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Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Little boys become men...
(going from 'commentor' to my first post! YAY ME!)

Much of what I’ve read here, and now reading Sue Monk Kidd’s book (far too late for the book discussion.....) has been raising thoughts for me on how we are to raise our boys in light of the issues many of the women here express.

Can we teach our boys to be more cognizant of gender equality and help guide them from being little boys into the kind of men that better support and validate women?

How do you Moms go about teaching your little guys the proper way to relate to girls and later women?

Some of the little ‘practical’ things which can be heard common in our culture that come to mind

  • A boy ought not rough house with a girl
  • He ought to open the door for her
  • He should treat her with gentleness….different than he treats the guys

My little guy is 5 ½ and I have to admit that all of a sudden I'm wondering about what I say to him. I know that I have said things to the effect of: he should look out for girls, hold the door for them, show ‘care’ for them. Not that he shouldn’t care for all humankind, but I've definitely differentiated as far as girls go.

Is that substantiating girls are weaker, girls are different?? Am I setting him up to be...well, subconsiously thinking of girls as 'less than'?

And how does it relate to, if it does at all, teaching respect for elders…or say, giving up your seat for the elderly......I’d teach him to give his seat up for a girl too…but why? Would I then expect him to give up his seat for every Tom, Dick, and Harry that happens to be seatless? If not, why the elderly? Why girls? Why not guys? What am I saying by differentiating? Anything? Am I taking it too far?

Right now we get stuck for what seems like an eternity while he waits for EVERYONE to come through the door – he loves to hold the door open! Its sweet and beautiful......but I begin to wonder what am I really saying to him – or what am I conveying by what I’m saying…

Should guys ‘look out for’ or ‘care for’ girls?

How does that relate to, or contribute to (if it does), the problems many women here face or the climate of the culture (faith culture included) that we find ourselves in?

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posted by Janice at 3:03 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 2/20/2007 04:10:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    You might be interested in reading Wendy Shalit's book "A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue." Among other claims, Shalit theorizes that the upsurge of date rape and sexual harrassment in our society is at least partially a result of a generation of men growing up without being taught how to interact with women.

    As you can probably infer from the title, the book is about the merits of modesty. But it does cover many of the gender and societal issues that you're currently wrestling with as a mom.

    I'm not a mom, but I did grow up with two younger brothers. We were raised to be protective of one another - but in my experience it wasn't as much of a gender things as it was a "look out for your family" sort of thing.

    We often lived in not-particularly-nice neighborhoods, and this probably played a role in the values that were emphasized in our home.

    I have noticed, however, that my brothers seem to have more of a protection "instinct" towards me than I do for them.

    Is it a gender thing? I've never asked them about it, but it's very possible that they heard different lectures in private than I did when we lived in certain neighborhoods.

    Should guys ‘look out for’or ‘care for’ girls?

    This may make me a bad feminist ( j/k ;) ), but I think it depends on the intention behind it.

    I wouldn't have a problem being "cared for" by a man who, say, offered to walk me to my car at night in a questionable neighborhood.

    I would have a problem with someone who treated me in a paternalistic manner, who acted or behaved as though women are somehow intellectually or spiritually inferior to men.

    I'm not a parent, so I'll probably spend more time listening in on this conversation than anything else. :)

  • At 2/20/2007 04:24:00 PM, Blogger Lydia

    I wouldn't have a problem being "cared for" by a man who, say, offered to walk me to my car at night in a questionable neighborhood

    Oops, I meant to add this to my last post before clicking publish"...

    The reason why I wouldn't mind this kind of special treatment has to do with human biology:

    There is an anthropological word or phrase I can't quite remember at the moment that refers to this tendency in primates, but the average man is physically taller, heavier, and stronger than is the average woman.

    In most cases, men are better equipped on a physical level to defend themselves than are women.

    These physical differences between the sexes don't mean that one sex is "better" than the other...we're just different.

  • At 2/20/2007 05:42:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Lydia, I agree; in situations where due to patriarchy and patterms of sexual exploitation of women, a woman IS actually vulnerable, then an honorable man walking her to her car or whatever is helpful and the poor decent guy doesn't need to be hammered for treating her "differently." If the reality were that men were more vulnerable to mugging and sexual exploitation at night than women, then, certainly I hope all of us would be there to lend a hand.

    In terms of doors, I think it's ALWAYS nice to open/hold the door for someone right in front or behind you, and then let them do it for the person after them if they are inclined. When it comes to going the extra mile out of your way to hold doors, I'd say, do it and teach your kids to do it for anyone who looks like they could use a hand: Maybe it's an elderly man or a pregnant woman or a twelve-year-old boy carrying boxes, or a 35 year-old woman trying to manage a two-year-old, a baby carrier and some groceries. Probably a healthy single woman doesn't need someone to run ahead of her to get the door...although if the gesture comes from a suiter in which she is interested, well then it might be romantic. Or not. All depending on the woman :)

  • At 2/20/2007 05:53:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I do have a son, however he is only 4 so this is a new idea. My daughter is 6. We have tried so far to encourage more "familial" respect. We tell our daughter to look out for her brother as much as we tell our son. My husband and I try to always back each other to our kids.

    After reading Sue Monk Kidd's book, my husband and I have had a lot of discussions. I have discussed my hopes for our daughter, but also my hope that our son will be different to women. My husband has admitted that he knows that women go through a lot. He, himself, is not always the most sensitive, but he acknowledges that it happens. He works for a big company and he sees on a daily basis women being dismissed, or considered Bitches for being assertive. I have been dealing with more feelings in that area also, so it is tough to deal with.

    With all of that in mind, I try to be very positive with both my kids. We always try to affirm them both in what they do. We really haven't gotten into "gender" roles yet. My daughter works out in the garage with dad and my son does cleaning with mom. We just do whatever as a family. I love to learn and think ALOT (sometimes to my own detriment), so I am always open to hearing opinions for child raising etc.

  • At 2/20/2007 06:13:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

    It's a good question, and I understand why you raise it... though I have to admit that from a guys perspective, this kind of thing can make us crazy. Are we supposed to treat women with greater respect or not? Are we supposed to hold the door or not? Will we get accused of being sexist when we're just trying to be courteous? If it depends on the woman's own preference and opinions, how are we supposed to know?

    Personally, I agree with Lydia, that there are some genuine biological reasons why men should take greater physical care with women. And I think there are probably innate biological drives that make most men want to "protect" women in this way (and probably that make many women want to be "protected" too - though I can't vouch for that directly). But I also agree that men shouldn't assume physical difference implies general inferiority. There's a good phrase that we learned in my Intercultural Studies program that is applicable here too: "Different is different, not better or worse."

  • At 2/20/2007 07:10:00 PM, Blogger Doxallo

    Thanks for the book recommendation Lydia. I will see if my library has it.

    I like the look out for your family approach, especially if applied to 'God's family' (sort of encompasses all of creation)

    I agree with the idea that men are built differently than women, and that is one thing I have discussed with my son...but I don't want to give him the impression that boys are 'big and strong' and girls are 'less than' and I guess its just a matter of how one goes about it...but there does seem to be this innate belief that 'big and strong' is 'good' and anything less is 'not as good' or not so good. So I guess its important to be careful.

    Jemila, I appreciate your input. The idea of helping anyone 'who looks like the could use it' is a great barometer. Thank you. :)

    "Probably a healthy single woman doesn't need someone to run ahead of her to get the door."

    hey, don't tell that to my son.;-)

    Michele L -
    (did you change your profile pic?)

    My son also helps with cleaning! So far he doesn't mind...he also helps me cook sometimes and we talk about great chefs that are men and different things like that - that the gender roles aren't always the way we think of. (ever see the ace of cakes on Food Network? He's awesome and combines baking and decorating cakes with fire and other things - its a neat mix)

    Mike, Mike, Mike!! You actually bring up another reason for my question -- the fact that I love my son and don't want him to have to live int hat confused state of not knowing . . though that is certainly not going to be solely determined by me or him, it will depend on the ever evolving climate - I'd like to not only raise him in a way that helps protect and honor his sisters in christ and maybe avoid causing pain that I have heard from these women here, but I also want to protect him from what YOU experience. I want it to be better for both 'sides'. :) I very much appreciate your input. I don't think you are off the mark necessarily in regards to women wanting to be 'protected'..I think some have mentioned that just in this topic. I know, for me, though I am a fiercly independent person, sole financial provider to me and my two children....I enjoy being 'treated like a lady'...including doors and being protected should the need arise.

    Thanks all and I look forward to more discussion on this. :)

  • At 2/20/2007 10:24:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    Yes I did change my picture...little update. Thanks for noticing! ;)

  • At 2/20/2007 10:26:00 PM, Blogger Michele L

    I didn't realize until the comment page, that you also have a picture now. Very nice. I think it is fun to put faces with "personalities"!

  • At 2/20/2007 10:42:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    Doxallo, wish we could get together for a play date. I have 5 1/2 and 4 year old boys (as well as a 2 year old girl). My husband and I have been discussing this same thing.

    One thing I've started emphasizing with my kids is the overall need for respect and caring for the people around us. Giving up a seat or opening a door has so much to do with stopping your plans and forgoing your comfort for the good of another. (Much unlike the dirty looks I got while taking my three kiddos shopping this afternoon)!

    More than anything else, though, I think my children will learn the value of men and women by the example my husband and I (as well as those close to us) set in how we treat other men and women and how we treat our children. It has less to do with our outward actions then it does that state of our heart.

  • At 2/21/2007 12:58:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Yes Amy, I agree. I think our kids pick up more on our unconcious attitudes that express themselves in our subtle, everyday actions than what we "tell them," although that can help our hurt the underlying message if what we say is inconsistent with who/how we are. So I think being aware of our own complex web of feelings and attitudes and growing into a style of operating in the world that is authentic and egalitarian without trying to pretend that men and women are entirely the same, minus the genital differences, is key to fostering equality that is internally resonant.

  • At 2/21/2007 09:27:00 AM, Blogger Amy

    Good point, Jemila. So often we don't realize the unconcious assumptions behind our actions.

  • At 2/21/2007 04:06:00 PM, Anonymous lisa

    Hello all,

    I leave my comment here, speaking only from my experience as the mother of young men. My boys are 20, 17 and 13. Their sister is 8.

    One thing I have heard from young women about my boys is that they know how to be friends with male and female friends alike. These young women feel valued and equal.

    I can't say I "know" how we parented them into this healthy place but I will say the following:

    I think the most important thing we have somehow taught the boys is how to communicate their feelings. Not that we were sitting around doing therapy together, but we've always encouraged the kids to try to verbalize how they feel.

    I believe that this "art of communication" has been a great key for them in relationships with women, (and men, actually.) Through it, they have experienced real friendships and through real friendships, they have avoided the misguided idea that women are "less than" themselves in any way.

    It is physically obvious that, in general, men are bigger and stronger than women. Even at fourteen, my boys had strength in their arms that I lacked. I called on that strength when I needed it and I continue to. This has not taught them that I am a lesser gender, but that the genders work well together. We bless each other. I have often helped them learn to put words to their feelings. They have often helped me open a jar or move the sofa. (Which is NOT to say that men are only good for their strength.)

    I have no memory of ever telling the boys not to play rough with girls. They were not to be brutish or bully-like with ANYONE. It was naturally obvious that, in general, it was fun to wrestle with other guy friends due to the fact that the other guys were enjoying it too. In general, girl friends didn't get involved in the wrestling, though they did ride motorcycles and surf and climb trees just as eagerly as the guys.

    Finally, I guess we displayed gender equality in our marriage. We didn't make up goofy artificial ways of doing this. We just lived it without comment. I have a good mind. So does my husband. We value each other's opinions and thoughts a great deal. We talk things through and make our decisions together. The kids have always seen this. My husband carries bags that are too heavy for me but this doesn't cause him to think my brain is less bright than his.

    As far as giving up seats for the elderly, expectant mothers and other women, I think the first two are obvious. The last one is a kindness issue that I believe comes down to this: women have been abused and oppressed and I think my boys should show them respect for enduring it. Does that seem lame? I just think it's a way of going over and above the call of duty to say "Hats off to you" in the best sense of the term.

    Last summer an 18 year-old friend of our family suffered an attempted rape as she walked home from the train station one night. We talked about it openly and prayed together for her comfort and wholeness. It was good to see their anger over the way women are taken advantage of. It raised in them a natural desire to want to be protective of their girl friends. This did not make them feel that their female friends are less intelligent or less important. They just realize that the world is fallen and that it's a good thing to walk a woman all the way home even when it might be out of their way.

    Well, I think this is too long already. Just wanted to comment out of what I've seen as I've attempted to raise boys into men. And PS Having a little girl in the house has been absolutely brilliant for them.

  • At 2/21/2007 04:37:00 PM, Blogger Amy

    Thanks, Lisa. I appreciate you sharing.

  • At 2/21/2007 05:19:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Yes Lisa, thanks for the gift of your experience.

  • At 2/21/2007 08:14:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    I'd also add that my husband genuinely doesn't seem to have a problem objectifying women as sexual objects, and he attributes much of this to being raised by a strong feminist, working single mother. He learned from her example that women are capable, saavy and not to be messed with when it comes down to what's important. He learned from his mother that women are capable of having a financially viable career, having their own needs and valuing their own preferences and interests.

    Being eight months pregnant, it also stands out to me that while men may have more physical strength or ability in certain areas, they certainly do not have a monopoly on physical strength or ability when it comes to the unique gifts of the sexes. My husband recently got a vasectomy and during my prenantal visit was stating/complaining that the recovery took longer than he hoped/expected. My midwife said something kind and validating to him, then winked at me and whispered, "It's a good thing men don't have to go through childbirth!"

    Yes, labor, birth, nursing at all hours and then finding strength to get through the day without going COMPLETELY crazy the next day -- these are significant ways in which women's biology and brains confer physical strength where men can only stand in awe and be blessed to share life with such a strong, amazing creature as Woman.

  • At 2/21/2007 11:18:00 PM, Blogger lisa

    Absolutely! My husband coached me through four deliveries and each one left him overwhelmed by my strength and courage.

  • At 2/22/2007 12:44:00 AM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    Awesome Lisa.

  • At 2/22/2007 09:48:00 AM, Blogger Doxallo

    Thanks Lisa, Amy...and everyone else who has come in later...I am doing a quick run through but will comment more later - I am SO thankful for all the input from this diverse group! :)

  • At 2/22/2007 10:00:00 AM, Blogger Cary

    What a great discussion. I love hearing about the experience of others in mothering boys. It's such a weird thing to be teaching someone how to grow to be an honorable young man when you have no personal experience to draw on. They do and say things even at such a young age (one is five and the other is 18 mts) that are completely foreign to me. Yet, there is so much I have to offer them that their father cannot. I want to teach them gentleness, open communication, and comfort with their emotions without smothering out of them that which makes them male.

    As to Mike's comment, I remember my husband opening a door for a woman who was coming in behind him while he was visiting me at college. She gave him a boatload of attitude along with some comment about being perfectly capable of opening a door for herself. He told me that he would have opened it for a guy in the same situation just as quickly. I'm not sure when we got to the point where little acts of kindness were met with such suspicion and indignance (sp?), but I think it's really sad. We should always be looking for ways to help and serve one another regardless of gender, color, age, etc. Wouldn't that make for a much better world?

  • At 2/22/2007 12:02:00 PM, Blogger Jemila Monroe

    yes Cary, that would.


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