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Boys Hear These Five Harmful Things Every Day

Us Mama & Papa bears, we’d take on a pack of angry wolves, in flames with knives for claws, to protect our kids from harm. Wouldn’t we? But what if the harm to our boys was less obvious? Socially accepted? What if the harm was dressed up as help?

As a mama of toddler twin boys, I’ve heard kind loving people say awful things to my sons. Not 'violent' things. Not mean things. But in a world where if you’re born a boy you’re more likely to die by suicide, become a drug addict, go to prison, become homeless, murder your partner … Maybe there’s something a little ‘off’ with the gendered way we approach raising our little ones?

Let’s take a look at five harmful things people say to our boys everyday and see if we can’t take down that pack of flaming wolves!

  1. Boys Don’t Cry

Groundbreaking announcement: We all have emotions and we all need to express them in healthy ways. Yes, even boys. gasp.

 

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Robert Smith was quite the sarcastic

So then why then at a certain age do we start telling our little boys they can’t cry anymore? I’ll tell you why. It’s because society is suuuuper uncomfortable with our boys having emotions. As adults, we think it’s our responsibility to raise boys to be brave and strong.

 

But being brave isn’t the absence of the emotion of fear. It’s carrying on despite the fear. You can’t be brave if you don’t feel afraid. And, showing vulnerability isn’t the opposite of strength, it’s a part of it. It takes huge strength and courage to break down that wall of protection and show an actual real emotion.

Emotion only becomes a weakness when it’s not handled properly. Which is why we need to lean in to boys’ emotions and show them ways to process them other than stuffing them deep down inside to fester away.

When my boys cry, I sit with them an listen to their problems. I validate their emotions (because they’re valid, duh). I don’t tell them not to cry because it doesn't stop the crying (like, ever), but it does stop them feeling like crying is a healthy way to express what their feeling.

  1. Man up

First of all, Nope.

Second of all, what does man-up even mean? Come on!

If it’s about standing up to responsibilities and solving a difficult or scary problem… How is that exclusively manly, exactly?

Ok,  when you read through history books (and story books) you can be forgiven for thinking it’s only the (straight, white) men who have ever been strong and brave or stood up for anything. But we all know that’s not the full picture. (hello Boudika . Hello Katherine Johnson. Hello Hatshepsut  Hello all the women who inspired Rosie the Riveter.  Hello Josephine Baker. Hello Sojourner Truth  Hello  Mata Hari.   Hello Rosa Parks .  Hello women of the Irish revolution. For starters. Boom.)

Boudicca! It literally took 3 Roman Legions to stop her! But you probably haven't heard of her, right? (photo credit: James Waghorn on Flicker. But I made the graphic!)

I don’t tell my boys (or anyone else) to man up, because I’m standing up and taking responsibility. Woo hoo, watch me go! I don't use it because it keeps the idea alive that being strong is only for men. And that being strong is an obligation for men. That’s a pretty toxic message for our little boys and girls. How about we just say what we mean and tell our boys to take responsibility for their actions? Clear and straight to the point. What a novel idea!

  1. ‘Grow a Pair’

Sohaila Abdulai famously wrote in the New York Times  

I reject the notion that my virtue is located in my vagina”.

Speaking about rape victims in India killing themselves for ‘honour’, She wants us to understand a woman’s worth is in her mind, her actions, her contribution to society… and not (in my words) in her front bottom. Vagina. I mean vagina.

When we say ‘Grow a Pair’ we’re telling boys that their manhood is located in their genitals, instead of in their minds, their actions and their contribution to society.

I won’t tell my boys to ‘grow a pair’ because I want them to understand that courage is in their hearts and minds, not in the dangly kiwis between their legs.

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Betty White doesn't need you to grow a pair! (photo credit: parade.com . I made the graphic though!)
  1. That’s not for boys

Young kids will play with any olde toy, until us clunky olde adults and our preconceptions step in to shame them. Like that little boy who picks out a cool doll and is laughed at for being a ‘sissy’. (sound familiar?)

Children generally develop critical thinking skills at about the age of seven. Until then, they are in what sociologists call the ‘Imprint Period’ because they take most things at face value.

If we keep repeating socially constructed gender stereotypes, they’ll become ingrained in our kids’ psyche. They’ll think they are natural. That’s when some little boys start to feel like they’re somehow failing at being a boy, just for being themselves.

 

That’s why I won’t tell my boys that something is not for them, purely because of their gender. Dolls, a pink cup, knitting, a t-shirt with a cat on it (seriously, why?). If it’s going to keep them happy for a few minutes (and by extension give me a few moments of peace!), and most of all if it’s going to help them understand that there is nothing wrong with just being themselves,  I’m all for it.

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I'm not going to be the one to tell him. Are you?
  1. 'That’s a bit gay'

Now, admittedly I am not a gay, but I’m pretty sure the only thing that defines you as being a gay man, is putting your penis into another man’s bum hole (or at least wanting to). Am I wrong about that? Surely not.

Shoes with a picture of a butterfly are pretty far removed from the penis/bumhole situation, so I’m going to go ahead and make a hetero-normative assumption and say wearing them doesn’t mean you’re gay. Other things boys can do that wouldn’t confirm any inherent gayness are: liking anything pink, playing with dolls, cuddling, not being super good at football, crying. Nothing on that list is a human with a homosexual preference and therefore cannot be gay. That’s just science, friends. So (just applying some basic bitch logic here) little boys can do any of those things and not be gay.

Secondly, and perhaps should have been firstly because it’s more important…

Uhhhhh, so what? So what if a little boy IS gay? Being gay is a description of someone’s sexual preference. It’s not an actual insult folks. I won’t say it to my boys and I won’t allow anyone off the hook if I catch them using it as an insult. People who say this, and things like ‘you throw like a girl’, reinforce the idea that femininity and gayness are less powerful, important, interesting, valid and even human, than a straight man. I don't have time for that kind of silliness. I’ve got the next generation of non-asshats to keep alive.

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So what, big guy?

So that’s just five little things that people say to our little boys every day. Just five of the ways we tell our boys they are wrong. Wrong to have emotions. Wrong to be themselves.

 

You might want to dismiss these as ‘just expressions’ - but believe me language is never neutral. No matter how trivial it may seem, I have to call it out every time, because I can’t raise my sons to be non-asshats all on my own. I need all of society to get on board - there’s just too much at stake.

But that’s just me. Tell me, are these the trivial ramblings of a fool, or am I on the right path? Drop a comment and hey, maybe add to my list. Come on Mama and Papa bears, get on board!

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7 Comments
  • Grace Tierney
    Posted at 18:00h, 12 November Reply

    Good points here and all things I’ve had other people say to my son as he grew, much to my annoyance. As a mother to a daughter I hate that throw like girl thing and big girls blouse. Seriously?!

    • Mother of Snot
      Posted at 14:27h, 20 November Reply

      Ooooh, so much. How did all the traits that are stereotypically feminine become associated with such negativity? Girls and boys are awesome. and complex and all so different. That’s just missing out on a chance to celebrate all the wonderful ways there are of being a human!

  • Erika
    Posted at 19:56h, 15 November Reply

    My son has been telling me about hearing boys at school calling others gay to be mean. I know those kids are repeating what their parents said for the most part. So frustrating they are being sent that message!

    • Mother of Snot
      Posted at 14:25h, 20 November Reply

      Oh no! I can’t believe this is still a thing! So sad that families are teaching hate and intolerance. We’ll have to work harder if we want to be in with a chance of balancing it out!

  • 5formum
    Posted at 21:19h, 15 November Reply

    You raise such an important topic! My baby boy is one and I am worried about him getting all these comments from people around us. He doesn’t understand them YET. But probably this is a good training time for me to learn a way to navigate him through these false ideas and comments. At the same time I want to provide him with a solid ground and a toolbox full of ideas (basically everything else but a hammer) to be able to handle these comments, people.

    • Mother of Snot
      Posted at 14:24h, 20 November Reply

      Yes, that’s exactly it. We need a full tool box, and if we’re not consciously looking for all the other tools, society will leave our little boys with just a hammer! Good for you – you’re starting good and young with him!

  • foloren torium
    Posted at 10:00h, 28 January Reply

    Very interesting info !Perfect just what I was searching for! “Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.” by John Henry Cardinal Newman.

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