On Raising Boys

Before I get into this, I want to acknowledge that I'm not a parent, and in no way do I intend to shame mothers for the choices they make around how they raise their own children. Mummy-Wars are very much a thing, and I hope that rather than being seen as an attack on anyone who holds different ideals than me, that this post can be seen as an invitation to think a little more deeply into how we raise children - or at least how we speak to them.

Thankfully here in Australia, the media and government spotlight is starting to shine more intensely on family and domestic violence. Women seem to be speaking up more than I've ever noticed before, sharing their experiences and supporting one another. There are articles being written left, right and centre about the different types of violence and the insidious forms it can take beyond physical violence. Community based action and awareness groups are popping up in response to online harassment and slut shaming, street harassment (and how quickly it can escalate to physical violence and confrontation) is starting to be discussed more seriously, the economic cost of violence against women, and the truly devastating number of women who have died as a direct result of intimate partner violence this year alone is at least being talked about.

Unfortunately, the mainstream media still place far too much blame on women for somehow contributing to, provoking or causing the violence they experience (see just about anything Miranda Devine has ever written).

Children and pets are still being killed in acts of revenge, and predictably in the wake of every one of these horrific crimes, I see questions being raised in articles or on social media along the lines of, "But how could she stay when she knew that he was so dangerous? How could she put her children at risk like that?"

These are questions which have been unpacked and answered MANY times over, by many people who are more articulate and qualified than me, so that's not the point of this post.

Another statement I've seen pop up over the years - particularly from mothers of boys is, "I don't know what we can do to stop this from happening."

This, I think is the point behind this post.

Ultimately, as people responsible for raising children, we are the people who are raising the adults of the coming years.

As such, any one of us who plays any significant role in the lives of children is in a position to do something to create positive change.

A perfect example of boys being raised to consider girls and women as people whose feelings and general safety matter. Image of Julia Price alongside a Status Update shared on Facebook

A perfect example of boys being raised to consider girls and women as people whose feelings and general safety matter.

Image of Julia Price alongside a Status Update shared on Facebook

Yesterday, this image and the story of James went viral on Facebook, and I think it shows that we are all in a position to create positive change - through the examples we set for those around us, through the relationships we model around our children, and through the words we teach them to use.

This all leads me to an experience I had today in my local bookstore.

Check out one of the books we found! We decided to put this one back on the shelf.

Check out one of the books we found! We decided to put this one back on the shelf.

Jordan and I had headed out to choose a 5th Birthday gift for one of the kids I nannied, and while we were happily flipping through picture story books we overheard a conversation between a mum and her young son in the aisle behind us.

The boy had been allowed to pick a book for himself and had clearly found one that he really liked, only to be told,

"No, that's a 'Girls Book. See how it's pink? All of these books here in this section are 'Girls Books', and boys like you don't read pink books. Put that one back, stop looking in the 'Girls Book' section, and choose one from over here instead. I'm not buying that book for you."

I had honestly never expected that I would hear a mother adamantly telling her child that they weren't allowed to read books supposedly written for the "opposite gender". It seemed like the kind of statement I would make while mocking perceived social norms in a tone drenched in sarcasm.

I was beyond outraged, turned to Jordan and said in a slightly louder than private voice,

"Or you know, we could just trust kids to tell us which books they like?"

Jordan quickly hushed me and moved me into another area of the store.

I felt like screaming, "IT'S TWO THOUSAND AND FIFTEEN FOR SHIT SAKE!"

Are pink and 'Girly' things still so damn second rate that there is no way that a child who identifies as a boy should be allowed to have any interest in them?

I realise that we live in a society that is still so overwhelmingly caught up in the Cis Gendered -Heterosexual Binary, and that most parents haven't even considered the fact that gender is a concept, or that many people sit outside of the boxes marked Male or Female, so I don't necessarily expect to hear gender diverse and inclusive pronouns from strangers in public.

But this just blew my mind.

If we want men to take women seriously, then we need to teach boys to consider, appreciate and respect girls - that extends to interests as well. As Julia Price's story shows, children absorb what is acceptable and appropriate from a young age, and the words we use around them matter.

I for one want to live in a world where our interests, voices, thoughts, feelings and bodies are respected and taken seriously - and that involves teaching children of all genders to appreciate alternative perspectives.

It starts with teaching children to feel confident in who they are, by raising them with love and trusting them to tell us not only who they are - but also what they are interested in.

Having worked with kids for so long, I understand that kids will often change their minds about what they're actually interested in, and that if that particular mum in the shop had bought the pink book for her son, then he may have changed his opinion by the time they walked out of the store.

But considering how pervasive the idea of "socially appropriate" masculinity is - let alone how damaging it can be, I would love to see more parents celebrating that their boys are interested in 'Girls Books'.

Aside from which, can we please can we just refer to them as 'Children's Books' and be grateful that kids enjoy reading them in the first place?