Boys will (Not) be Boys: Towards a more Human Society

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We talk all the time about what we would teach our daughters, but we equally need to engage in reorienting that which is taught to our sons, not just for the future of the world, but so that they themselves can grow to their full potential as human beings. Payal takes a hard look at the gender defined roles, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.

 The other day, someone asked me if in my ‘ranting rabid feminism’ there was any room for men. Obviously, there was no way I was going to engage with somebody, who was trying to goad a response out of me, therefore, rephrased the same question in a gentler way. At which point the topic shifted to him trying to justify his use of the words ‘ranting’ and ‘rabid’ and the very important idea of the place for men within feminism for lost.

It has very much been on my mind though. A group of us, close friends, were discussing the ways in which we were bringing up our girls to combat years of patriarchy and I realised there was largely silence from a lady, who has only sons. So I turned and asked her what she thought about it. She said, “Well, obviously, my son has to grow up to be ‘that man’ that your daughters would want to marry.”

That’s significant, isn’t it?

We talk all the time about what we would teach our daughters, but we equally need to engage in reorienting that which is taught to our sons, not just for the future of the world, but so that they themselves can grow to their full potential as human beings, unrestricted by false notions of manhood and free from the prison of societal norms. Why should our boys not be as free as our girls?

These are 10 things I would teach my son:

1.      Express and Accept Emotions: Feminist parenting allows for boys and girls to express emotion equally. Boys feel sad, hurt, afraid, frustrated, and emotional too. It’s natural to express these emotions for all human beings. Boys don’t have to be ‘strong’ and suppress their feelings.

2.      Toys, Stories, Books or Clothes don’t have to be ‘Gendered’: It’s we who choose ‘princesses’ for our girls and ‘superheroes’ for our boys. In the past 25 years toys, clothing and consumer goods companies have capitalised on our stupidity by ‘gendering’ clothes, toys, soaps, shampoo, baby products and thus pushing us into buying decisions basis whether our kids are girls or boys. Be aware of this and block it. This is how differences get defined.

3.      Being a Girl is not Synonymous with Weakness: It’s we who say things like ‘you’re not a girl’ or ‘don’t be like a girl’. It’s the best way to make them grow up believing that girls are weak or afraid. Why should there be a difference between girls and boys? As parents, we have to enable and strengthen both. A child needs to be taught to be strong for herself/himself not because he’s a specific gender. I’ve heard fathers say to their sons, “Girls are silly” in response to some difference. Nope. Not true. As false as ‘boys are brave’.

4.      No means ‘Stop’: There are so many countries where years have patriarchy has resulted in a special indulgence of boys. They are taught to assume rights and privileges. Girls grow up with so many no’s, as opposed to boys. It’s good to ensure that our sons learn to understand and respect ‘No’. Boundaries, responsibility and accountability are for ‘all’ of us – not just girls and women.

5.      Learn to ‘do’ for Yourself: We need to teach our boys to learn to cook, clean, wash and manage a home. Boys need to be enabled. Every human being needs these basic life skills. Why should boys miss out? Teach your children to pick up after themselves, to help in the kitchen, to operate kitchen appliances, load the washing machine and dryer. This prepares them for independent living and to be helpful partners in a relationship

6.      Be a Sensitive and Caring Human Being: Care is not a female ‘role’ is it?  Teach them young and teach them early. Encourage sensitivity towards others. To you, as a mother. It begins with this. To take care of somebody is a life skill. I have seen women with a son and a daughter, readily turn to the daughter for help – when sick, or when the time is short, when sudden guests arrive, with an old grandparent.  Why can’t a son do what a daughter can? Your son may be a father one day – lay the foundation for learning how to care for another human being whether a parent, a sibling, a partner or child. Let this expression of compassion outwards towards others.

7.      Stop Reinforcing or Practising Violence or Aggression to Resolve Issues: The only way to stop violence is to teach our children, especially boys, to deal with situations not from a position of violence or aggression but dialogue and logic. Male does not equal ‘macho’. The whole idea of what defines ‘manliness’ is changing. Fathers especially have a role to play in this. Do you call your son a sissy when he sings or dances and praise him when he plays sports? Are you sending out subtle signals of approval when he displays certain behaviour? Kids are quick to see the difference between words and action. How do you behave? What kind of movies do you watch? Discuss issues of violence, bullying, and aggression. ‘Protect yourself’ is very different from ‘beat the shit out of the bugger’. Teach boys what to do with physical strength or the lack of it, size or the lack of it. Do you use violence for discipline? Think about the implication.

8.      Talk about Sex, and both the Male and Female Body: Talk to your boys about the male body. Talk to them equally about the female body and your experience. Talk about menstruation and what you feel during your period. Talk to your sons about sex. Engage with them on issues of consent and what is right and wrong. Just as we teach our daughters about responsible sex and proper protection, we need to talk to sons too. Don’t forget that boys can be just as vulnerable as girls to sexual abuse. Making it ‘acceptable’ to talk about these things is important. In addition, it’s not just girls who have body issues – with the continuous media bombardment of ‘perfect’ bodies, our sons need reassurance and grounded expectations.

9.      Learn from Me: We are role models for our children. Both boys and girls need a male and a female role model. The same gender parent is a direct role model and the other parent actually, lays the groundwork for expectation in one’s partner. Obviously, I do not mean that same-sex relationships lack a role model – that role model comes from other adults close to the child. Basically, if your son sees his mother as a strong, free and equal partner in a marriage – he takes that to be the norm. Similarly a loving, caring and respectful father becomes a great role model for his own behaviour towards women. Like it or not, there’s his learning right there – your behaviour sets the benchmark.

10.  Let your Son be True to Himself: All our lives we try and control our children because that is the parenting style we are taught. We place restrictions on them – boys should be like this. Boys should act like that. Boys should like sports. Let them be who they are. Sporty, if so inclined. Poetic, if so inclined. Today’s fashion ‘allows’ peaches and pinks for men – it’s touted as ‘metrosexual’ or being ‘with it’. Really? We need others to define the colours we wear? The things we do? Who we grow up to be? Parents are enablers. Open doors to your boys and let them choose the ones they walk through.

So does feminism seem to you like ‘boys should be more like girls’ and ‘girls should be more like boys’? Well, exactly! Because the idea is that there are no male/female qualities – there are only ‘human’ qualities that allow you to be yourself without being put in a box labelled ‘male’ or ‘female’.

There is no doubt in my mind that as humanity evolves we will have a more ‘homogenised society’ – a less gendered one. Our ideas about how men and women should ‘be’ have changed hugely. It is to be hoped that one day, boys will no longer be boys but as capable, compassionate, responsible and accountable as a girl is supposed to be today.

©Payal Talreja

Photos from the Internet.

#TeachBoys #BoysWillNotBeBoys #EmotionAndBoys #GenderDistinction #SentiveAndCaringBoys #BoysAndGirls #FeministAtFiffty #DifferentTruths

Businesswoman, curator of handlooms, poet, writer, and erstwhile doctor. Payal Talreja practices everything except her involuntary ‘profession’. She claims that words chose her and are now her weapon of choice because an activist born will stay silent for no man. A wanderer, a voyager, she’s happy to slum it or luxuriate in any life experience. She crafts poems and fiercely feminist essays and will assume her ‘Chandi’ avatar to ‘write’ any wrong.