Friday, May 4, 2012

Girls Rule, Boys Too!

Cute banter or damaging stereotype?
Motherhood is rough, and it can be especially rough when we feel like our partners "don't get it." If we fail to communicate and work through our differences, it can lead to frustration or even resentment in a relationship. To relieve the tension, sometimes we might poke fun at men. I admit it, I have laughed at man-bashing humor before. I may have even passed along a joke or two. But when does it cross the line from being good-natured humor to enforcing a harmful stereotype?

Watching my third little boy sleeping sweetly in my arms, I begin to feel guilty about taking part in this. Little boys will one day grow into men. What will we raise them to believe about themselves? I don't mean to attack anyone who has ever laughed at a man joke. Nor do I feel women are free from sexism. I just want to urge you to pay attention to the messages we are sending our sons (and our daughters) when we degrade men.

Often, I hear women commiserating about their husbands. They will accuse them of being immature, insensitive, lazy, or clueless. These criticisms are commonly dismissed as "typical male behavior." I have done this myself, and (I am ashamed to admit) in the not-so-distant past. I can see two real problems with this type of thinking. First, not all men are like this. Do jerks exist? Sure! But it is unfair to demonize the many loving, attentive partners and fathers because of a few jerks. Second, it can become an excuse for legitimate jerks to behave disrespectfully--and for women to excuse it because "it's a man thing."

Sweet and innocent. Let's keep him that way.
I am especially concerned with using this language around our children. If boys hear enough of these stereotypes, they might start to believe them. They might come to feel that they are no better than that. Or they may give up trying to act with character, since they are going to be perceived negatively anyway. Our boys deserve better.

This doesn't just affect boys, either. Your daughter could grow up and enter a relationship with a man. Do you want to see her in a relationship with someone who believes that he is no better than those stereotypes? Do you want her to excuse someone who disrespects her because she believes all men are that way?

Instead of stereotypes, boys need role models. If you have a great guy in your life--a partner, a dad, a friend--show him you appreciate him. Show him openly so your son can see it. Let your son see you give respect to and receive respect from men. Most of all, respect your son. Let him explore all of his emotions, including the scary or tender ones. Love him unconditionally, hold him close, and give him space when he needs it. This way, he will learn empathy that will turn all of those negative perceptions on their heads!


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