I Don't Want Female Empowerment to Put My Sons at a Disadvantage
I think back to all the times I had a really sh*tty boyfriend. I think back to all the times when I have uttered the words, "Men are jerks (or idiots)." I am often in the company of one girlfriend or another who "hates" men, and I have participated in my own share of man-bashing conversations.
Then I had boys, three of them. I often laughed when I had my first son, thinking that the universe had played a joke on me…and then the boys just kept on coming.
I realize now, 15 years into being the mother of boys, that I am perfect for it. As a tomboy, I delight in not having to do anything girly or princess-y in my house. Though there are things that I don't "get" about my teenage boy, I still relate to him better than I would a teenage girl—at least my mom friends of teenage girls remind me of the amount of surreal drama that I am spared on an almost daily basis (phew!).
But contrary to what most people believe, boys don’t have it easier than girls. During the childhood years, the push to empower girls takes away from the reality that young boys need to be empowered too. And as kids get older, accountability falls mainly on the guys and negativity toward men seems to be the theme of most female-empowerment messages.
Listen, I get it. I'm a woman. I've felt the pain and burden of it all. I've had my share of bad guys, both as bosses and as boyfriends. I've felt it in raises and power struggles, both in the office and culturally—I know what women have been up against, and still are.
But I want to raise my boys to know that them being boys, and eventually men, doesn't mean they have to spend the rest of their lives apologizing for the behavior of the men before them. They can learn about ways in which they can be better, we can teach them examples of what a good man is—because their father is a good man too—and they can learn to love, respect and honor every relationship in their lives, whether it be with a parent, a friend or a lover. We are doing with our boys what any good parent would do with their children, regardless of gender. But in a society that has an inability to do more than one thing at a time, I fear that in empowering our daughters we are ignoring the needs of our sons, assuming that by their sheer gender, they will have it easier or don't need as much.
It might have been the case some decades ago, but slowly, as we celebrate the increasing number of women in colleges and the workplace, as we celebrate the successes of our daughters in the classroom—because educators have been instructed to not ignore the girls, which has slowly been serving our daughters brilliantly—the boys are getting the short end of the stick. We may not really be seeing it yet—because women still don't make as much, because statistics show this or that where women still are not at equal levels with men—but it's happening. And I know this because as the mother of three boys, I am seeing it play itself out.
I am all for equality, on many levels as a Latina woman of color. But I am also working very hard to teach my boys that they too should be celebrated for working hard and being outspoken and going for what they want. I want them to be fair, but not pushovers. I want them to be considerate, but not walk around feeling guilty. I want them to be kind, but never allow themselves to be abused.
I am teaching my boys that in order for me to find that good man, I had to learn to become a good woman too. In order to have a good husband, I also must be a good wife. I am teaching my boys that though I am confident and independent, the respect between their father and me is mutual and that their father matters, a lot. I am showing them that although I am a strong woman, I am not ashamed to admit that I need him, that WE need him. For all the woman I am, I teach my sons that I am still loving and kind and generous in my affection and praise of their father, just as he is with me. That my self-confidence isn't dependent on my stripping him of his.
I am teaching my sons, in this world increasingly dominated by women, that they are still very much deserving of the same things in life. I am preparing my sons for the ambitious, confident, outspoken, outgoing daughters that you are raising. I just ask that in the process of empowering your daughters, you don't forget to also teach them to be kind.