Parenting The Enemy

2 Apr

by Janice Lindegard of Snide Reply

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 the hell was I supposed to parent 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.

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 beautiful 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.

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.

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. 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.”

The idea that boys have to be controlled for the world to be safe is insulting at best and hypocritical at worst. 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 boys don’t think it’s cute. The 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 Giselle. Not really seeing the outrage, are you?

Let’s call a truce. Let’s teach boys and girls to keep their hands to themselves. Let’s admit that girls want to have sex as much as boys do. Let’s teach all of our children that they can be whatever they want to be . . .and mean it.

Janice Lindegard is a writer, blogger and columnist living in Naperville, Illinois. She is mom to two children: a bio son with ADHD and a daughter adopted from China. She tries, often unsuccessfully, to follow the teaching of Buddha, is married to a Jewish man and was raised by Roman Catholics. She writes a parenting column for Naperville Patch and blogs about her life at Snide Reply.

9 Responses to “Parenting The Enemy”

  1. DeAnna at 12:39 am #

    As a mother to a 10 month old boy I totally agree with your post!
    My son found my old cabbage patch doll (it was a boy doll) and started carrying it around. I didn’t have a problem with it because I think that will teach him to be nurturing but anyway…

    I was in a restaurant and a couple came up to me, complimented my sons blue eyes and caught a glimpse of his doll and was like “O, we thought he was a boy.” I said “he is”. They looked at each other and looked at me with serious faces and said “Then why is he playing with a doll? Boys don’t play with dolls, only little girls do”. I promptely told them thank you but I was his mother and I am fine with him having a cabbage patch doll. I left.

    Our society is sad sometimes.

    • jmlindy422 at 12:46 am #

      Wow, that is truly frightening. I thought we were past that. Did that happen in the US?

      • DeAnna at 1:15 pm #

        yes it did! In Arkansas.
        You should see them when I tell them yes I’m with his father, no we are not married and yes we live together.

        Then I really get a “lecture”.

  2. natasha devalia at 8:05 am #

    Hey Janice,
    Thanks for that interesting and thought provoking post. I have a similar comment to the one above. My son has a stuffed toy doll that he loves. He used to carry it around until a few weeks ago. Someone said to me, “that must be his sister’s doll right?”. I was surprised, and told them proudly that it was his.

    He likes to dance. No one says, “Wow, he should really dance.”
    He used to love pink. Then he met a few people who told him, “That’s for girls.” Probably also laughed.
    Now he likes green.

    He is very thoughtful and sensitive, Thankfully he has a balanced and compassionate father role-figure to look up to, otherwise I’d be worried about how he’ll “toughen up” by desensitizing himself,, as I’ve already been told he needs more of.

    • jmlindy422 at 10:19 am #

      I heard that pink is perfectly fine for boys in India. Don’t know if that’s true. I know it’s not ok here! My daughter is in love with blue these days and my son really couldn’t care less. He’s 16, into music and wears a leather motorcycle jacket as often as possible. I like to think that he’s thoughtful and sensitive and I’m assured by others that he is. At home? Not so much! Only rarely talks about his feelings and needs to be reminded to be affectionate to his mother and sister. He’s great at giving Dad hugs, though.

      • natasha devalia at 3:54 pm #

        I’m not sure about pink in India – I’ll ask around! My daughter is all about pink. Your son’s a teenager now right?

  3. Blaziken at 3:22 am #

    Yes, yes yes SO MUCH YES!!! (Okay, that sounds kinda’ awkward.) Thank you though, this seriously needed to be said! Sadly, stuff like this can only be taken seriously when it’s said by a woman. (Trust me, I’ve tried.) As a boy I know what you’re saying because I’ve lived it! But it couldn’t change me. To this day I STILL love all of my stuffed animals! (My first one was a “The Dog” which is now missing an eye and lost somewhere in the dirty laundry. 😦 ) I truly appreciate this and WILL BRAVE BIRD ANYONE WHO THINKS OTHERWISE!!!!!!!


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