Updated: Dec 11, 2019
How Mothering the Boys of today empowers the Women of tomorrow
I am a Mom of three girls. I’ve seen the reactions to this and heard the comments. People look at me with shock and awe when I walk through a public arena of any kind with all three beautiful girls in tow, they often say something about how hard this must be, or that I need to have a gun to protect them, or that I need to send them all away to boarding school, in order to preserve my sanity. My girls are currently 15, 13 and 10.
As a young woman, starting around 11 years old, I remember being so overly concerned with my physical appearance that it controlled my emotions daily. If I wore something too tight or too revealing, the boys would whistle or make jokes. If I changed my hair and made it different from the norm, the boys would comment on how weird it looked or they would mock me, implying that I was trying to get attention. If I wore my hair just like all the other girls and if I played small and didn’t look too pretty, then no one bothered me, so, I learned to do this very early. I learned to dress and look the part to make my life easier, to fit in and feel “normal.” I learned to be a victim of the boys around me and to play small, to protect myself.
Unfortunately, I’ve recently realized that with all that we’ve achieved as women, this part of society, this insecure, play small, victim mentality that our young girls embrace, for self preservation, hasn’t changed at all. You see, the boys of today are being raised by the boys of my generation, and they were raised by the boys of the 50’s and 60’s, they haven’t learned much that is new. We have been told not to dress too suggestively, we’ve been told not to wear too much makeup, we’ve been told that blonde is beautiful and that anything less than a barbie isn’t what a man wants. Young boys are still mocking girls, still commenting on their bodies, their clothes, and their appearance, and the parents of boys, the administrations of schools, are not providing any tools to change this patriarchal hierarchy in America. The responsibility is still put on the young girls, they are to change, they are to play small, so that the boys can behave, the girls are still seen today as the small flame that starts the fire in a boy, and society want us to snuff out that flame early on, so that the boys can behave themselves.
I want so much to teach my girls how to navigate these waters and I don’t want to have screaming matches with them, like I had with my Mother, which was really just a power struggle between two strong, intelligent, women who didn’t feel empowered but instead felt fearful. Then, I start to think, why am I helping my daughters to navigate a male dominant society, but Moms of boys don’t have to play a role? Why are we still carrying the burden of oppression around like a badge of honor? We teach our girls modesty and Quakeresque rules to keep them safe from the men.
What would it look like if young girls were free and encouraged to flourish and honor their beauty? What if the way that young, testosterone driven boys handle their feelings about pretty girls, or how they control their impulses, or how they speak to girls was to change? What if they had tools and classes on how to talk to girls the right way, the same way that we women had home ec classes in the 50’s that taught us how to take care of our men?
This subject is heavy on my mind this week because one of my daughters is changing dramatically, she is playing small, all of a sudden, she is nervous and unsure, and I know that it’s because of how the boys in her school talk to her. I caught myself trying to teach her how to handle it, but then, I thought, why are we, as females, still the ones who have to learn to handle the males? I think it’s time that they begin to learn how to handle us, in a respectful way that honors the feminine.
Last week, on an average school morning, one of my daughters came out to the kitchen for breakfast before school, and her mood was palpable. She looked really pretty, she had on one of those boho bands, it was in her Easter basket weeks ago, but this was the first time that I’d seen her wear it. I noticed she had mascara and lip gloss on too, which is unusual.
This particular daughter of mine is incredibly beautiful, smart and talented, but that beauty and intelligence has resulted, so far, in attention from boys and men that makes her uncomfortable, she feels more victimized everyday. She feels this way because the boys that she has gone to school with, some more than others, are intimidated by her strength and confidence, and of course her beauty. These boys cannot handle how they feel when they talk to her, she makes them uncomfortable, so, they make fun of her, they will mock the head band that she’s wearing, they will make her feel oppressed to make themselves feel big and strong. She even had a boy corner her at the drinking fountain and lean himself up against her just enough to scare her and make her feel weak, this was a boy from nice family, I actually really like his Mom, but I know that bringing this up would result in a conflict that I’m not interested in. I’m more interested in creating big change. This male dominant behavior is the only way that these boys know to feel strong and confident in the presence of a gorgeous, strong woman. My guess is that the parents of these boys have not put a lot of emphasis on how to handle yourself in the presence of a woman who is beautiful and confidant, possibly smarter than you. Do parents of boys talk about this with their sons? Teaching them how to encourage strong, beautiful females, how to compliment and honor them in a respectful way, is this part of parenting a boy?
So, here I am on a normal school morning, with my daughter looking prettier than ever and I know that in this moment, if I say she’s looks pretty or I notice her, she will implode, you see, she can’t go into her school environment looking too pretty, to her, that equates to a bad day, so, she’s nervous about it, it’s creating anxiety in her. I didn’t say anything, I didn’t tell her how beautiful she looked, I decided in that moment, to let her navigate whatever it was that she was going through. My guess is that she wanted to impress a boy maybe, or look pretty for herself, or feel confident for something specific? She was hyper sensitive, making the entire house, me and her two sisters, super uncomfortable with her on edge mood. From the breakfast table I hear, “I can hear you chewing, STOP SMACKING!” As she’s making her lunch, I feel her wrath as she’s digging through the refrigerator,”Where is the Turkey? How can I make my lunch if I can’t find anything in here!?”
God, I know this feeling, I have so many memories from my teenage years, I remember feeling exactly this way. If you wear makeup to school or try a new hairstyle, your girlfriends say you look great and they encourage your confidence. Then, inevitably some boy makes a comment, I once had a boy say to me, in 6th grade, “ooooh, don’t you look fancy today! Too bad you’re not a blonde, my Dad says blondes are the best.” Guess what I did? I bleached my hair that very year, and I never stopped coloring it until last year, at 43 years old.
I could feel exactly what my daughter was feeling in this moment, she feels pretty but she’s too nervous to go into that school environment looking this pretty, or feeling this confident, it has had repercussions before. The Mom in me wants to grab her and tell her how beautiful she is, and to not let these boys control her in this way. I want to help her, I want to make all of this better.
After breakfast and getting her lunch made, my daughter went back to her room and when she came out, as we were leaving, I noticed that she had taken off the head band and put her hair in a messy ponytail, she had wiped off the lip gloss she was wearing, and taken out the earrings. My heart sunk, I knew whatever it was, whoever it was that was driving these intense feelings had such a hold on my girl that she didn’t know who to be. She was unsure and uncomfortable in her own skin. She felt afraid and then, she decided that the fear was too much and she gave up.
Here’s where the tough Mom moment came in and I did the wrong thing, when I saw that she had changed everything, I reacted too fast, it came out of my mouth before I could catch it, I said, “Why did you take off the head band? It looked so pretty on you.” If you can understand for a moment that she feels insecure, even scared right now, unsure and totally out of control, then you might understand this reaction. She reacted quick and fierce, and she said, ” I knew you were going to say that! It didn’t look pretty, it looked stupid, I took it off because it shows my face and my FACE LOOKS HORRIBLE!”
Of course, I respond like a typical Mom with the proverbial, ” Baby, your face could never look horrible! You are so beautiful, I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t have said anything.” I went to say more but she didn’t want to hear it, it was a tough to ride to school with her that day, she was quiet and rude and sad. It was hard as a parent not to take her mood personally or allow it to ruin my day, honestly, I spent the day walking around with a broken heart, I feel so sad for her, and I want so much to make this better.
This, this scene is why people say it’s harder to raise girls than it is to raise boys. These teenage girl reactions and emotions are so hard to navigate and honestly, as a society, I don’t think we’re doing it right, we’re missing something and that something is keeping women stuck, it’s why we have yet to have a female President, it’s why we are still fighting for equal pay and it’s why we struggle with depression and anxiety at twice the rate of men.
Later that evening, my daughter and I had a chance to have a good talk, when she was in a better place. I sat there admiring her gorgeous face while she talked, she inherited this dark Italian skin from her Father’s side of the family, and she has green eyes with that dark skin and a stunning head full of thick, full volume, wavy hair but as I’m admiring her beauty she begins to cry and starts to tell me where this is all coming from. Apparently, last year, one of the boys told her that her hair was “huge” and that she should cut it. This is why she’s started wearing a pony tail , almost every day.
I find it amazing that in this day and age, girls are still doing anything possible to please the boys in their lives. This is what we do. I started coloring my hair at 11, for a boy. I started smoking cigarettes because my boyfriend did it. I’ve even moved to different cities and abandoned my goals and dreams, to be where a boy wanted me to be. How do we change this paradigm? Where does it start? Do we keep the focus on empowering the female or do we also have to look at the role of the young man in this equation?
We have had many hard conversations in the past 50 years about change. We have created diversity training, we’ve talked about racism, we have brought sexual harassment into the light of day, we’ve even begun the long process of creating what we all want to be gender equality. We have strong female activists like Rachel Cargle , who are speaking loud and proud about how to create real change and vulnerable, open woman like Glennon Doyle, encouraging us to feel all of these emotions and as she says, we can do hard things. We need more of these women, we, as women, need to be following and supporting these activists and getting involved in these conversations.
If you are a Mom of boys, what are you doing to create change? What do you teach your boys in 2019 that is different from what your parents taught the boys of your generation?
Teaching our young men not to hit girls, or teaching them that no means no is great, but it’s not enough, in fact, it’s not even scratching the surface. We have to start teaching our young men how to talk to women, how to react to them, and most important, how to handle their strong feelings of inadequacy, when they’re in the presence of a powerful woman. If we don’t have these conversations with our boys, they won’t know what they’re doing wrong. Education is the key to freedom, we have to educate our boys, early on, in order to free our girls.
My Mom climbed the corporate ladder in the 70’s and 80’s and had her ass pinched by men, all the way up that ladder. She worked twice as hard as the men, for half the pay and half the accolades, hell, she couldn’t get a mortgage in 1976 without a male co-signer, Michigan law. She had to put up with bad behavior from men, in order to make room for my generation. Now, I’m a single Mom, I own a home and a business, and getting to this place was painful emotionally, I had the laws of equality on my side, but the men were holding me down emotionally, every step of the way. Now, it’s time for the next generation of women to come up in a world that will allow them to be fully feminine, to flaunt their beauty, and to teach the men in their lives, how to handle female power.
I would love to hear from some boy Moms in the comments about what you’re doing that’s working, or what it is that you need as a resource for more support, what are your schools offering you? We need to have this conversation, more than marching and carrying signs, this work begins in the home, and it starts with the Moms of boys, that’s where the grass roots effort begins.
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