International Women’s Day, Gender Disappointment and Bringing up Boys to be Feminists

I remember at my 20week anomaly scan the sonography struggled to determine the sex of the baby. I laughed to myself as it didn’t matter, in my mind I was having a little girl. I was one of three girls, my mother was one of three as well and my partner at the time was surrounded by sisters. It was inevitable. I couldn’t wait for my little girl to born, I was going to make sure she knew that she was as good as any man. Her body was her own, she deserves equality and not to shy away from a challenge just because she is perceived to be a member of the ‘fairer sex’, and not to be reliant on a man for her self-worth. A few days before my first was born (prematurely at 28 weeks gestation), I was having a scan to make sure everything was okay. The consultant turned to me and said HE is perfectly healthy and that should give him a good head start once he’s born!

My heart sank. I remember calling my father who was delighted that the numbers were evening up, as until now he only had my brother to balance out against the three of us (girls). What point was there in having a boy? All my hopes and dreams were crushed, every desire to raise a strong confident young woman as my parents had raised me dissolved before my eyes. I was utterly heart broken, I was disappointed. I was disappointed with my child before my child was even born, simply because he was male. I tried to justify it with statistics, boys born prematurely had a lower chance of survival and I was simply worried about this. How could I relate to this boy? What could I teach him about a world that was already skewed in his favour?

I’m not entirely sure when it occurred to me, perhaps when he was a few months old, that equal rights wasn’t just a women’s issue. I was shopping for new clothes for him and became increasingly frustrated at the lack of options available in the boys section. Everything was a variation of blue, brown or grey. Either depicting trains, cars and diggers or emblazoned with slogans such as ‘strong like daddy’ or sickengly ‘lock up your daughters’. It was then I realised how deeply engrained this issues were in our society, encouraged from birth even through clothing, toys, baby equipment. I remember shaking my head at ‘pink-washing’ the exact same toys for boys to market for girls and their families. Now as a mother of a little boy I was experiencing the flip side of it all.

While we were encouraging girls to think like a man, be as good as a man, that masculine qualities were desirable. We were teaching our boys anything considered feminine equated to a weakness, it was defective. These double standards are rampant in the few years I have been a mother to two little boys. From the well meaning play workers that pluck a teddy bear out of my sons hands and replace it with a wooden train. To the parents that raise an eyebrow at my son with long hair and multicoloured unisex clothing charging around the playground with his baby & buggy. To the shop assistant who was confused when I asked if there were any play tea sets suitable for my boys without being covered in glitter, flowers or hearts (thank you IKEA for your food safe tea sets, we’ve had many enjoyable tea parties at home). They all say the same thing “Oh no, you’re a boy you don’t want that!”.

I remember watching Emma Watson’s speech in which she emphasises that feminism is ensuring BOTH men and women should feel free to be sensitive and to be strong. I couldn’t agree more. My aim is not, as some would like to believe, to bring up ‘effeminate’ boys but instead for them to have a healthy outlook on life, to respect and understand women around them, to recognise that all qualities are of equal importance and to also understand themselves and be secure in who they are, to be able to express themselves without fear and if they have daughters themselves make sure they know that they have a choice in life and they are valued and important despite what anybody else might say and if they have sons to make sure they know they are allowed to show emotion, they are allowed to stand side by side with women, for the fight of equality is everybody’s fight, everybody’s issue.


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