Tuesday, August 5, 2014

If I Should Ever Have a Son.

The other day, after scrolling through Facebook and various other blogs and online articles and reading some horrifyingly misogynist comments, I had the rather daunting realization that if I ever have a son, I will be at least in part responsible for many of his attitudes about girls and women.  The following is what I would want him to know.  

Dear Son,

You're coming into the world with an advantage.  It's an unfair advantage, and it's simply that you are a man.  People will pay you more for your work.  People outside of school and work (and sometimes even at school and work) will be less likely to comment on your choice of clothing. They will be more inclined to treat your anger, sadness, or joy as valid and not as the result of a hormonal mood swing. Some will even tell you that as a man, you are entitled to authority.  As a man, you aren't.  You will encounter your own set of problems and challenges in life, but please listen to me when I say that they are separate from the overwhelming systematic sexism that women face every day.

Being born into such privilege as described above shouldn't make you feel guilty--everyone knows that you didn't come into the world thinking you deserve more than anyone else--but not recognizing it or making any effort to change the prevailing mentality... well, that should.  I hope you will earn most of your achievements and rewards by working hard and respecting those around you.  Some good fortune might fall into your lap because you are lucky or because you possess innate talent.  That's great.  But again, you wouldn't deserve it because you're a man. You wouldn't deserve bad luck because of that, either, and I never want you to think that men should "atone" for misogyny by groveling, worshipping, being downtrodden, or experiencing hatred and discrimination themselves. That's misandry and not any better than misogyny.

I want you to grow up understanding that you should respect everyone.  I also want you to understand that this does not mean you should be blind to any of their differences.  Human beings are diverse creatures.  Why should we pretend otherwise?  Celebrate it.  Marvel at variety. And when I say appreciate everyone, I include women.  This might be a more difficult one for you. Not because I don't believe you're capable of treating women with respect, but because you will be surrounded by subtle... and sometimes not so subtle... implications that women are beneath you or indebted to you.  Women don't have to act a certain way for you.  They don't have to cater to you.  Nothing you do, nothing you are, will ever merit a woman altering her appearance or sleeping with you.   Treating a woman nicely or lavishly does not earn you a place in her heart, home or bed.  On the other side of the coin, if you've had a pleasant dinner with a woman and she pays for it, you don't owe her anything more than a sincere "thank you," either.  My hope is that you'll be the type of person who might, on another occasion, treat her in kind and pay for the next meal, but that isn't a requirement.

All women will differ from individual to individual. You might find that you develop preferences. You might like girls who play sports.  You might find yourself drawn to blue eyes.  These preferences do not devalue the women who don't meet them.  If you meet women without stretch marks or cellulite, it isn't a sign that they are somehow better than other women. I will say that while marks and such shouldn't be considered flaws--the overwhelming majority of women of all shapes and sizes have them--you aren't required to find them sexy or appealing, just as a woman isn't required to find innocuous parts of your body sexy or appealing.  If you do, that's not a problem.  But they never merit disgust or teasing or even remarking upon if you don't.  How you would feel if a girl constantly told you how much better you'd look if you had less knobbly knees or shorter toes?  I suspect you'd try to avoid such an unpleasant person.  I wouldn't want that for you.

Finally, let me get this out of the way before the end: Puberty.  It happens.  For girls, this usually means breasts, periods, and raging hormones.  For boys, this usually means voice changes, facial hair, and raging hormones. Note that I said "raging hormones" twice; it isn't just you.  Never make someone feel embarrassed or ashamed of simply growing up.  I trust that you and other boys and girls are capable of communicating if and when you are all right with looking or touching. With that said, it's wrong for girls to make you feel uncomfortable by laughing at your voice cracking or touching you without permission.  It's wrong for you to make them uncomfortable by staring at their bodies or teasing them when they get their periods or touching them without permission.  You all might do these things without thinking sometimes; the main thing to remember is when you notice that you're doing it and it's making others seem uncomfortable, stop. And of course, if they ask you to stop, stop.  Please also remember that silence is never an invitation.  Oh, and by the way, you don't have to go around talking about periods, but they aren't "gross" or "freakish."  They allowed you to be here in the first place.

It's true that as your mother, I will probably hold you in higher esteem than others.  But I will not value you any more highly because you're my son rather than my daughter.

I love you,


  1. This is wonderful. It expresses so very clearly some of the problems and issues with our society. I have a feeling I'll be showing this to several people. Thank you.

    1. I'm so glad you were able to take something from it!