I am a proud boy momma. I had always wanted to have a boy; before I even knew that he was a he, I had started buying boy clothes, just to convince the powers that be to grant my wish. Growing up, I generally hung out with the guys. I felt far more at ease with them than with the girls, and I much preferred running the woods and getting muddy to having my hair done and playing with makeup. Granted, these days there is a push against labelling activities boyish or girly, but back then, I was a tomboy, through and through.
Today I saw a post about empowering girls to grow up strong and confident in themselves and their unique beauty, and it got me thinking, and thinking back to related topics that have been swirling around in my head for a couple of years now.
My father used to tell of when he reached an age of social and self-awareness. Born in 1935, this awakening occurred in the 60s, as he watched the country wrestle with developing a new, fuller understanding of civil rights. He said it hit him one day that there he was, all full of himself, when in truth, his life had been essentially handed to him. He was male, white, tall, fit, blond, and in his assuredly unbiased opinion, good-looking. Yes, he was intelligent and hardworking, but it dawned on him that wasn’t necessarily why he had any of the advantages he did in life – he’d simply been born lucky, blessed with what the society he lived in deemed positive attributes. With this in mind, I have always felt the weight of being a boy momma. While the balance continues to shift, my son was still born lucky. He wields a power he hasn’t earned, and so it is my duty to ensure he is a force for good in his life.
He takes taekwondo, and I was thinking today how in martial arts, there is the concept of using your opponent’s strength to enhance your own, and that has some correlation here, I believe. Power doesn’t necessarily have to be reassigned, but put to good use. Boys have many doors open to them simply by accident of birth, and so it is our job to teach them to then hold those doors for others as they grow.
To the original idea of empowering girls, we must certainly help them develop and retain their self-confidence. However, boys are seeing the same messages about body image that girls are; it can affect them personally as well, but it also tells them to de-value women as much as it tells the women to de-value themselves. This leads to a vicious cycle, as the women are often going to the lengths they are in order to impress the men, and if they’re both being told women aren’t enough as-is, well… It feeds itself and perpetuates the lie. We need to bring the men in as allies to women, and to all work together to end the current notion of “beauty” as something one can buy in a bottle. On the bright side, I don’t think this would be an uphill battle at all. As someone who, as I said earlier, has had a lot of guy friends, I can’t tell you how many times they have surprised me – in a good way – with their views on women. They do actually like us as we are – but we have some advertising monkeys-in-the-middle muddying up the message for us all.
My son also has the benefits of color, socioeconomic status, good looks, and a strong body. He’s cute as a button and should not learn to rest on his laurels but to realize his charm could help him be a spokesperson for others. We’re by no means rich, but he’s never gone hungry, so I need to show him how that looks, so he always feels the pull to care for those around him. While he thinks the term “white” is weird (he says, “Momma, my skin is not white – look at it!”), society still smiles brightest upon his color, so it’s up to him to stand up for continued change. He will be big before I can blink twice it seems, with the ability to cause harm if he chooses. I must ensure he understands the wisdom in turning a cheek, the power in walking away, the strength in being a protector of others.
I have no girls, but I have been one. I understand how we teach them to be smart, to think and plan ahead, to look out for themselves in ways boys don’t have to worry about. I know those sorts of conversations and lessons occur within the other categories as well. It is good to empower and be empowered, but it is half the battle. We must create a dialogue and bring everyone into the fold. One side might not realize how the other truly feels, or one might not have stopped to consider what the other goes through. A lot of knots might get quickly untangled if we sit down for a collective chat. In raising a boy, I feel the responsibility to teach him how to reach across the aisle, to listen, and to ask how he can help. I want his greatest power to be his desire and ability to empower others.
I am all for kids being kids and being able to relish their childhood, but with the knowledge we will soon be handing the care and custody of our planet to these same kids. We all want to change the world at some point in our lives, and it seems our best way might just be through parenting; raising ever-wiser and more compassionate generations – and especially, still, of boys.
What sorts of responsibilities do you feel as a parent? What concepts or qualities do you most wish to instill in your child(ren)? What sorts of shifts would you like to see in our current culture?