On Raising Feminist Boys

I make it a point to let them see me mow the lawn, take the garbage out, and do other “man jobs.”

When I was a little girl, they told me I could do anything I wanted to. So I did. I mowed the lawn, drove the tractors, baled hay, and did manual labor on the farm.

But it was a fight. I wasn’t strong enough. It wasn’t a girl’s job. Those things were for the men. They finally let me and I was happy. But I had to prove myself strong enough and fast enough to do a “man’s job.” I spent countless hours proving people wrong. It was a game. They said I couldn’t do it, so I did it.

Now, 20 years later with two little boys of my own, I wonder if it will be different for them. I make it a point to let them see me mow the lawn, take the garbage out, and do other “man jobs.” I want them to know that women are their equals in every way.

I want them to grow up reading about women’s suffrage and be outraged by the injustice. I want them to feel rage that we could ever treat any person as less than. I hope that they only learn about the wage gap in their high school history classes.

I have a friend, who happens to be a fire fighter. She is amazing. She is strong mentally and physically. She is a perfect example of whatever you can do, I can do it better. We visited her this week at the fire station and it occurred to me: This is completely normal for my children. They have no idea that women were considered not to be strong enough to be fire fighters, even in recent years. They don’t see her as a woman and a fire fighter, just a fire fighter.

I am the one who sees both. I separate the two and make it an issue. Maybe it’s because they are 4, and maybe it’s because they were too busy jumping in tiny puddles to notice that she was the only woman in the station. Am I raising members of the generation that finally stops caring what’s between our legs? Could it be when they grow up, their female cousins will have equal pay and control over their own bodies? Could I be raising both gentlemen and feminists?

Teaching my boys to be gentlemen and teaching them that their female counterparts are equal is a tough balance. I still expect them to open doors and let girls go first. I would be mortified if they wrestled with a girl the way they wrestle with each other. They ask why girls go first and why they can’t wrestle with their female cousins—I have no good answer for them. I tell them that I am raising gentlemen, not Neanderthals. But that answer doesn’t seem quite right.

The word feminist isn’t just for women anymore. The stereotypical idea of the angry feminist is dated. Anyone and everyone should want to consider themselves a feminist. In fact, by the time my boys are adults I hope the word doesn’t exist anymore. It’s just one more thing that separates us from each other. Isn’t that what we, as women, want? We want to be seen as equal and treated as such. And as my boys grow and learn, I will make sure that I am teaching them that we are.

Maybe it’s too late for my generation to see the wage gap closed, and maybe I will still be met with resistance when I want to do a “man’s job,” but women like my friend are proving society wrong one amazing feat at a time. And I am teaching a new generation that their female counterparts are no different than themselves.

Together we can make the world better for our future selves. A better world for everyone. Now, if I could only get them to put the seat down.

Laura Birks is a freelance writer based out of South Jersey. She has 4-year-old twin boys. When she is not writing, she’s playing in mud, cleaning up mud, or begging them not to jump in mud. Her blog, Positively Sarcastic, serves as an outlet for her mud-related experiences. You can follow her on twitter.

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