To All The Feminist Moms Of Boys — We Need To Talk

by Dena Landon

It’s been 100 years since first wave feminism, with all its flaws. 70.3% of us are in the workforce. As of the year 2013, 40% of us are the primary breadwinners for our families. Even if not all women identify as feminists, many of us are living out some of feminism’ principles.

With mothers who work outside the home, cultural and societal shifts, and 25% of households headed by unmarried mothers, it baffles me that men of my generation and younger are still so lacking in basic respect for women and women’s rights. We’re raising them, right? So why aren’t we doing better?

Take, for example, the Brock Turner debacle. I watched it unfold – or as much of it as I could stomach – and wondered, where’s his mom? Most of us can probably recall his father’s infamous comment about “twenty minutes of action,” but I don’t remember seeing her or hearing her speak at all. Were they divorced, or was his dad widowed? I could look it up for the purposes of writing this essay but the fact that I don’t have any memories of her presence in the trial or its aftermath is, in itself, indicative. Whether still married and cowed by a man who would consider a brutal rape to be “action” or absent, I wonder what she felt looking at her son, knowing what he’d done. I wonder if she ever tried to teach him about consent and, if not, if she thinks she bears any responsibility for what happened.

I’m in my late thirties, and I don’t remember hearing the term “rape culture” until the past five years or so. Even if my mother’s generation didn’t have a term for it, the basic concept of respect for another person’s body and right to consent isn’t new.

The day after the election an article of mine — How am I supposed to teach my son about consent now? — went up on Salon. The comments section was about what you’d expect. Liberal crybaby, mentions of Bill Clinton’s past (he wasn’t running for President!), and general snarkiness. I exercised the “block” option on twitter often that day. Every account I blocked had a user picture and pictures that indicated the owner was a white (probably straight) male. Who has a mom, possibly sisters, maybe a girlfriend, some women in his life who might likely chew him out for attacking random strangers on twitter, but might not. Many of them looked younger than me.

Every time I hit the “block” button, I wondered — what kind of person goes out of their way to track down a random stranger on twitter to berate them for their beliefs? Who has such a deep level of entitlement that they think that random stranger would give a fuck about their opinion of their parenting skills?

White, male privilege is alive and well. This may be a backlash, the pendulum swinging the other way before permanent societal change sets in. Let’s hope so, and let’s hope (and fight for it) to go in the right direction. The women who raised these men, and we still take on the majority of the child-rearing, somehow failed to teach them to respect the identified gender of the person caring for them. As well as courtesy, manners, grammar and spelling.

We need to do better.

Now, I’m not trying to pile more guilt on anyone. We’re already making 79, 60 and 55 cents to the dollar compared with the men in our life, working full time and yet still, on average, doing an hour more of housework a day than a man, raising our children and fighting the patriarchy. There are nights when I consider the fact that my son didn’t burn the house to the ground to be a win. And in straight households, I’d hold fathers accountable, too, for not teaching their sons these lessons. But I do think we should be consciously considering how to raise our boys to combat sexism. And, yes, I am in general speaking to the mothers of white boys because, let’s face it — our sons will enjoy immense privilege and it’s up to us to teach them to recognize and use that privilege for good.

It’s tough to fight against the culture that surrounds our children. One time when I arrived to pick up my son, C, at daycare he and a little girl, Emma, were playing with blocks. “You need to pick those up before we leave,” I told him.

“Oh, that’s okay, Mommy. Emma can do it.” He batted his eyelashes at her.

As his teacher, who knew me well, later put it, “I’m pretty sure you levitated across the room to save her from the internalized misogyny.”

She’d already sweetly volunteered to clean them up. He’d assumed that she would. They were four. He has me for a mother and he still had picked up the idea that a girl would clean up after him. The battle of wills that resulted when I insisted he clean up his own mess was epic. But just because it’s tough to fight against our culture doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.

There are resources for teaching our boys about consent, articles with tips and how-tos, and we can start by modeling it for them. When we stand up for ourselves and demand respect — like the time I told my ex, “You may not speak to me this way,” and walked out when he was in the middle of recounting my deficiencies — it sets an example of how women should be treated. Even if you don’t have a child but have male children in your life, they’re watching and learning. Did you compliment your nephew on how smart he was and your niece on the bow in her hair? Think about it.

There are going to be a lot of battles fought over the next four years. And some of us, particularly if we’re in the trenches of raising young children, may not be able to attend every protest, sign every petition, or call every Senator. But what we can do is focus on raising the next generation of boys — and children in general — to understand that women are their equals. Deserving of respect. Human beings. If we bring about change one household at a time it might spread throughout our country. If the results of last election showed us nothing else, it’s that we’ve got work to do.

Top photo: Vintage

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