Throwing Out The Boys With The Bathwater

I wrote this post a year ago, but was reminded of it by the new Verizon ad about how we send the wrong messages to our daughters. “Don’t get your dress dirty,” “Hand that drill over to your brother,” etc., etc., etc.  I have never talked to my daughter that way and I suspect most of my readers don’t talk to theirs that way either.

I have been a feminist for many, many years. And it’s as a feminist that I object to the way boys are raised. In the 80s, I believed that the point behind feminism was freedom from oppressive gender roles. Though I would hardly say that women are treated equally today, I believe we have failed in bringing equality to our sons. Women are a mighty force and we’ve worked hard for years to ensure our daughters can be and behave in any way they feel. Not so with our sons. Please note: this work is not intended to diminish the misogyny that remains a part of our cultural fabric. 

 I wanted a girl. No question. Oh, sure, I told people I just wanted a healthy baby, but really, I wanted a girl. So, when my son was born, it was more than drugs and exhaustion that had me on emotional overload.

I was a feminist. I was prepared to rear a strong, self-possessed woman. In my feminist readings, I ran across a piece on women in heterosexual relationships that likened being married to a man to sleeping with the enemy.  How was I supposed to <em>parent</em> the enemy?

The first week of parenthood featured little sleep, lots of poop and a humiliating tendency for my body to do really revolting things completely out of my control. I remember one day, though, sitting on my back porch. The Little Enemy was asleep, finally. I had a lovely rose garden, but I wasn’t admiring it. I was completely absorbed in an epic wallow of self-pity. I had a boy. Boy, boy, boy. No little soul sister, I had a miniature man.

<a href=”“><img class=”alignleft size-full wp-image-549″ title=”images” src=”” alt=”” width=”259″ height=”194″ /></a>I started to cry. I stared out at my rose garden and wept. I got maudlin. I wept for the sassy girl I wouldn’t have and the strong woman I wouldn’t know. I wept because my child would never wear my wedding dress. And then I thought of Dennis Rodman and I laughed out loud. At that time, Mr. Rodman was wildly infamous for his outrageous behavior, which included going clubbing in a wedding dress. Immediately after lamenting that my child wouldn’t wear my gown, I pictured the beastly ugly Rodman in his and thought, “God, I hope not!”

I’ve said that nothing made me more of a feminist than raising a son. When I do, more than a few women look at me like I’ve either lost my mind or made a very unfunny joke. But it’s no joke. If our society beats down girls, it beats down boys just as cruelly. The problem is that while we’re eager to help girls with their self-esteem, their body image, their academic standings and their professional opportunities, most people don’t even want to recognize that boys are bound and gagged by our society, too. After all, helping boys would be the societal equivalent of aiding and abetting enemy combatants.

At this point, you may be wondering what the heck I’m talking about. Boys don’t need help; boys aren’t discriminated against. Boys never had to fight to get into anything. From Little League to Harvard to the White House, boys—especially white ones—have been living the high life.

I am not delusional, though. From the time my son was born, he was treated differently than a daughter would have been. Even in infancy, we expect boys to be tough. Baby boys are picked up less frequently than baby girls. Just because of a roll of the biological dice, one child is cuddled when she cries and the other is left to seek comfort in his little blue blankie. Being born male even reduces your chances of being adopted. Globally, more girls are adopted than boys, not because more girls are available but because people feel safer adopting a girl. In fact, you can probably cut your wait time to adopt merely by stating a preference for a boy.

School is supposed to be where the rubber begins to hit the road in discrimination against girls. But, seen through the eyes of boys and their mothers, school is set up for the male to fail. Standing in lines, communicating verbally, sitting still, pleasing the teacher, are all behaviors that, for whatever reason, girls seem to master more quickly and easily than boys. Let’s not get sidetracked discussing why girls are able to do it. Let’s think about what it means to boys that their genetically codified behavior is more likely to get them a pass to the principal than a gentle reminder or exasperated sigh. Is it any wonder boys dropout at higher rates while more girls go to college?

I don’t have enough space left to discuss how my son’s middle school career might have differed if he were a girl. I have a hard time imagining he would have been called lazy and unmotivated if he were a girl failing in the gifted program, though. One day he forgot to bring pencil and paper to the library. His teacher gave him a detention for defiance. If his name were Emily, I wonder if she’d just roll her eyes and hand her some paper.

<a href=”“><img class=”alignright size-medium wp-image-548″ title=”Image” src=”” alt=”” width=”300″ height=”274″ /></a>As my son gets older, I’m less and less concerned about how his school treats him and more concerned with how his society treats him. Recently, a friend posted a screed on her Facebook wall. The gist of the post is this: if the parents of boys raised sons who kept their hands to themselves unless invited, then the parents of girls wouldn’t have to worry how their daughters are dressed.

At the same time, I’m dealing with my son’s sexual maturity. Overwhelmingly, his society paints him as barely able to contain his desires, at best. If he has unprotected sex with a girl and she gets pregnant, it will be his fault. Don’t think so? When was the last time you heard someone refer to the boy involved in a teen pregnancy as “a nice young man”? Nope. He’ll be “that jackass who got Susie pregnant.” And rape? Yes, rape exists and it is a very real threat to women. But men are raped, too, every day. They just don’t talk about it; men aren’t supposed to. And who would listen?

The idea that boys have to be controlled for the world to be safe is insulting at best and hypocritical at worst. And it starts very, very early. At the same time we are telling little boys to keep their hands to themselves, we think it’s cute when little girls chase them to steal a kiss. The little boys don’t think it’s cute. The little boys think it’s harassment and they get mad when we don’t stop the girls.

We ridicule boys who dance, want to be nurses and love to play with dolls. If you think we don’t, then you haven’t raised a boy. When a girl wants to box, play hockey or quarterback a football team, we say “Why not?” We may even get angry if she’s not allowed to. Imagine the reaction to a boy who wants to dance <em>Giselle</em>. Not really seeing the outrage, are you?

Let’s call a truce. Let’s teach boys <em>and</em> girls to to respect themselves, their bodies, their minds and each others.  Let’s teach all of our children that they can be whatever they want to be . . .and mean it.

4 responses to “Throwing Out The Boys With The Bathwater

  1. Agreed. Educate and inspire all children with the goal of creating confident, compassionate thinkers who are mindful of the world they move through and there isn’t a need to demonize or polarize.


  2. I dream of the day when you can post something like this with out the 5 paragraph intro establishing “feminist” credentials and assurances that you see the issues women face as well. I still expect that even with 5 paragraphs of feminist credentials the women at sites like would still call you a woman hating misogynist for writing this.


    • I wish I didn’t have to do it, too. I think the fact that I do indicates that we still don’t see men and women as equals. For me, it was never about being better than men, just equal. Thanks for weighing in.


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