Thursday, September 08, 2005

Celebrating The Boys

I grew up firmly in the post-feminist tradition that my foremothers fought to achieve. I had a family of strong women who supported my actions, who told me to be self-sufficient, who said I didn't need a man to be complete.

I went to college and promptly majored in Women's Studies, declaring myself a radical feminist in the man-hating 1960s mold. I left college and entered the still-male bastion of graduate education in a field predominated by men. After graduate school, I became a journalist. My passion was politics, and I soon discovered that I would, in fact, have to prove that I could tackle such a "serious" subject.

Then, in January 2005, I gave birth to a son.

My whole world changed. When he was born, I thought about what it meant to raise a middle-class, white, probably straight, and mostly Protestant male. How would I do it?

In the months since his birth, I have uncovered a disturbing fact. We don't raise our boys in any celebratory way in the United States. We have become so overwhelmed with celebrating and encouraging our daughters, which we should definitely continue, that our sons are left out. It is as if we have said to them, "you'll make it because you're male. Suck it up." And we move on.

Because my partner and I didn't find out our son's sex before he was born, we had the fun of buying clothes for him after he was born. Only we soon discovered that it is not as simple as we had anticipated. We entered stores with racks and racks of clothes for little girls - frills, lace, flowers - but nothing made for little boys. We could barely find gender-neutral clothes for him. We had to go to specialty shops so that we could dress our son to look like the handsome little guy he is.

Then we started projecting into the future. Both confessed book addicts, my husband and I began scouring the bookstores and book sales for him. We purchased the typical books for babies and then moved into early and middle readers. We quickly found the same phenomenon.

We have a concern about boys who don't read, but we found - gasp! - there are no books for them to read! After getting the classic boy books, such as Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, we were at a loss. Even among books for elementary-aged kids, there is precious little for the male half of the human race.

What we have learned is that we will have to be special parents to show our son that he is amazing and worthy of our celebrations. We will show him that he should be proud to be himself. Even as a baby, we are going out of our way to find clothes and other accoutrements for boys. Many parents of baby boys undoubtedly discover this same phenomenon. Spend time finding toys that your little boy will enjoy. Offer up gender-neutral and "girl" toys, too. Show him that he can be his own little man and be proud of it. Celebrate your baby boys.
By Julia Mercer

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