Are we raising our sons to be kind, sensitive and loving? Or are we raising angsty young men who perpetuate sexism?
No, this is not an extended rant about gender inequality. Neither is it a pledge for women’s rights or a feminist outcry. It’s simply a heartfelt plea to mums and dads to pause and think about the sexist innuendos that have manifested in society, generation after generation. Are we raising boys to be gentlemen? Or are we unknowingly perpetuating age-old doctrines and social constructions about men and women?
I have a five-year-old son. He’s sweet, charming and has a way with words. He leaves me a handwritten note every single day and never fails to buy flowers for my daughter and me. He enjoys songs by Ed Sheeran and James Arthur and plays the piano with deep passion.
In fact, he even makes sandwiches and packs them for my lunch.
Extremely sentimental, he’s the sort to weep bitter tears at the thought of me growing old or dying one day. And while I think all of this is sweet and amazing and that maybe I am one of those mums who are raising boys to be gentlemen, not everyone around me thinks so.
Why are you so interested in cooking? Why are you crying over silly things? Are you a girl? Come on you’re a boy, boys don’t cry.
I’ve heard people around me telling my son all of these on multiple occasions.
But this very son of mine plays with guns and lightsabers. This very son of mine is crazy over superheroes and Star Wars. This very son of mine idolises police officers and soldiers. This very son of mine wrestles his brother. He also likes diggers, monster trucks, Lamborghinis and Ferraris. He runs, jumps and somersaults around the house and yes, he did get that mandatory laceration above the eyebrow (that boys must get) and was rushed into the emergency room for stitches.
All of the above were met with approval. Even the injury, especially the injury. Because these are what boys are (supposedly) made of.
And no, he didn’t cry when his skin split open and he was bleeding. He didn’t cry when he was alone under the neon lights of the hospital room while the doctor cleaned his wound and stitched him up. He only cried when he saw me crying because that hurt him more than his injury had. That meant the world to me. Again, not everyone felt the same.
He was congratulated and praised afterward, for he had undergone his rite of passage in becoming a boy. He had been a brave boy through the ordeal and now he has a scar that all boys have. Well done. But he shouldn’t have cried when mummy cried. Because you see, only girls cry. Boys don’t cry.
I agree. They are absolutely right. Boys don’t cry. Of course boys don’t cry because it would hurt their male pride if they did wouldn’t it? Because allowing their weaknesses, emotions and vulnerabilities to show means defying generations worth of social constructions and expectations of the stronger sex doesn’t it? Because they must always fit into the mould of the quintessential boy who won’t shed a tear whether he skins his knees or gets his heart broken, mustn’t they?
Maybe boys don’t cry but men do. Gentlemen do. If we want to work towards raising boys to be gentlemen, then we must acknowledge the inherent dangers of the way society is constructing gender roles.
In raising boys to be gentlemen, we must first make them understand that showing their emotions is not a sign of weakness. Neither is masking their sufferings and permanently adopting the persona of superman a sign of courage.
In this manner we pave the way for them to understand that it doesn’t mean that women are the weaker sex because they allow their emotions to show. Neither are they the weaker sex because they aren’t as strong as men physically.
In raising boys to be gentlemen, we need to make them understand that courage is not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. And to quote Atticus Finch, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand”. We need them to understand moral courage. And moral courage includes being true to yourself and not hiding behind a smokescreen of the tough guy.
Raising boys to be gentlemen doesn’t mean forcing the idea of gender equality. I don’t believe in that for I feel men and women are both incredible, sometimes in the same way and mostly in their own ways. But raising boys to be gentlemen means making them understand that there isn’t a strict dichotomy between how men and women are perceived.
It means being into cars, sports and technology and also rocking a pink shirt, taking your daughter to ballet, buying your wife a huge bouquet of flowers and cooking a spread of gastronomical delights for dinner. It means being a master at C programming and the handyman around the house and also a master at moving your wife (and yourself) to tears with the poetry you write in the notes you leave for her.
It means that your wife can cook, breastfeed, take two hours to do her makeup, weep at movies and yet have the capability to beat you at basketball, hands down!
And it means that however independent your wife is, you never stop opening doors and pulling chairs out for her. It means that chivalry lives on. Always and forever!