My first child – the one who made me a mom – is a boy. I remember, among the mix of overwhelming, hormonally-charged emotions, feeling incredulous that my body had created not just a baby, but a boy. “I grew a penis!” I secretly exalted in my mind.
Every step of the way since then, I’ve tried to nurture his essential boy-ness while not letting him shy away from his emotions. Without being too heavy handed, I’ve guided him (and his two younger sisters) away from our culture’s most obvious forms of sexism, female stereotyping, and misogyny. I never banned toy guns or dump trucks or rough play; balance of yin and yang seemed a better goal.
It all seemed to work out. My son has been passionately into sports of all kinds since he was five, some of them fiercely competitive and physical. At the same time he’s remained wondrously open to what some people might call his “feminine” side. That boy has got a mean jump shot; and he can really talk, debate and communicate.
He is now fourteen.
To my surprise, my downfall in raising a son who respects women, and respects the sensitive parts of his own psyche, has been my beloved husband, the last man on earth I would have considered sexist or a woman-hater.
Two years ago, DH and DS went on an extravagant boys-only trip to visit the new $1.2 billion Dallas Cowboy stadium. I argued that $1.2 billion might have been better spent ending hunger in Somalia or setting up a few more rape crisis centers here in the U.S., but the boys went to honor the new football extravagance anyway. My husband brought home only one souvenir: a signed picture of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders which he personally and proudly taped up in my son’s bedroom.
I was appalled. But I figured, jeez, it’s just one picture. In some ways, however, it was my line in the sand. My husband and son crossed it when I wasn’t paying attention.
There have been a few other red flags. But the final straw is the music my husband and son listen to together. The three of us went to an NBA game together recently. During the drive my husband showed off his new car stereo, which uses a wireless connection to play his iPod mix. Pretty cool. Until I started listening to the music he’d chosen.
In one song alone, there were 24 mentions of that delightful synonym for a female dog. In the same song, there were eight f-bombs and four uses of the n-word.
I’m no prude. I spit out several swear words a day myself. I enjoy listening to Eminem and Jay-Z. I have no trouble looking through the swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated and the occasional Playboy. But it was horrifying to hear my 14-year-old son and my husband – the two most important males in my and my daughters’ lives – chanting lyrics that clearly denigrate women and exalt sexual violence against them.
Later, my husband argued that I was nuts. That these kinds of lyrics are “everywhere.” That “90% of kids” listen to them. That “you can’t fight popular culture.” That he and our son had been listening to this kind of music together for years. (Which did not make me feel better.)
Suddenly, I understood. My husband wants to expose our son to music and posters I find sexist and demeaning. He wants his son to be like all the other men he knows. He wants his son to join that amorphous pack of men who worship football, rap singers, and stoic exteriors. Maybe there is part of male culture I will always be at odds with.
My response: I’m going to keep fighting our culture and making sure my son knows why. In my own way, I’ve spent my whole life, sometimes quietly, always determinedly, battling sexism and gender discrimination. I’m going to remain enthusiastically biased. Turn off the music. Don’t download explicit lyrics to your iPod. Don’t play the most egregious tunes in front of our kids. And don’t expect me to like listening to it.
I want my son to coexist, in the real world, complete with offensive language and ongoing discrimination. My husband is right – it’s important that our son see that prejudice is everywhere. Even in our own house.