Claire Cain Miller recently wrote the New York Times article "How to Raise a Feminist Son". She asked neuroscientists, economists, psychologists and others, given their research, to answer the question "How can you raise feminist sons?"
"Let him cry", they told her. "Give him role models. Let him be himself. Teach him to take care of himself. Teach him to take care of others. Share the work. Encourage friendships with girls. Teach ‘no means no'. Speak up when others are intolerant. Never use ‘girl' as an insult. Read a lot, including [books and articles] about girls and women. And celebrate boyhood."
Okay, I thought. I'm hitting most of these. Charlie's tears are met with open arms and never shamed. Check. His Dad is an excellent role model. Check check. We affirm Charlie's gifts and celebrate him. He has friends that are girls.
My brain rattled through Miller's list, noting deficiencies, checking off boxes and making a mental list about areas for improvement. (Getting him to do anything around the house is torture. He definitely needs to stop leaving tangerine peels everywhere.)
But is that it? If I post this list on the frig, use it as a rubric, and hit all the points will I churn out a feminist son?
And how do I ensure that what I do or say is actually what he absorbs?
For example, he sees me working and pursuing a career. But he also sees me work part-time with a limited schedule that allows me to pick him and his sister up every day after school and be present in the afternoon. He sees me split the household chores with his Dad but sees many of our tasks aligned with gender role and me performing the role of project manager, juggling the majority of the invisible, mental load.
There are certainly days, if not moments every day, when I wonder if I'm doing enough. I wonder if every time I bend over to pick up another pile of his tangerine peels left on the floor, I am also somehow bowing to the patriarchy. I wonder if every time he interrupts someone and I don't call him on it, I will implicitly encourage an attitude of entitlement that makes interrupting women or mansplaining second nature. Is he just a bad sport when he loses to me in basketball or is he a poor loser because I am female? Is it adorable or is it worrisome that the top 3 reasons Charlie loves me, as scrawled in my mother's day card he diligently completed in his first grade classroom are:
1. I let him sleep on his stuffed animal.
2. I make meals.
3. I do dishes.
Maybe you're thinking, listen, your son is 6. Calm down. You have plenty of time. But these lessons are learned early and rooted deep within our little boys' psyche. And I am raising a boy that will one day be an adult. A white, male adult, with all the unearned privilege and power that comes with it.
So this is where I've landed.
I can't teach him to view women and men as equal unless I also teach him that all colors are equal. I can't teach him that women and men are equal unless I also teach him all religions are equal, all forms of love are equal, all people with varied abilities are of equal worth.
So am I raising a feminist son? I don't know. I really don't. On behalf of this world, I hope I am. But I do know this: My deepest hope and desire for my son is not to be successful or happy but to be compassionate, humble and curious. It's the same hope I have for my daughter.
My deepest hope is to raise Charlie to be a good human.*
*and to pick up his tangerine peels.
by Ann Van Zee