Dear World, Don’t Sell My Sons Short

Dear World,

Do me a favor, will you?

Don’t sell my sons short.

Let me ‘splain. No, no time to ‘splain, let me sum up….

You, world, you sell them short each time you assume they’re going to act like Neanderthals  simply because they are in possession of testicles and a willy. You do it every time you insist they’ll be distracted by the first spaghetti strap that crosses their line of vision, or an extra inch of thigh skin. You do it every time you restrict someone else in response to an embarrassing pubescent erection, which, let’s be honest, is just as likely the result of the wind blowing the wrong way as it is to an object of affection walking by.

You keep selling them short. You presume that somewhere, embedded into the XY chromosomes my sons carry, is a short-circuit which prevents them from telling right from wrong, from conscious choice and decision making, from weighing the options and coming down firmly on the side of acceptable.

But the animal kingdom! You cry. But biology! Precedent! You cry, cry, cry me a river as if human beings and society has not been a constantly evolving game of hit or miss all along.

So please, don’t use elephants in the wild to assume that my sons won’t be able to appreciate the sexuality of a peer without losing their shit and flunking algebra.

They are boys, not single-celled organisms. They are eminently capable of reason and ability, in possession of a morality and a conscience. Don’t give them an easy out or a ready excuse by claiming, repeatedly, they can’t help it.

They are capable of so much more than that. Let them show you.

The US Marine Corps. is smack in the midst of a scandal at the moment. Photos of female Marines, many to them explicit, were hacked, uploaded, taken and shared among a group of 30,000 male Marines.

Cue the tried and trite excuses:

“Well, what do you expect?”
“This is what happens when you have men and women serving together.”
“Men are lusty/animals/biologically programmed”
“All men do stuff like this. It’s locker-room talk.”


Men are not static creatures. My boys are not static. They are dynamic. Society changes, we progress. What do I expect, world?

I expect that as a whole, we have moved beyond “well, what do you expect?” and on to “I expect better.”

Don’t tell them not to cry. Don’t tell them to man up. Don’t tell them to grow a set. The need to cry, to empathize and emote–it is not shameful or womanly, it is human. They’ll be men by virtue of growing and maturing into larger, hairier versions of themselves. Don’t sell them short by handing over a definitive list of rules and regulations they need to meet in order to be men. Allow them the freedom to define themselves.

The majority of men don’t rape, don’t grope, don’t assault or assume. The majority of men understand consent. The vast majority of boys and men manage entire lives without uploading nude photos because they have been taught it is not right, or something inside them realizes it is not. If men truly were programmed to do those things, if that’s just what men ‘do’, does that mean all the men who don’t aren’t real men but imposters, traitors to their DNA?

Don’t sell my kids short just because they happen to be boys. Don’t assume they don’t know their way around a conscience.

Don’t give them the easy out of ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘men will be men’. Not only are you excusing behavior, you’re excusing me from my job of parenting them to know right from wrong.

And in case you need a list to put on your refrigerator, here’s a starter. Feel free to add to it as you go along.


It is not right to ask a girl to take, send, upload or share nude photos of herself or other females.

It is not right, if a compromising picture exists, to assume you have permission to share that picture. Its existence does not absolve you of wrongdoing.

It is not right to force yourself on a girl or woman who has not given her consent. And yes, that means if you’re unsure, you explicitly ask. And if you’re still unsure, you walk away. Even if it would have meant getting your rocks off.

It is not right to have sex with a girl or woman who is drunk, on drugs, or in any other way mentally incapable of giving informed consent. Having sex with an unconscious girl is rape. Even if she was flirting with you an hour before. Even if her skirt rode up. Even if she’s lying naked on your bed. Why? Because women who cannot speak can’t give consent. And consent should never be assumed.

It is not right to expect girls and women to manage the way they dress, or act, or speak or behave because it makes a man uncomfortable. Boys and men capable of managing their own emotions. Let them. If a girl walks by and her spaghetti strap distracts a boy or man? It’s up to the boy or man to change their behavior, not to force the girl to widen her straps. Every time you assume a boy or man can’t manage those feelings, you are not only taking something away from a girl or woman, you’re taking away something from a boy too. The ability to manage his own emotions and actions.

Don’t sell my boys short. I have taught them, I am teaching them, to tell right from wrong, that respect is not limited to sex or gender, that just because someone else does it it’s not ok, that if it makes them question the devil standing on one shoulder, it’s most likely wrong.

We all make mistakes. We all utilize poor judgment from time to time–girls, boys, men and women. But don’t sell my boys short by excusing that capacity for judgment in the first place.

I hold my sons to incredibly high standards. You should too. Not just my sons. All the sons.



12 Comments Add yours

  1. Marta Guarneri says:

    Dear Dina.
    Great post! It relates in some ways to a conversation I recently had with my younger son. I have three boys, aged 15,13 and 9. The little one the other day asked me when his brothers will stay acting all crazy and wild and stop being good boys, since they are well into their teenage years. He was expecting the worst and bracing for it. That’s mainstream thinking, this is what he has been hearing at school, maybe witnessed or watched on tv: the adolescence is always portrayed as an age of disrespect and contrasts and by that people tend to both justify bad attitude and behavior and in a way, sometimes, foster it, in a sort of self fulfilling prophecy, a Golem effect (as opposed to the positive Pygmalion effect). And sadly it’s truer for boys, seen as less capable of dominating and channeling in a positive way their energy. I told him that his brothers, like him, are good people and we expect the best from them, we trust they are capable of good choices and it’s not matter of age. That surely adolescence is a period of changes, growth, and in a way confusion, but it’s not enough, and certainly not a justification, for changing radically people’s personality or give way to irrationality, or irrsponsible and unrespectful behavior. He seemed pretty convinced. And I am too.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      I think ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’ is a good way to describe it. If we excuse and justify their behavior before they even behave that way, we’re practically giving them express permission to behave badly. Because, you know ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘girls will be girls’. Adolescence and young adulthood can be a bumpy ride, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue to hold our children to high standards. It may take a lot more support, but that’s what we signed up for, right?

      Sounds like you’ve got 3 great boys there who are on their way to becoming 3 great men.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. skaymac says:

    Dina, great post. I have two boys, actually men now. One is 27 and the other is 29. Before going to university I told each of them the rules. 1) If a girl says no it doesn’t mean yes. Pull up your pants and leave. Immediately. I don’t care how close your penis is to her vagina. No. Means. No. 2) If you’re man enough to have unprotected sex, you’re man enough to drop out of school, get a job, and be a dad and partner. Whether you marry is another decision. But being a father is no longer a choice. 3) You are expected to be a contributing member of society. You can’t sit home and play video games or smoke pot all day. You’ll graduate with a degree and you’re to put it to use. 4) Come to me with your problems. It’s OK to cry. I’ll always be here for you. One of my sons had a breakdown when his father left us. My son cried. And sobbed. And shared his anger and his pain. It’s our job as parents to listen. To understand that boys are no less emotional than girls but society burdens them with unhealthy expectations.

    Both my sons are happy and healthy. Their girlfriends are strong, smart and confident. One is a doctor doing her residency and says she’ll be supportive of my son’s decision to return to grad school for his second masters after her residency is over. My younger son’s girlfriend owns her own business and is growing it.

    If we don’t raise our boys to be good men, we are doing them, us, and society as a whole, a disservice.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Dina Honour says:

      I think I would really like your sons. And I know I really like your rules :-). And it is so, so important not to stop our boys from feeling, from expressing, from being able to let go of all those feelings in ways other than anger or aggression, which seem to be the de facto accepted forms of male emotional output.

      I’m not surprised your sons are happy and healthy and balanced. Sounds like they have a mom who prioritized those things.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. skaymac says:

        You would like my sons!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Bravo–I wasn’t sure where you were going at first, then kept reading and it hit me. Yes, education. Not all men do wrong, because many are taught right and they’re taught consequences. Thanks for the reminder of all that, because it’s true. Be good and keep raising them well.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Thank you, I’m doing my best! A lot of it is taught, but I also believe that a lot of it is the ability to tell right from wrong. I’d like to think that ability is innate, but I’d be naive if I assumed it was only innate–so much of it is conditioning and modeling and our surroundings. That said, I think we often don’t give people the chance to prove they know the difference before we excuse away their behavior–in both directions, with both sexes. Because I know what it is like to have assumptions made about me, as a woman, it’s taken me having sons to realize how those assumptions are also made about boys. But most men DON”T do the things we are always prescribing to ‘male’ behavior. So why do we do it? Why are we afraid of letting them make choices, and holding them accountable for their choices. I wonder, if as mothers, we are so used to protecting that the managing of male emotions becomes a method of protecting–both our girls and our boys. But I think, now raising kids, that it’s far more damaging than protecting.


  4. Gina Earle says:

    Wow you hit another one out of the park.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      Thanks–it’s an interesting place for me, a staunch feminist raising two boys. At times I feel more like an anthropologist than a mother to be honest, but I think we need to start encouraging and showing boys and men to manage their emotions and actions. When we take that away from them, we all lose.


  5. Kate says:

    Interesting post.
    I have two children, a son in high school and a daughter in college.
    I hope my husband and I have raised both of our children to be respectful of others, whether that be in the dating world, or the rest of life.
    My son hasn’t started dating yet, but when he does he knows what is expected of him.

    If I had a dear world post it might include some of things you’ve written about for your sons. I would also want the world to see some of the challenges that men face highlighted more. Things like having higher rates of suicide and boys more likely to be prescribed mood altering drugs than girls.


    1. Dina Honour says:

      This is something I struggle with mightily. I’m a hyper-focused feminist who is raising two boys–and I constantly need to remind myself that while advocating for girls and women, I need to advocate for them as well. And you are right–boys face so many challenges and sometimes they get overlooked in our quest for making things as equal as possible. I do believe that by opening the floodgates of possibility for girls, it will by default, open them from boys as well. And I know my two, the eldest a few years behind your son, are growing up in an environment where mothers are making sure they know it’s ok to cry, to show emotion, trying to chip away at the “man up” stuff. Those things may or may not address things like drug abuse and suicide, but they are a start in the right direction. I hope.


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