Teaching Boys About Girl Power

I will be the first to say that I love all that is girl power. Whether it’s Dove’s real beauty campaign or Always’ Like a Girl or Lean In circles or A Mighty Girl or petitioning to finally getting a woman on some US currency or LEGO finally adding more female minifigures. I’m with it. I’m there. Sign me up. Count me in. Girls rock.

However…

(Sorry. I think there is a but missing to these conversations. A big one. And I’m not body shaming here.) Most of these conversations are girls talking to girls. Or parents talking to girls. Encouraging girls. Telling girls they are as good as if not better than. That they are worth it. That they can be and do anything.

And they can. This is an important conversation. We, myself included, need to hear it. Again and again and again and again.

BUT.

Where are the messages to little boys about girls? Why aren’t we including the next generation of boys so that they can finally break the cycle of misogynistic thinking?

Case in point: My husband is not a misogynistic thinker. If asked point blank, he’d tell you girls and women can do whatever they want, would vote for a political leader based on qualifications, not gender, would have no trouble reporting to women (not that he ever has in the tech industry) and certainly holds my professional and personal value as no less equal to his own.

However.

He was surprised to watch me fight for an equal salary to a male colleague and lose. He never had to get off the Metro in DC and change trains because he was afraid of the handsy guy saying inappropriate things to him in a train full of people who all turned their heads instead of helping. He never had his ass grabbed on a Metro escalator. He doesn’t have to hold his keys like a weapon in a parking lot or scan a pathway for the blue emergency boxes. Being married to a woman who speaks up about these things helped him to hear all that he had been missing. Now he sees it. In a variety of places. It’s easy to say you support women, it’s another to understand what exactly it is that women are dealing with in a culture that demeans, objectifies and marginalizes them in big and small ways every day.

I don’t want my boys to be blinded to it. I don’t ever want them to think that a certain job is a boy job versus a girl job. I don’t want them to imply that certain tasks are for women and others men. I don’t want stereotypes and cultural bias to influence how they see themselves or others in this world. I don’t want them to consider a difference between women’s sports and men’s because right now, they only see sports. My greatest joy this summer has been watching them cheer for the US Women’s Soccer team – the five year old taking a victory lap through the house after the first corner kick score in the match against Japan only to be awed by the following 15 minutes of epic soccer. This summer, I have also watched them cheer just as loudly for the women on American Ninja Warrior as the men. Accomplishment is accomplishment. Period. The eight year old asked what we were talking about once when I was bemoaning the inability of equal pay for equal work to pass and his response was simple: “That’s not fair.” Nope. It isn’t.

But.

I know it’s not that easy. I know they don’t live in a bubble. I know they see toy aisles separated by gender. I know our nation’s lexicon is biased and that the media they are exposed to is lazy, relying on stereotypes and base humor to create their characters and perpetuate a storyline. I know they could probably name 20 male superheroes before ever landing on Wonder Woman. I know they see me doing laundry and dishes and putting on make up and internalize those differences.

So.

I will continue to talk to my boys openly about what I think is fair and unfair and unabashedly tell you I plan on raising two boy feminists with the support and help of their father. But I think the conversation to our boys needs to be larger. I think we can’t forget them in all our talk to girls. I don’t think it needs to be or should be at the expense of our girl power chatter. I think it needs to simply include them. All kids should feel able to realize their utmost potential and we need to teach our children how they can help each other to do that.

Let’s find a way to talk to our boys about girls. Let’s teach our boys how to work with girls. Let’s stop separating their play and thinking and teams. Let’s stop creating dress codes that punish girls for wearing leggings or shorts and start explaining to boys what their responsibilities are in the world as people of decency, integrity and fairness. I don’t know how we start doing that. All I know is that in my experience, it has started with simply talking about it with the men in my life. And so I will. I hope you do, too.

As women, we need to speak up. Not only because we have something worthy to say, but because there are a lot of men and boys out there who need to hear it. And, frankly, who else is going to tell them?

Leaning In: What’s in it for Men?

Dear Men:

You are not all selfish, sex-obsessed pricks who cower under desks afraid that some broad is going to waltz in on stiletto heels and take your job. I’m sure there may be a few of you out there (and I assume that’s because on some level you realize you probably aren’t fit for that job anyway), but I’m going to put my neck on the line and assume that most of you are oblivious to the blatant misogyny in the workplace and simply go about doing your jobs every day, earning your paychecks and contributing to the economy. Yes, you may interrupt your female counterparts too often or let thoughts about any potential pregnancies cloud your hiring judgement when a young woman walks into your office or even be ignorant to the lack of a pumping room for women returning to work after maternity leave. I think you simply require some education in that department. A little knowledge that you interrupt, that she’s a great candidate or that you need to provide a room with a door (and a lock, please) will go a long way to thinning that glass ceiling. With a little education, empathy and experience, I think any misguided assumptions or even deep seeded unconscious habits you had that were drilled in by generations of colleagues before you could be modified, advanced and, in some cases, eradicated, to make a pleasant and productive work place for all employees whether they be male, female, single, married, gay, straight or simply a loud gum chewer in an open concept work space.

It is with this acknowledgement that you, too, are a smart gender, that I apologize for Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s latest column in The New York Times about Women at Work. You deserve better than that.

Men may fear that as women do better, they will do worse. But the surprising truth is that equality is good for men, too.

I nearly threw up in my mouth. First of all, if you are afraid of doing worse because a woman is doing better, than you probably should be worried about your job status in general. I’m just saying. Second, “surprising?” Really? Boys played on see-saws on playgrounds, too, and know that it’s no fun if three people pile on one side and only one is on the other and no one moves. The ride is only fun when you can balance and help each other up and down. And this isn’t the 1930s. I think we can all agree that equality is good for everyone, we just might need to be a little more factual about what that implies. So, I’m willing to give you a corporate economic impact argument, Sandberg and Grant. Your information on diverse workplaces equal more successful companies is great. I get it. Men get it. Statistics and facts proving points of an argument. Thank you. I’m with you again.

And then this:

Some men might wonder whether these benefits for the organization, and for women, might come at their individual expense, and ask, will I end up lower on the corporate ladder?

Oh boy. So, if women do well based on their merits, men, based on their gender, may worry that they won’t advance? Hahahahahahahaha. Welcome to the glass ceiling boys! I point you again to the idea that if you’re worried, you may not be the best fit for that job. My advice? Do your best job and you will be rewarded. That’s all women want.

Let me repeat that:

That’s all women want. To be rewarded, as equally as men are, for their contributions. If you’re worried that you might not be equally rewarded simply because you are a man, than pick up a torch and burn that bra, gentleman, because that’s what we’ve been fighting for for years.

Couching the argument in terms of a blow to the male ego only perpetuates that the male ego should be damaged by feminism. And it shouldn’t. It implies that men should feel superior to women, after all, if we have to defend the very definitions of equal as being good to the male individual and not just the way a productive and compassionate advanced society should live. Google the definition of “equal” and you will find it is defined as “being the same in quantity, size, degree or value.” Equal is unbiased. Equal is fair. Equal is unimpeachable. If you’re worried by equal than you are, I’m sorry to say, not equal to the task. Instead, Sandberg and Grant perpetuate the dominant male standing in the workplace and the home by appealing to its base nature of territory marking and sex.

Yup. Sex.

It started with the attention grabbing headline: “How Men Can Succeed in the Boardroom and the Bedroom.” Sex sells, I get it. But men should take on housework because it leads to more sex? Because doing laundry is “choreplay?” I can’t speak for all women here, but let me just say, if my husband does the laundry, it does not make me want to have sex with him, no more than when I clean the toilet it turns him on. It’s called division of labor. Perhaps if he helps with the housework I’m not going to be so bone crushingly exhausted at the end of the day that I pass out on the couch during House of Cards taking sex pretty much off the table. Perhaps if we are a team in all things – parenting, chores, marriage – than we will be partners in the bedroom, too. And no, if my husband wants to do something nice for ME, he doesn’t do the laundry. He does the laundry because the damn laundry needs to be done. Saying it’s for me only perpetuates the idea that it’s my job to do it in the first place. And I don’t recall that being in my marriage vows (I can’t speak for everyone). If he wants to do something nice for me, he does something that reflects my interests, passions, needs, desires. Yes, it is nice if he does the laundry. It is appreciated if he does the laundry. I will say thank you if he does the laundry (just as he says to me if I do it). But doing something that needs to be done in our home is not a gift. It’s a responsibility.

The entire tenet of this article rubbed me wrong. Men shouldn’t need to be told that they may get something out of equality. Equality is not selfish. That’s the whole point. Isn’t it?

Ugh. Okay. Let’s try another way. If we’re going to go with male stereotypes here, let’s go with sports. I’m a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill grad and was a senior the fall that Dean Smith retired. The man was a legend on campus, and not just because he provided us the opportunity to watch Jerry Stackhouse dunk and strut against our rivals or Vince Carter being the fireworks OOP to a quintessential alley. He was a legend because he was a leader. A leader for equality. He was instrumental to desegregating the town of Chapel Hill in the 60s and when asked about it, his response was not that he should receive accolades for it. It wasn’t that the African American community in Chapel Hill should buy him coffee every Thursday. It wasn’t give me the Presidential Medal of Freedom for it (though they did in 2013). His response was this:

You should never be proud of doing what’s right. You should just do what’s right.

So men, it’s not about the sex or the money or the promotion you may receive because you supported women in the workplace. It’s about doing what’s right. It’s about hiring the right people. It’s about providing the right benefits. It’s about sharing your own load at home. It’s about allowing all of us to follow our passions, work hard and be rewarded professionally, personally, spiritually. It’s about modeling behavior that allows our children to see what partnerships and teamwork and a productive society look like. It’s about doing what’s right.

And, that, my male friends, is a serious turn on.

Yours,

High Heeled Mama

Prince vs. Princess Culture

As the mom of boys, one of the benefits is that I can ignore pretty much all things princess. Instead, I know what differentiates an excavator from a bulldozer from a backhoe (lucky me). Even though I’m not exposed to the princess thing on a daily basis, it’s still everywhere. TV shows, dress up bins, Halloween costumes, movies, Disney vacation photos on my Facebook feed. It seems to dominate the current play culture for our young girls right now. And it’s never more apparent then when I need to buy a present for a girl – my nieces or a friend’s birthday party. The toy store. The book store. The card aisle. Princesses, princesses everywhere!

I was thinking about this princess phenomena as I read an article about this cartoon gone viral. The cartoon pokes fun at Lego creating Lego Friends specifically to market to girls. I too loved Legos growing up and never for one minute thought it was a “boy’s toy.” I played with the sets I enjoyed. I built skyscrapers and houses and whatever else my little heart desired. My particular favorite, however, was one of the castle sets. I was thrilled to receive it one Christmas and loved building it, rearranging it and using the pieces in a variety of ways. Never once did I think I needed a princess in the set to make it complete.

And yet, today? Apparently we can’t just market toys to kids we have to market them to boys versus girls. And we wonder why gender equality is still a problem in the workplace?

I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with princess play. It’s creative dress-up and narrative play, and I think those are both important. The Anna and Elsa model, although not perfect, is a step in the right direction for independent girls not needing a man to solve their problems (although that storyline was so unique because of what we expected – we expected the true love to be that of her prince or even of Kristoff. The true love between sisters was considered a “twist” ending because we never saw it coming. *sigh*). What I do find compelling is that there is not a comparable marketing effort for “prince” toys for boys. There aren’t any princely role models in the same vein as the Snow Whites, Cinderellas, Ariels, Elsas, Belles, Rapunzels of the world. I’m not sure I could even name one of the Disney princes. My boys pretend to be firefighters and astronauts and chefs and puppies and construction workers. They don’t play prince. Even when they play with their girl friends. The only prince they know is his purple majesty who is a regular in our dance party rotation (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen my five year old bust a move to “What’s My Name”).

So why aren’t princes an appropriate, equally engaging role model for boys? Is it because they are unobtainable? After all, you can’t “become” a prince, you are either born one or not. Sure, the same argument could be made for princesses, but Diana and Kate have managed to capture America’s attention and prove otherwise (although the odds aren’t exactly in the rest of our peasant favor). Is it because being a prince isn’t a “job?” What exactly does a prince do? Other than rescue damsels in distress that is? But by the same token, what exactly does a princess do? Other than wait around to be rescued, according to the fairy tale model? Perhaps it’s because a prince doesn’t have any cool equipment? Or he just hasn’t had the right story line? Or is it because we currently don’t define our boys based on their relationships, but we historically define girls that way?

My ultimate unanswerable question, I suppose, is why is it okay for us to foster a culture that not only accepts but seems to encourage and expect our girls to emulate women who they can only become by marrying a specific type of man – specific type of man, apparently, that boys aren’t aspiring to become? The princes of fairy tales aren’t all that interesting. Or all that kind. Or all that bright. Why should we encourage our girls to find their “princes” when they seem to be a bunch of bums?

Kids are going to be inherently drawn to toys they identify with, whether that’s by color, feel, shape or application. I played with my share of Barbie dolls. I coveted a Cabbage Patch doll the year they came out and parents were punching other parents in the aisles for them. I made my fair share of too skinny clothes with my fashion plates imagining all the fancy places I would go as a grown up in the types of dresses I created. I baked gooey, fairly disgusting creations by lightbulb in my Easy Bake Oven that I then forced my poor parents to eat. But I also had a microscope and rock collection and the aforementioned Legos. I played in a treehouse and climbed trees in the woods. I built forts and played army games with the boy across the street.

My point is that kids will play with the toys that engage them. That might be a girl who plays with lots of traditional “girly” things or a boy who plays with dolls or a girl who plays with dinosaurs or kids who play with a balance of both. Let’s help our kids find toys that speak to them and their dreams. But maybe, just maybe, we let the girls know that the real princes of the world aren’t the two dimensional ones of story books and animated films with generic Ken doll good looks and a sense of ownership post rescue, but instead are the boys who grow up to respect the women in their life. The real princes slay dragons side-by-side with the princesses and may even stay home to make sure a delicious Easy Bake Oven strawberry shortcake is waiting when she gets home from a long day of kingdom saving.