Assuming he is cisgendered, my baby boy will grow into a man. As a white male not living below the poverty line, he’ll enjoy a certain set of privileges not bestowed on everyone. Being a parent, it’s my duty to raise a good human, and being a mum of a boy, it’s my duty to show him how to treat women. This is my ‘open letter’ to him on that subject.
To my son,
One day, you’ll be a man. As such, you’ll have status that your female counterparts won’t share. As well as being patriarchal, our society is heteronormative, white supremacist and capitalist. Earth is a pretty messed up place.
I know these words are too big for you now. At just shy of 19 weeks old, you’re too young for this subject matter. But as you get bigger, so too will your experience of our world and the language you need to describe it. I’m committing my experiences to the written language in the hope that I’ll remember to impart these values on you.
Just for the record, I love you unconditionally and you are free to be who you want, in all your defiant and brilliant glory. The way I raise you is my choice, the person you become is yours.
As a result of knowing what it means to be a woman, I’ll try to show you how to be a better man than some of the others we will all inevitably come into contact with at one time or another. (Sadly, at least during adolescence and in some circles, it’s the sexist and chauvinistic men that are ‘cool’. Don’t let this steer you off your path.)
I’m just focussing on your gender privilege here, but the truth is inequality is a force beating down on non-white, LGBT, disabled and poor people as well as women and girls. We have a long way to go before these people move through life like straight, white and middle-class men do.
Being a man sometimes comes with confidence that outweighs ability and substance and a lack of awareness of the inequality faced by others. As the result of your gender, you may find you are treated better by life, society and the media. The fact that some people say we in the west don’t have a problem with the subjugation of women in comparison with certain Middle Eastern countries (as if this were a race to the bottom) is a big red flag in itself. Whenever people feel silenced on a certain issue, you can bet that power structures are at play.
Take it from me that the west does have a problem with sexism and the treatment of women.
As with many unhealthy ideas, we can look to the way we use language both as a symptom and a cause of our thought processes around men and women. The word man means nothing more than ‘adult male’, and yet it’s absolutely loaded with connotation. To man up means ‘to be strong, brave’. What about strength and bravery in women? By using this phrase, one completely fails to encompass that.
That we view such qualities as belonging to ‘real men’ while fearing independent and courageous women says a lot about the world we live in. Likewise, when a person is referred to as a woman or a girl, it implies weakness. Using a female-gendered noun to denote feebleness implies that men have to be strong and women shouldn’t be. It is terrifying that we attach all this significance to sexual organs.
As a man, your voice may be more audible than others’, giving you a heightened ability to make jokes at other people’s expense and downgrade people through what you say. It’s more than likely you’ll be physically strong due to your genetics and even naturally aggressive as a result of masculine traits you may learn are appropriate.
But you also have the choice to be kind, gentle and respectful in your words and actions; whether to channel strength and frustration into a passion or a sport, or to let it take control of you. I’ll let you decide which route will take you to where you want to be in life.
You will apparently be hardwired to always think about sex. This doesn’t mean it’s okay to use, coerce or hurt people. Any inherent and uncontrollable obsession with sex is no excuse for bad behaviour, whether innate or brought about by peer pressure in school or the media. This is probably not something you want to talk about with your mum, but rape culture is real and dangerous.
As well as taking it for granted that men are only interested in sex, we as a society make so many allowances for them not discussing or being in tune with their emotions; it’s actually actively discouraged. But to feel something is to be human, it’s what we do. I can already tell you’re naturally curious, so use your inquisitive nature introspectively from time to time and don’t be afraid to talk. It’s a great healer.
Throughout your life, I’ll commend you for being strong, brave and daring, because success and a rewarding life often lie beyond your comfort zone. I’ll also congratulate you for showing emotion, admitting weakness and knowing you don’t have to be brave all the time. If you were a girl, I’d do exactly the same.
While inequality is a reality, that doesn’t make it right. The fact so many people view it as acceptable, or can’t (or won’t) admit there is a problem, is exactly why inequality persists.
Despite how preachy this all sounds, I will be sure not to force any of my opinions on you. If I did, the chances are you’d rebel on every single point I’m trying to make. But I will be open and honest with you about the way certain qualities (incidentally ones possessed by you) decide who is powerful and who isn’t.
Being a mum of a boy, it’s my duty.