Raising a boy is my only experience of parenting, so I don’t know what, if any, differences I’d feel in raising a girl. I would like to think that there would be no difference, certainly not in my expectations or in how I treated my child. But as a feminist, I know that both our societal and personal expectations of boys and girls are not the same and are not always equal.
Hugh is constantly told that he is smart and tough and strong. He is easy to rough house, to toss and to wrestle. He receives gifts of trains and trucks, wears clothes in bold primary clothes or dark hues. He learned to dribble a soccer ball by the time he was one. It’s easy to focus on his strength and physicality without even being aware, just as it’s easy later in life to build confidence in boys’ abilities in math, science, computers and engineering.
Are these biased attitudes changing? Yes, and thankfully. But part of working for gender and racial and other forms of equality – something I’ve strived to do my whole life – means parenting like those things matter. Because they do.
Society carves out for boys a world of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails, not sugar and spice and everything nice. I’m not discounting that some of it is personal preference, even at this young age. I’ll be damned if Hugh’s teacher didn’t tell me that he won’t eat off the pink plate. And over Thanksgiving, when I gave him a dollhouse to play with, he said NO and carried the dollhouse back to the closet. He didn’t even want it in the same space as his cars.
In some ways, it takes less effort to raise a boy because you’re not constantly challenging diminishing stereotypes. On the other hand, that’s exactly why I want to be vigilant about raising a boy.
I want to make sure that he knows the way the world treats him isn’t necessarily because he’s entitled to it. I want him to appreciate snakes and snails as well as sugar and spice. I want him to embrace all the things that make us interesting as humans and not just boys or girls.