Thursday, May 16, 2013

"Real Men"

"Look at you, helping your mom like real men!"

Yes.  Someone said that to my boys this past weekend when they were helping me carry our luggage.

Oh, how I grow weary of this “real men” talk.

"You mean they are helping me because that is what we do… right?  We help each other.  And they are really good helpers."

Yes.  That was my response. 

Oh, the looks I receive for my gentle corrections of “real men” talk.

And no, this is not in the general public.  I do not fight those battles.  If some stranger makes a comment in passing that is especially bothersome to me and I know the boys hear it, we discuss it later, privately.  I only attempt these corrections with people who spend a lot of time around my kids.

I simply do not understand why it is so upsetting to some people that I refuse to raise my sons to think they should offer help or courtesy to others on the basis of gender.  I cannot understand why it bothers some people that I refuse to teach my sons that in order to be “real men” they should do things for women because women are somehow weaker and need them.  (I am apparently also harming their real manhood by my refusal to glorify guns and war and certain “manly” types of violence, but that is another post.)

Yes, I am a feminist and that does influence the way I raise my kids.  But I'm not trying to use my kids, who happen to be boys, as some kind of political or social statement.  I don't force them to read feminist literature or tell them negative things about men or try to make them “girly” or whatever else it is that people scared by feminism think that feminists do.  All I'm trying to do is raise my kids with values that promote equality, mutual respect, and healthy views of gender.

So when friends or family say things to my sons about being men in a context that makes it seem that the way we treat others hinges on gender instead of shared humanity, I am going to say something.  Not because I am trying to be difficult or because I am angry, but because it is contrary to the values I am trying to teach them.  I want my boys to know that showing kindness and courtesy to others – regardless of who they are – is part of how we value the image of God in others and in ourselves. 

I want my boys to be good men because they are good people who happen to be male, not because they fit a certain social or religious stereotype. 

I'm not trying to turn my kids into feminist activists, harm their sense of manhood, or teach them women are better than men; I'm trying to raise kids who truly understand equality. 

Yes, I am teaching them to hold doors open and help carry luggage and lots of other things many may consider chivalry, but not because those are things “real men” are supposed to do.  I'm teaching them these things because those are just a few of the countless ways to show we understand the inherent value of every other person.  And if someone doesn’t want the help they offer, that is okay as well.

Behavior matters, but so do the attitudes and thoughts behind that behavior. I am trying to teach my boys that the behavior they exhibit toward other people should come from the desire to show respect, kindness, empathy, and love, rather than teaching them attitudes that assign worth to others based on gender or how well a person fits into certain roles. 

So really, there is no need for eye rolling or concerned looks when I politely dispute the “real men” comments directed at my boys.  It is fine to complement their kindness and helpfulness or to tell them it is appreciated when they do something nice without being asked, but there is no reason to use their positive behavior to create differences where none need to exist. 

I may not be out there on the front lines, fighting the good fight against patriarchy, sexism, male privilege and the like.  I may not be able to single-handedly eradicate from this earth all the attitudes and views that are harmful to both women and men.  But I will speak up when people say things to me or to my children that promote and reinforce them. 

And I hope my sons are learning to do the same.

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