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.”

Don’t.Do.That.

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.

Love,
Me

 

Tales From the ‘Hood

It’s always a good thing when you can look in the rearview mirror….and laugh at yourself.

Yesterday, I met up with a group of women (and one man–you held your own, lone man–you should know that we kept the labor and episiotomy stories on the back burner for your sake–) to pass one of the long, winter break days. While the kids threw themselves around in ball pits teeming with streptococci, we exchanged stories from the trenches. Tales from the ‘hood. And by hood, I mean, of course, motherhood. (And you, lone Dad).

These informal information sessions are one of my favorite parts of being a mother. They are, I’d argue, also one of the most important. You see, motherhood, much like writing, can be a lonely business and a lot more of it is done inside the confines of your own head than is good for you. But, just like I always feel better when I can get the ideas from the ping-pong ricochet in my head on to the page, I always feel better talking to other parents as well.

Sitting around and talking seems like a luxury, but really, it’s anything but. Aside from honing your multi-tasking skills (yesterday it was smearing some anti-bacterial cream and a band-aid on an injured knee while maintaining my conversation, drinking my coffee and fielding texts from the older child who locked himself out of the house), that village consciousness is absolutely necessary to healthy parental survival. Casual conversation among peers is an important aspect of checks and balances in the ‘hood. It’s a way to make sure you haven’t lost your ever-loving mind in the throes of infant sleep deprivation. It’s a way of finding your sense of humor again in stories of shit and vomit. Most importantly, it’s a way of connecting and feeling less alone during a time of life when, despite a child clinging to you at all times like a frightened koala, you often feel very much alone.

This time we were talking about the ridiculous things we did as first time mothers, when we were flushed with parenting righteousness and middle class, over-educated book knowledge. Many of us were determined to do it by the book, not realizing for years that kids don’t follow a book. You’ve got to figure it out as you go along. Nevertheless…when I think of some of the things I did, said, and believed those first few years, I cringe.

What a monumental ass I was.

Some people may shy away from that obnoxious ghost of motherhood past, let the over documenting, crazy mom of yore fade gently into the background.

But c’mon! Where’s the fun in that?

During my first two years of being a mother, I am guilty of the following (not a complete list, by any stretch.)milk

I was convinced my son might be suffering from Dwarfism because his head seemed too big in relation to his limbs; I also worried he was autistic because he didn’t respond to his name…at three months.

(I should also add I asked my OB/GYN if the baby was epileptic once. She calmly informed me it was hiccups)

Yelled at my mother not to make eye contact with the baby during the middle of the night “No Stimulation!” Actually, I probably hissed it more than shouted it.

Chased my son around the playground with a tofu hot dog to get him to eat. More than once.

Threw myself into the backseat of a moving car to feed the baby because “My God, you heartless fiend (his father)! You want him to wait fifteen minutes for his food?? He’s starving. Starving!”

Moved his bouncy chair every 20 minutes to give him something new to look at.

Kept a journal of how often he ate, pooped, slept.

Religiously clocked screen time allowance to meet American Pediatrician Guidelines, including commercials.

Yelled at my husband for using up all my hoarded ‘tv time’ on a Saturday morning.

Was in his face every minute of every day encouraging enriching behaviors like putting the square shape in the square hole.

Had panic attacks about his dislike of fruit, bread, bagels, pizza, eggs, etc. Incessantly worried he wasn’t getting enough vegetables. Hid vegetables in his food (though never stooped to making brownies with puree kale…even I had limits)

Requested (ok, maybe more like demanded…) sex neutral clothing and toys like school busses because busses know no gender…

Insisted, to my pediatrician, a trained professional, that a love of cars and wheels was the result of social conditioning and not innate preference.

Swore my child would never have soda, McDonald’s, high fructose corn syrup, video games, unsupervised screen time, toy guns.

Clapped like an idiot when he came down the slide.

Said things like ‘well done!’ for minor achievements like breathing and swallowing.

But perhaps worse than any of those forgivable moments of first mom neurosis, is that I know, on more than a hundred occasions, I was holier than thou about my own righteousness.

sad-girlSo, consider this little confession of smarm my bit of penance. A Hail Mary for my early motherhood sins of sanctimony.

Eventually you learn that your child doesn’t need to eat every fifteen minutes, that tofu dogs are gross, and most people grow into their head size.

What you also learn? That time spent trading stories from the ‘hood? It’s priceless.

An Open Letter to Mothers of Girls

Would you give me a lift to the glass ceiling, please?
Would you give me a lift to the glass ceiling, please?

Dear Moms of Girls,

I always figured I would have daughters. I won’t go so far as to say I envisioned myself holding bundles of pink and sparkle, but in the back of my head I looked forward to raising kick-ass girls who would rock and roll; girls who would build on the momentum of a righteously feminist mother and hopefully one day, leave me sputtering in the dust.

Then I went and had boys. And I’m here to tell you I am THAT mom of boys.

You know the one I mean, right? (Don’t lie. I can see you rolling your eyes from my couch.)

I’m the boring mother who insists that if they’re talking about a female over the age of eighteen, they use the word woman, the one that jumps on any chance to point out how we use words differently when we talk about boys and girls–and yeah, I stretch it a bit far sometimes to make a point. Usually it snaps back and hits me in the ass, but there you go.

I’m the one who lectures them until I’m sick of the sound of my own voice about listening when people say “I don’t like that” or “Stop touching me.” Even though my youngest is only 8 and has no interest in girls. Or boys. Or animals for that matter. But over and over. Look at me when I’m talking to you, this is important. When someone says not to touch them, you must.stop.touching.them.right.away.

I’m that boring-ass mother who’s constantly bringing up the achievements of girls and women. The one who’s teaching my sons to hold the door open for everyone, not just girls because it’s not about being a gentlemen, it’s about not being an asshole.

I’m the one who’s constantly harping on about how even though boys and girls are different, men and women are different, one is not better than another. The one always reminding them you can’t tell if someone is a boy or a girl by the length of their hair or the color of their shirt, what they like or don’t like, what they do or don’t do.

I’m the over-the-top mom, the one continuously pointing out stereotypes.

Great, thanks. Now let's talk about wage equality
Great, thanks. Now let’s talk about wage equality

I’m the one who doesn’t let my kids play video games that objectify women. The one who made sure they knows what a period is, what tampons are for, where babies come from, what boobs are for. The one who taught them the word vagina. The one who, when they’re ready, will be explaining that yes, women like sex because it feels good.

I’m the over-zealous mom who sat down with her 2nd grade son when he started going to school dances about how to respect girls, and what to do if a girl asked him to dance and he didn’t want to. That is wasn’t ok to laugh or make fun or disrespect, even if he wasn’t interested. Or in his case, terrified at the thought.

I’m the one who has told them if I ever find out they’re making fun of a way a girl looks I’ll take them down. If I ever find out they’re demeaning a girl, I’ll take them down. If I find out they’re using sexually charged insults I’ll be over them like white on rice. I’m the one that sounds like a whining drill that when I keep saying things like “cry like a girl” it is insulting, unfair and untrue.

I’m that annoying mom who doesn’t excuse aggression just because my kids are boys.

I’m the slight nut-case who has endless dinner table conversations about how women are under represented, how history only tells the story from one point, the one who quizzes them on  history facts about women and voting rights. (Yes. I really am that mom)

I’m the one that will sit their asses down and give them talk after talk about sex and consent and how if they are ever unsure, the answer is no.

I’m the one who is boring them to tears with conversations about the roles women have played in history.

I’m the one who is passionately ranting about how to make things equal. How it is important to value people for who they are and not assume they’re better just because they are a boy or a girl.

I’m the one who’s not worried so much about raising my sons to be gentlemen. Your daughters don’t need gentlemen. They deserve boys and men who view them as equals.

Math, science, computers. You?
Math, science, computers. You?

I’m the pain in the ass, you-are-sick-of-hearing mom who is continually pointing out that not only can girls do anything boys can do, but boys can do anything girls can do–well, except for the birth thing.

Yes, I’m THAT mom.

I’m a pain in the ass. I go on and on. I am a record stuck in a groove. I’m THAT mom.

The one who is raising boys to view your daughters as equals, as partners, as people.  The one who’s doing her damnedest to raise men who don’t worry as much about holding open doors as they do about making the world a more equal–and thereby better–place for us all.

I’m willing to take the fall, be the patsy, ignore the rolling eyes and huffing sighs…if it works.

I’m THAT mom.

Love,
Me

What It Feels Like For a Girl

PrintIf you’re a parent, if you have a daughter, go and look at her right now.

Go on, I’ll wait.

Maybe she is asleep, curled softly against your chest, a little bundle of pink and spice and everything nice. Maybe she’s digging in a sandbox or playing soccer, spinning in a tutu or blowing a trombone. Maybe she’s going out, a skateboard under her arm, or curling her eyelashes on her way to a date. Maybe you’re already poring over college catalogs together, talking about her dreams. Doesn’t matter. Just take a good, long look at her.

Now take her aside. Sit her down. Look her in the eye, and tell her she’s not as deserving as a boy.

Tell her she’s less important.

Tell her that no matter what she does in life, no matter what she is recognized for, what she accomplishes, it will always be diminished because she’s a girl.

Tell her she can’t be trusted to make choices about her own body. Tell her it’s best if she leaves the difficult and complex decisions about who or how or when to plan a family to other people, people who don’t know her or have any insight into her life or personal beliefs. People, who, most of the time, don’t even know what it is like to live in the body of a girl.

Tell her she doesn’t deserve the same attention or opportunity as boys. Tell her that deep down, girls are weaker, that when push comes to shove, they don’t really want to lead, they aren’t capable of commanding.

Tell her you’re always going to hold her to a different standard. Tell her she needs to be twice as good for half the reward.

Loudly explain to your daughter that if she does everything exactly right then maybe, just maybe, things will even out. (Then whisper in her ear that of course they won’t–because she’s always less than).

Tell her you don’t trust her to make decisions about sex. Call her a bitch. Tell her she’d better keep her legs shut or suffer the consequences. Then call her frigid.

Tell her that her life doesn’t matter as much as her brother’s.

Body is a battleground

List the thousand and one reasons someone might pummel the soft flesh of her body, every single one of which she bears the blame for.

Tell her if she’s raped or beaten, it’s probably because she did something wrong. Tell her she can’t drink too much or drink the wrong drink or wear the wrong clothes, talk to the wrong person, be in the wrong place, go to college, go for a jog, walk alone. Tell her she can’t flirt. Tell her she can’t lead someone on, can’t accept dinner and flowers and expect to simply go home.

Go on, tell her that no doesn’t always mean no, that deep down, she must really want it, she’s just afraid to say it.

Then call her a whore.

Tell her you hate her for no other reason than she’s a girl. Tell her it’s cruel to laugh at or reject someone who’s only trying to impress her. Tell her that a giggle or a refusal is more than enough justification for harm.

Tell her it’s her fault.

Tell her no one will believe her anyway.

Tell her she deserves less money, that she should pay more for goods and services just because they’re made for girls.

Tell her she’s being irrational when she tries to point out the absurdity of wanting to make decisions about her own body.

Tell her she’s being ungrateful when she points out it’s unfair she should earn less, pay more, be locked out.

Tell her it’s her own fault when she points out she shouldn’t have to worry about being raped simply because she had too much to drink or went for a run; that she shouldn’t need to worry about being killed because she fell for the wrong guy.

bodyTell her she’s wrong when she declares you are being unfair because that’s all in the past, there’s nothing to talk about.

Would you be comfortable sitting down with your daughters and saying this out loud to them?

Because this is what she hears all the time. This is what we are all shouting at our daughters with our laws and our double standards, our perceptions and expectations, our justice system, our actions.

This is what our girls hear every single day, regardless of whether we are saying it out loud. And unless we work to change it, unless we all start shouting even louder that it isn’t right, unless we start teaching our boys, unless we start changing laws, well….we may as well be saying it right to their faces.