To My Sons on Women's Day
You are being raised by an opinionated, educated, political, bold mother. I have never been a girl to back down, and started arguing with my teachers and other adults as a kid. In fact, even today you’ll hear your dad and I argue about politics, music, pop culture, and my never-ending quest to get him to HURRY when I say we’re late.
You see, I grew up with the privilege of speaking my mind- and OH! did I speak my mind. On basically every topic that ever came up. I was opinionated, valued for my brain, lauded for high marks and even higher aspirations. A university degree for me wasn’t a maybe, it was considered by grandma and grandpa to be the last stepping stone to a BASIC education.
It wasn’t until I got older, and I had your sister that I realized that not all girls and women have grown up like I did. As I watched other women raise their daughters, I watched society tell me to raise a nice, compliant daughter, dressed perfectly, told above all else how pretty she was! How pretty her clothes were! How cute her dolls were! I saw birthday cards calling her to “be WHOEVER she wants”.
Then I began noticing that the boy's birthday cards were telling you, that you were ALREADY whoever you wanted to be. And then, as proud as I am of all the hard work you’ve done to be a great athlete, and an even better student, it broke my heart when right away people would ask you how your season was going. What your favorite subject was? What you wanted to be when you grew up? SO many interesting, and varied questions posed at you. While you stood and thought about which pro-sport you would play, it made my heart swell with pride, albeit behind a quiet sadness, when your sister had to interrupt to tell them that she was GOING to be a Veterinarian.
My work, in this world, as a mom of boys and a girl, as a daughter, and as an auntie was becoming clear. I needed to try and raise you guys to help be advocates for your sister, and so many other sisters, in this world. Because as much as I hated to admit it, the work to do wasn’t only in third world countries, in poverty stricken zones. The major work to do was sawing logs in his Seattle Seahawks bed, in his Paw Patrol Bed, in her Frozen bed.
The work to do was to raise my boys to be bigger feminists than I had subconsciously already began raising my daughter to be. (I've blogged about this before.)
Why weren't we harping on our boys to NOT RAPE instead of harping on our girls to NOT BE RAPED. Why weren't we telling our boys to keep their hormones in check in school- as they must in real life, if a girl’s skirt is short, and her shoulders are bare? Why does the entire negative underbelly of male and female interactions need to be shouldered by your sister alone? Why weren't we raising our boys a little differently?
You are both great athletes already. You will spend many hours on buses, in locker rooms, and surrounded by boys and men for a large part of your formative years. Already, I watch you and your best buddies talk about girls, and listen to music that isn’t always female-positive. It hurts me when you tell me that kids on the ice are already calling each other ‘Fags”, and “Little Bitches”. As proud as I am to be female and to raise your sister- a brilliant and beautiful little girl, I’m aware my battle to keep you two respectful and advocates for gender equality has just begun.
You’re already better off than we ere, and certainly more open-minded than your grandparents were at your age. We came of age as society was becoming more open to the LGTB community. Our struggle as parents now is to be as open as kids your age are about the transgender community. But you’ve already been exposed to so much diversity that I know you both know that love is love, and being who you are is the only way to truly be happy.
But I worry, that your innocence is going to be too short, and pretty soon you will see that not all households have the same level of respect for women as ours does. That not all boys are raised to hold women up high.
What can I do now with you, my 11 year old, that means that down the road, at some party in University, you’ll help that girl off the couch and get her home safely instead of standing by and letting horrible things happen? How can I enforce that standing by and letting something happen is AS BAD as doing it yourself? Because in this world, most everything could be stopped if more people stepped up instead of stepped back.
The best legacy I can leave you is one where you value and love the women in your lives so much that you help to hold them up in a society that isn’t fair, by your words, and by your actions.
So I’ve been as honest with you as I know how. You asked me so many questions about the US President. You were so worried after the election coming home from school about what you'd heard. Your school is predominantly new Canadians so their fear was very real. 'Walls', 'hate speech', the 'end of the world' were things you asked me to clarify. I didn’t water it down. I told you the truth about some of the horrible things that had been said and done in the name of “America First”. We talked about things that have happened here, and ways we can stay positive and help people out around us.
But eventually, you asked about locker-room talk.
To a boy who spends hours a week in a locker room, you wanted to know that that meant. I didn’t have the words to tell you the disgusting language used and the connotation that a man in power can take what he wants from a woman and she’ll learn to love it. From the newly elected President of our neighbor to the south.
I didn’t know how to discuss it in a way that was productive.
Then, I remembered my secret weapon. I had married him. Your dad.
He played high level hockey, he spent many hours in locker rooms. He was with coaches and other players that sometimes did and said stupid things, but in all the parties he went to, in all the locker rooms he swapped secrets with, no one had ever condoned sexual assault. There’s no question that he heard vulgar details about the conquests of others, but as respectful of me as he is now, he was then. And then I realized that the only way I could explain it to you, at your age, was to tell you to talk to your dad about things you feel uncomfortable about, and that he'll explain things to you if you have questions.
Way to pass the buck, right?
Well, your dad married a young girl who was opinionated, prone to arguing politics, and mostly incorrigible. And it doesn’t intimidate him, it never has.
He is secure in being a man who has his own convictions, with a wife that is not only allowed, but encouraged to have her own DIFFERING convictions. We will stay up late and argue current events, politics and anything else under the sun because we believe fully that the sign of intelligence is to be able to entertain other points of view.
That’s why, while your dad can be a conservative on some issues, while he can enjoy beer, hard work, sports and a truck, he can also have a wife that is liberal, sarcastic, strong and independent, and love me for it. It’s why despite me staying home with you guys, he can revere me as a co-Head of Household, while I can be feminine and bake and cook and wear dresses (because let’s be honest pants are the worst) we both know I have chosen this role with open arms. To raise you guys the way we want. Open and equal. That at the end of his day, when he’s tired and needs to lean on someone, I’m right next to him to take some of the weight of his load. And most importantly, when I feel like I can’t rise up anymore, when I’m tired and overwhelmed with the work of being the go-to parent, he’s right there lifting me back up to be next to him.
This, my boys, is how I can teach you. By living my life so that you see, firsthand, the respect and the love that your father has for women. For his mother, his wife, and his daughter.
We can talk and we can argue about whether you're allowed to use Instagram, Youtube, Snapchat and group messages, right now, but I know eventually you will be. And when you are, you will be barraged with female sexuality, male masculinity, unequal gender gaps, and mixed messages.
But I will know that despite how much I preach equality and feminism in this house, there will never be a greater model of how to be a man that respects and loves women, than the way your dad loves and respects your mom. It is my wish that every boy everywhere can find a man to look up to, and I think it's on us moms to make sure they do.
I am strong, I am indepenent, but I am not in this alone. Let's raise our boys to be the greatest advocates for women in the world.
Love your crazy, likely embarrassing, Feminist, Lover of ALL,