#WhyIStayed and RAISING respectful sons

Untitled photo via Buzzfeed

First of all, if you haven't read this piece by Liz Gumbinner and this piece by Roxane Gay posted earlier, please do so now. They're important reads for every man, woman, and parent that is out there.

I hate writing about the terrible things that happen to women, or I suppose it is more accurate to say I hate how I feel obligated to write about the terrible things that happen to women. I feel this obligation because terrible things have happened to me and because for too long I stayed silent. I was scared and ashamed and humiliated. My silence only amplified these feelings, the self-loathing, the isolation. If speaking about violence against women makes other women feel less alone, I am going to use my voice. And still. I hate writing about the terrible things that happen to women. I hate the inescapable feeling that writing about such issues accomplishes so very little. I hate the exhaustion I feel when I see yet another news story about a woman who has suffered at the hands of a man. I hate the guilt I feel because I am exhausted. Exhaustion is such a luxury.

So many people I know and love are posting their revelatory #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft stories and what appalls me most is that the IMMEDIATE response from many parents has been, "I fear for my daughters," with very little emphasis on the potentially hazardous behavior of their sons.

"This is how we're working to ensure our son does not become someone to fear," should be the conversation, not "where do we pre-order our daughters their date-rape nail polish?" 

Meanwhile, during last night's game... 

I have written about masculinity at length--written about the importance of raising empathetic sons--and while I don't feel like the only one who has a dog in this fight, I feel like SO MANY PARENTS give their sons "a pass" for the very things we are, as a community, trying to stand up to.

So, what is it then? Why do we have such a hard time standing up to our sons? Why do we so often turn a blind eye and make excuses for bad behavior?

I recently took the girls to a music class where a little boy was pushing everyone down, pulling toys from the hands of other children as his mother TOOK PHOTOS OF HIM THE ENTIRE TIME!

"Oh, you know, BOYS," she said to me as I pulled my girls closer and, finally (because nobody else was) told him to STOP TAKING TOYS FROM EVERYONE THAT ISN'T OKAY.

That was one of 789789788 instances I have had to reprimand someone's child for being "just a boy" who is "going through a phase."

Sorry, sister, but your six year old son throwing sand at my two year old daughters because they are trying to slide down a public slide at a public park is not something I am going to shrug off because "oh, you know. He's just... being a boy."

And, yes, parents can be the same way with their daughters. But "girls will be girls" insinuates FAR different things.
Archer is nine now and therefore mostly off limits in terms of what I am willing to share about him, but I think it's important, for the sake of this conversation, to include him here. Because even Archer, who has always been empathetic to the world's plights, is still very much a boy who exists in a body where certain instincts reside. He is still a boy who is learning, socializing in a peer group, becoming impressionable... growing up. On multiple occasions we have had to sit down and discuss what is and is NOT appropriate, acceptable, allowed...  I have to explain to him that when his sisters say NO, LEAVE ME ALONE that he has to leave them alone.

"But I was just trying to give her a kiss!"


"But she's so cute I wanted to carry her!"

"It isn't up to you. She wants to walk. Listen to HER words, not YOUR wants."

"...But she hit me in the face with a pillow."

"Yes, but you are much bigger and stronger than she is. You NEVER hit back. Not even with a pillow. NO."

These are typical "older brother" behaviors and he means well with all of them. 

Which is why it's SO IMPORTANT to explain to him WHY it isn't okay to kiss someone who doesn't want to be kissed. To LISTEN to the words of the people you love and to RESPECT their space and bodies. 

The truth is, EVERYONE can be that kind of boy. Even the tender-hearted, empathetic, chess enthusiasts.

EVERY PARENT of EVERY BOY should be aware of his/her child's power and privilege. Every boy should know that NO MEANS NO. That GIRLS aren't less than.

And they aren't learning that on the playground, that's for sure.

They aren't learning that on television either. Or on their favorite sports' teams twitter feeds. 

It is comforting to ASSUME that our sons would NEVER do such a thing. Except many of them will. 

IT'S OUR JOB to guide, recognize, raise... ELEVATE. 

This is what we signed up for. 

And it is a BATTLE, man. Having a nine year old boy, regardless of the "type" of boy he is is a battle. But I believe with my whole heart that RAISING my kid above and beyond the expectations of WHAT IT MEANS to be a "boy" is a my duty as a parent. 

Because saying "no" isn't always enough. 


And so, as mothers and fathers of sons, I ask you what you are actively doing to RAISE your boys to know that NO MEANS NO, that anger and aggressive behavior--while perfectly normal--are to be handled AWAY from the people we love? That taking toys from the hands of other children is never okay. Not at age two or four or fourteen. Neither is kicking a lunch box. Or trying to kiss someone who doesn't want to be kissed. How are you handling these conversations? And if you aren't having them, why not? 
Feminism is as much about advocating for our sons as it is our daughters. A more secure, more emotionally able, less repressed generation of boys means a more emotionally stable generation of everyone. 

Because standing up to our sons means standing up for our sons. It also means standing up for our daughters, our communities and humanity as a whole.
Shout outs to A Call to Men, Jeff Perera, White Ribbon campaign, Joe Ehrmman and The Good Men Project who are doing just that. And to all of you, at home, fighting the good fight, RAISING the next generation...
to raise

And to those of you who have shared your #WhyIStayed and #WhyILeft stories, thank you. Wishing you love and peace.