My son was 10 weeks old when Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States.
Over the course of those previous 10 weeks, I'd probably slept a cumulative, oh, I don't know, seven minutes? Between my newborn's acid reflux, the nuclear holocaust that used to be my perineum, and what seemed like the totally rational and not-at-all diagnosable fear that my baby would die in his sleep if I didn't watch him breathe at all times, the outcome of another country's presidential election was pretty low on my list of concerns.
Plus, in my hallucinatory state of exhaustion, I'd convinced myself that surely someone with absolute power (The Queen? The United Nations? Oprah?) would step in and put an end to the charade before America did something stupid like elect a man accused of multiple counts of sexual assault and harassment to lead their country.
So I didn't stress about it. We do not live in a world, I told myself even as the results started rolling in Nov. 8, where a man who boasted about grabbing women by the pussy could become the next president of the United States. But when the sun came up the next morning after another sleepless night, that was the world I found myself living in.
That was the world in which I'd be raising my son.
Just like that, my parental duties exploded from "make sure the baby survives infancy" to "make sure the baby survives infancy and grows up to be a respectful, thoughtful man who not only isn't part of the problem, but is part of the solution toward dismantling rape culture."
I like to think I don't raise my son within a gender stereotype. But does he actually love bears, airplanes, and knocking things over, or is that just what I've exposed him to?
Then, as my son learned to crawl, talk, and walk over the past 15 months, more than 20 high-profile men (including Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein, comedian Louis C.K., and actor Kevin Spacey) have been named in sexual assault and misconduct scandals. The #MeToo social media campaign that became a rallying cry for women (and men) who experienced sexual assault and harassment once again revealed the magnitude of the problem.
And our need for male allies has never been greater. But how do you raise one?
The key to this is to give boys more choices, according to an essay published this June in The New York Times. We need to tell our sons that they can be anything they want to be — just like we do for our daughters, author Claire Cain Miller writes.
"Even as we've given girls more choices for the roles they play, boys' worlds are still confined," Miller writes.
"They're discouraged from having interests that are considered feminine. They're told to be tough at all costs, or else to tamp down their so-called boy energy."
Some of Miller's tips — which come from interviews with neuroscientists, economists, sociologists, and psychologists — include letting boys cry, giving them positive male and female role models, letting them follow their interests, teaching them to take care of themselves and others, teaching that "no means no" and to speak up when others are intolerant.
But if this sounds easy enough, let me tell you that it isn't.
I'd read (and welcomed) the recent research that baby boys have less self-regulating stress hormones than baby girls, and have slower emotional growth, and thus need more soothing TLC and support. Like I needed an excuse to cuddle my sweet baby, I thought to myself at the time.
But I still find myself sometimes repeating "you're OK, you're OK, you're OK" when my son cries into my shoulder after tripping on a toy or dropping a book on his foot. Is this seemingly natural maternal reaction inadvertently teaching him that he needs to toughen up? Should I really be saying "I know that probably hurt and scared you and it's good that you're expressing your feelings and Mama loves you"?
I like to think I don't raise my son within a gender stereotype. But does he actually love bears, airplanes, and knocking things over, or is that just what I've exposed him to? If he'd been raised as a girl, would he squeal with glee over bunnies, flowers, and manners instead? Would he crawl around daycare clutching a dolly instead of the stuffed puppy that never leaves his side? And whose preferences would those choices really reflect: his or mine?
And I dress my son in blue. I rationalize this because blue is one of my favourite colours, and I say I'd probably dress a baby girl in blue, too. But would I? When's the last time you saw a wall of blue girls' clothes? How many pink shirts are on the boys' rack?
Gendered clothing, while seemingly innocuous, is actually the beginning of a fairly sinister path that teaches children girls and boys are different and, given the gender hierarchy, that girls are somehow inferior, according to an article in Slate.
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"Then, when these stereotypes morph during adolescence, they lead to something even more sinister: The idea that girls are sex objects and that boys are sex-obsessed, that it's OK for guys to cross sexual boundaries because that's just how guys are," author Melinda Wenner Moyer writes.
I've also been teaching my son to kiss our immediate family members on the cheek. But when he leans in to give Grandma a peck and I say, "Thank you! Good boy!" I also follow up with "It's nice to give kisses when everyone involved has agreed to it," which seems ridiculous to say to a one-year-old, but I'm afraid of what could happen some day if I don't.
And when I rock him to sleep each night, and once again explain to him that Mama was at work and that's why he had to go to daycare, all I want some days is to clutch him to my chest and cry about missing out on his life. But I also want my son to grow up believing that a woman's work outside home is as important as her work inside it, so instead I tell him about my day.
I was more than prepared to raise a strong, bold, feminist girl. I come from a long line of women who believed they could be whatever they wanted to be (my great-grandmother, grandmother, and mother all worked full time, took on various leadership roles, and were well educated), and from a long line of women in general (my son is the first boy born into my maternal family line in five generations).
I had to learn a new kind of feminism when I gave birth to a boy last August. And I'm still learning. But I'm going to keep trying to raise a feminist son.
Because this world needs more of them.
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