We know how it goes…
Men who take control are bosses. Women are bossy.
Men who speak loudly with passion are authoritative. Women are strident.
Men who have a different opinion are rebels. Women are difficult.
Men who put up a fight are leaders. Women are bitches.
Men are athletes. Women are accessories. (I’m looking at you Tour De France)
These things are obviously changing – but one need only look at Twitter for a few minutes to realize it’s not changing fast enough. There are too many men who think it’s okay to call a woman a bitch or a cunt; too many men who are comfortable objectifying and threatening women – and too many women who think that that behavior is normal.
I’ve come to accept that there is little I can do about those trolls on Twitter and other social networks – if anything, we’ve learned that engaging only feeds and encourages their behavior (just ask Geraldine DeRuiter). Better to deprive them of light and air (aka attention and engagement) and instead focus on where I can make a difference. . . our children.
With a boy and a girl, I see both sides of the equation.
In many ways, our daughter is the easy one. We talk about not allowing anyone to “steal our sparkle.” We celebrate her strength. Her perseverance. Her bravery. We teach her to raise her voice. To stand up and be heard. To take risks and to learn from her failures. To ignore the voices that tell her she’s not enough – not strong enough, not smart enough, not capable enough. To expect respect for her mind and her body, and to give it in return. And to help other women do the same.
These are the lessons we also work to impart on our son – plus a few more. To be a man who sees a strong woman and celebrates her. To be a man who doesn’t respond to confrontation with words like bitch, or cunt. To be a man who can hear a woman speak clearly and not accuse her of yelling, or being unpleasant, or shrill. To be a man who can listen without interrupting, over-talking or “man-splaining.” To be a man who can respond directly and respectfully, without muttering, whispers, or behind her back when she can’t respond. To be a man who not only refuse to engage in “locker room” talk or objectification & sexualization, but will also stand up for women when they aren’t able to stand up for themselves.
Writing it down, it sounds easy – but of course, it’s not. The conversations can be uncomfortable and sometimes combative. It can feel like we are making too much of one stray comment, one unconscious moment. And outside of our home it’s harder because what we are asking of him, as a high school student surrounded by social norms telling him to act one way, is to act another way. To be the change.
We do this, in part, because as a white man in America, he has (and will have) power and influence that many, including myself, do not. We also do it because we want better.
Better for our daughter, but also better for our son.