Women are still fighting against gender discrimination, yet they’re using valuable energy and resources to also improve the lives of the people doing the discriminating.
Right now there are at least three campaigns that were started by female-led, dare I say “feminist,” organizations to help men. Finally! Finally ladies have realized the error of their ways and are listening to the Men’s Rights Activists (MRA) who bemoan the emasculation of guys. Now that women are on our side, maybe we’ll be able to make some progress! Because, let’s be honest, men can’t do ANYTHING right.
The campaigns I’m referring to are not about lifting men up to keep women down. They understand that we’re all in this together and that smashing male stereotypes helps women, and vice-versa. Emma Watson kicked off He for She (which some suggested could easily be called “She for He”) in a rousing speech to the U.N., Sheryl Sandberg proposed that men and women Lean In Together and now SheKnows is asking us all to help redefine what it is to Be a Man.
Women are still fighting against gender discrimination, yet they’re using valuable energy and resources to also improve the lives of the people doing the discriminating. While the MRA-type dudes who just don’t get it shout #NotAllMen when there are stories of sexism in the media, these feminists are looking to improve the lives of, yes, ALL MEN and, at the same time, all women. It is impossible to stereotype one gender without implying the photo negative stereotype of the other. If men are “strong,” women must be “weak.” If women are “the caregivers,” men are not. It is easy to see: That’s no good for any of us.
SheKnows recently sat down with some youngsters to discuss these issues and asked them what it means to “be a man.” These kids are very stylish and confident, with more self-awareness than most adults I know. They are also incredibly intelligent and thoughtful. I’d like to think most kids their age can converse so easily about layered topics like gender identity, but I really doubt it. I also doubt that the liberal views they express are indicative of how most of the country feels. The video may not be representative, but it is inspirational or, maybe, aspirational.
These pre-teen kids were shown images and videos of how men are portrayed in the media and asked how that stacks up with their own experiences. They recognize the traditionally strong men in advertisements who “wear the pants” and are thus “in charge,” but these kids already understand that, as individuals, they are so much more than what they see on TV and in magazines. Two of the boys, who seem to fit their prescribed gender norms, gush about some of their hobbies, including “crafting…I love crafting!” They play sports and make origami birds. Why shouldn’t they?
As the father of both a girl and a boy, I have come up against the topic of gender norms throughout both of their young lives. I could easily be described as liberal on this, and most, issues. My very conservative father-in-law has referred to me as being “pink.” Probably because he thinks I’m a socialist, but maybe for other reasons.
Whether red, pink, or blue, I spent countless conversations trying to convince my daughter that there are no boy or girl colors, that there are just colors. Wasted words. She was entrenched in believing that girls had to act and dress one way and boys another. Considering that I’m a stay-at-home dad, it was odd that she clung so fiercely at such a young age to gender stereotypes.
Oddly enough, it wasn’t until she had a little brother that her views on gender identity began to blur. She always sticks up for him, and nobody can tell him what he should or should not wear. Including me. Last year, when he was 2, he wanted to go out in one of her old shirts, bright yellow with a sparkly Hello Kitty logo. “Why can’t he?” she asked. “It’s what he wants. And he looks pretty.”
I was surprised that I was the one who felt uncomfortable. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with him wearing her shirt; it would just be easier for me if he wore one of his own. “Ugh,” I thought, “I’m going to have to explain this to people: that it was the shirt he insisted on; that I’m not trying to make a statement; that he’s a boy, not a girl.” (His hair was a little long and curly, in desperate need of a trim, and he did look pretty.)
It turns out, no one really cared. Even my father-in-law commented how nice he looked. Lately, my son’s favorite footwear has been the pink bedazzled boots his sister grew out of. He totally rocks the look. As I told my daughter, and I have come to accept, there are no boy or girl colors, just colors. And sparkles.
Men and women—boys and girls—are not the same. It’s silly to pretend that they are. My daughter has a proclivity toward princesses and my son likes to smash things. But they are not, and should not be, boxed in by their genders. For years feminism has been perceived as anti-men. I’d be lying if I said I paid much attention to the movement before I had a daughter. Whatever it was before, I’m glad that the feminism she’s growing up with is inclusive of her little brother and is good for both of them.
Dave Lesser is a former attorney who much prefers his job as a stay-at-home dad to two hilarious and adorable children. His amazing wife fully supports his love of obstacle course, road and trail races. He is a regular contributor to Time Ideas, the Huffington Post and the Good Men Project, and blogs at www.
This originally appeared on Amateur Idiot Professional Dad. Republished here with permission.