Tag Archives: Gender Roles

To my sons: if I catch you treating a girl like a princess, I will break your kneecaps

My friend Megan Conley was in a library the other week, and overheard a horrific conversation between a couple on a first date. Well. We’ve all had our share of cringe-worthy first dates, of course (unless you’re me, in which case you’ve had your share of no dates at all). But this one, oh, this one got under my skin.

Meg wrote a beautiful response for the girl she wanted to take aside, which I hope you’ll read. But I am raising boys. With Meg’s kind permission, I’ve written this for them. 

My dear, lovely boys,

I don’t know when you’ll be reading this. Perhaps you already keep to your room most of the time and roll your eyes when you talk to me, because I’m the most uncool person you know. (Just as an aside, right now you think I’m the best thing since chips and ketchup, so there. (Extra aside: am I better at being an adult, now? I hope so.))

I’m willing to bet, though, that you’re already interested in girls. And that’s good. Because girls are what I want to talk to you about. You hear a lot about dating at the moment, I’m sure. A lot of it is good, sound advice. We’ll have talked about all this already, in person, so I don’t need to say anything here.

Here’s what I do want to say: if I catch you treating that girl like a princess, I will break your kneecaps.

I am so tired of all this girl-as-a-princess talk. Do you know what princesses do, in stories? They are kidnapped. They sit in towers guarded by fire-breathing dragons. They are the prizes in competitions of strength and manliness. They are the victims of spell-casters twirling their moustaches, and lie in enchanted sleep or as sad little swans on the river until they are rescued. And rescued they have to be, almost always, by the handsome prince on his white horse.

Oh, that prince. He is dashing. He is determined. He chops down the forest of thorns and defeats the evil witch even when all hope is lost. He works out the problem to be solved and doesn’t stop searching and trying and thinking until the princess has been found and there’s a happily ever after. I know it’s not always this way; I know there are princesses who think for themselves. There are exceptions to every rule. But for every Mulan there is an Aurora, and for every Belle with her library book there’s a Cinderella waiting for the ball, in fact twelve Cinderellas, a hundred Cinderellas: a princess at the top of every tower you can think of, and all of them waiting for you.

My dear boys, this is utter, utter pigswill. The girls you meet are not sitting in suspended animation, waiting for your manly shoulder to cry on, your voice to explain everything and make it alright. The girl you fall in love with has opinions, loves, passions, tragedies, strengths and weaknesses all of her own. She was born an endlessly complex, endlessly marvellous creature, and has spent her life thus far remembering and discovering who she is. She has spent her life in a world where too many stories told her that she had to stay put and look pretty, that all her value lay in what a man thought of her, wanted from her, was willing to do for her. I hope she is fighting against it. I hope she has come out spitting.

It’s not much fun for you either, this handsome prince lark. Of course it’s nice to be needed, but the pressure to always be the strong one, always chopping down that damned forest to get to her, can be suffocating. At best, you feel an added pressure to always be in control of yourself, to never show weakness or emotion, and to carry the weight of you both even when you’re sinking. At worst, you begin to assume that only you know the answers to the questions that bother you both. You make the decisions, you tell her what to think, you explain things, endlessly. It’s disrespectful to both of you, that sort of thing. It leads nowhere good.

This is what I want you to say, when you find a girl that makes you feel like the best version of yourself: to hell with the stories. Do you hear me? To hell with them. Neither of you have to be anything you’re not. Both of you are endlessly complex, endlessly marvellous creatures, and you’ll spend a lifetime learning each others’ strengths and bolstering your weaknesses. Sometimes you’ll be on the horse, and sometimes you’ll be in the tower. Sometimes you’ll be back-to-back, chopping down the thorns with a sword in each hand.

Let her be, in all her wonderful imperfection. Let yourself be, too. It’s alright. Together you’ll leap every obstacle and storm every castle and make something so fine we’ll hardly be able to look at it straight.

Oh, I love you to your bones, my darling boys. So will she. Be worthy of it. Or I really will break your kneecaps.

Your mother.

 

The way we work

Digger is always crashing our photos, these days.

Henry is experiencing some serious mama-love this month. Phases like that come and go: his heart beats for Daddy, as a rule, but every now and again he just wants to sit by me.

I do love it, while it lasts. But it has made me think – more than I was already – about the spaces we fill in our family, Timothy and I. What does Henry see us doing? What do I want him to see?

I mean something like this.

We had a day, a few months ago, where Henry wouldn’t take his morning nap. I went down to get him, eventually, and said ‘No sleep for you today, hmm? Want to come upstairs and help me work?’

And Henry said, ‘Daddy!’, and ran off towards the gate to look at the front door. Because I said ‘work’, and that’s what Daddy does.

I also mean something like this.

Since mama is the flavour of March, at the moment he wants things done the way I do them. One morning he’ll only get dressed if I come and help him. One lunchtime he only wants soup if I feed it to him. It’s not normal for him, so I don’t expect it’ll last long. But what if it did? The more it happens, the more my way of doing things becomes the correct way. And Tim starts deferring to me about what Henry needs and when. He doesn’t need to. It does a boy good to be looked at from a different angle.

We both matter, and suddenly it’s important to me that our sons see us collaborating. In everything. Timothy will win most of the bread for some years to come. I want him to love his work and excel in it. But I want the same for my work – paid and unpaid – because work is mine as much as it is his. And I will spend more time than Timothy changing nappies, wiping noses and singing songs about rabbits for the next little while. I will love that too, and try hard. But these boys are a product of both of us, which means that his opinion is as valid, and parenting is as much his as it is mine. I’m lucky, very lucky indeed, that Timothy never even considered leaving the nappies and vacuuming to me. He sees something that needs doing, and does it. But I want to make that obvious to the babies who watch us.

I think I believe in personal strengths more than I believe in spheres. My boys will grow up to be men, and I want men who understand that marriage is a partnership, not a pigeonhole. My girls, if we have them, will grow up to be women, and I want women who understand that they can think, and excel, and achieve any damn thing they want.

Oh, it’s all kind of a work in progress. Perhaps it always will be. But we are better together, we are more together than the sum of our parts, and that’s how I want it to stay.

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