise my son to value your daughter as more than the sum of her parts. I will teach him to see her as his equal; as a comrade. He will learn to regard her character and talents before her body. Our family will focus on praising your daughter for her beautiful mind and leave her looks off the table for discussion. I’m not just raising a future husband, father and maybe in even a leader. I am raising a real man. A human being… so he should be raised on a platform of common human decency.