Raising Men, or Chipping Away at the Paradigms

Yes, son, boys can be police officers, too.

Yes, son, boys can be police officers, too.

My son and I went to a noodle place for lunch. He’s almost three. I saw a table with several police officers having lunch. I sat us right next to them.

Right away, I was faced with my own inherent sexism, as I started to talk about the policemen. They weren't all men. Of course they weren't all men. There are tons of female policemen… policewomen… policepersons… police officers! That’s it. Of course.

We talked about what police officers wear: badges, patches on their sleeves, lots of tools on their belts. What they do: They protect everyone, they make sure we don’t drive too fast, and they especially help children. If he ever needs help and he doesn't see Mommy or Daddy, a police officer will help him every time. That’s what they do.

He said, “That one’s a girl.”

“Yes,” said my inner feminist, jumping at the opening, “but remember that men can be police officers, too!”

Girls have been given this line for years: we can do anything men can do. It implies that it’s a great achievement for a woman to break into a traditionally male role. It also suggests that it’s not normal, that it’s outside the comfort zone. Frankly, it sounds a little tiring, wading against the tide like that.

Now I’m wondering if that was the right thing to say to my son. Right there I’m introducing that there are boy jobs and girl jobs, and he’ll be on the lookout for which is which. I don’t want him to start sorting jobs by gender just yet.  

I’m hoping my sons will be just a little less sexist than the generation before. I intend on teaching them that being an adult means taking responsibility for yourself and for your family. They can choose any path, from rock star or CEO to homemaker or teacher.

So how do I do it? How do I normalize men and women finding their way, each in her or his own way? How does a boy without sisters learn to treat women as valid professional competitors rather than as extracurricular goals?

They will look to me, surely, but how do I teach them that it’s not always the right path for women to work outside the home, either? That they cannot expect that a woman will be able to support a household? That they do not have freedom from fiscal responsibility? That, in fact, until a lot of things change, a woman faces much greater hurdles than a man in being a breadwinner?

I don’t expect there will be an easy answer. I’m still working on “toys are for sharing. Don’t hit your brother.” I feel like I have time, but I also know that they are learning much faster than I think I’m teaching.

What I would really like is a curriculum, year by year, outlining what topics we need to introduce to our children in order to put them on track to be useful, productive members of society by the time we kick them out of the house.