G is for Gender

Which do you think is easier – raising boys or raising girls? If you’re like me, you’ve heard that question dozens of times.  The common refrain from parents has always been “girls are easier than boys when they’re younger, but they make up for it in the teenage years.”

I’ve had a chance to think about it over the last 16 years and I think that parents of boys have a unique challenge, and that is to raise good and decent men. Parents of girls can rest on the laurels of our parents and grandparents, who did the hard work of raising girls to feel they are equal to boys.

Tracing back through the 20th century, the challenges of raising a girl, even being a girl, have changed in Western civilization. First, women fought to get the vote and for basic equality under the law. Then came the radical change of a huge percentage of women working outside of the home. Forty years ago working moms were still unusual (most of my friends in suburbia had stay-at-home moms), but then my generation was raised to be career-minded. Today, most of my peers and women younger than me want to work, and in most cases, have to work. The economic times demand it.

So our daughters and their friends have been raised without feeling any limitations of what they can and cannot do because of gender.

But there’s a downside of this second wave of empowerment. As we stroll through the mall one can’t escape the lingerie retailers with huge posters of barely dressed women. I flip through magazines and see what I think are pre-pubescent teens modelling jeans or perfume. I turn on the news with my daughters and hear story after story of girls being cajoled into emailing naked photos of themselves to (supposed) boyfriends. TV shows about high school students introduce themes that are edgier and edgier, and sometimes open the door to discussions that I’m not sure we’re ready to have.

I don’t want to leave anything to chance so I like to address these issues head on with plenty of awkward questions. Usually I get lots of eye rolling. I often watch one teen soap opera with them in which one of the main characters is having an affair with her high school teacher. I tell them, “You guys know that’s bad right? Don’t do that, OK?” They groan. “We know mom.” And in the mall I say, “You guys know you don’t have to look like those models,” and they say, “We know mom. They’re all airbrushed.”

So here’s where the parents of boys come in. They have the responsibility of saying to their sons “You guys know to never ask a girl to send you naked photos of herself, right?” or “You guys know those boobs are fake, right?”

I’m not saying boys don’t feel the pressure to have six-pack abs or inflated superhero biceps, or that they’re immune to bullying. But the burden of creating a gender-equal society now rests on parents of boys. That is waaaay harder than raising girls.


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