International men’s day, and raising a feminist son

It turns out today is international men’s day. This is worth knowing because now in March when the inevitable trolling of women’s day includes the repeated “this is sexist – when is it men’s day?” we can now change our response from “the other 364 days this year” to “the 19th of November actually”.

I have no time for the whole “why do you call yourself a feminist, you should be a humanist if you really believe in equality” school of thought that tends to dog women’s campaigning – we are paid less, we suffer violence at the hands of a system that privileges male power, we are way under-represented in positions of power from parliament to executive boards – it’s up there really with saying it is racist to talk about racism.

But….

That doesn’t mean that a world based on hierarchies that include sexist hierarchies doesn’t cause problems for us. If we are going to mark men’s day, then really we should be looking at the different ways in which patriarchy is harmful for men.

This year my son is 7. He’s well on his way to older childhood, he loves playing computer games, we have discussions about how he should be using peaceful creative mode on minecraft (we have differing views on this). When he wants to wind me up, he tells me I am the house cleaner and I should be cleaning his room. He is getting really really into pop music and I’m trying to have awkward conversations with him about sexism in music videos which attempt to sidestep the issue that he doesn’t really know much about sex yet.

I don’t want my son to have to deal with a culture that glorifies macho models of masculinity, guns, and violence. I don’t want a culture that sacrifices young men (and a smaller number of young women) in the name of patriotism and war, a culture that sets young men up to hero-worship the people sacrificed before them with no critical view on in whose interests globally war is waged.

I don’t want my son to have to deal with a culture that limits young men as they develop and grow and polices behaviour that doesn’t fit the norm with homophobic bullying and violence. I don’t want him to be taught that if he cries he is weak, that if he is affectionate to other boys he is a freak in some way, that if he listens to and respects women or tidies up after himself he is being kept under the thumb.

Raising a feminist daughter comes with a big set of challenges, but I think in some ways it is easier for me. I feel like teaching boys that the right thing to do is sometimes not the normal thing to do puts your child at risk of being singled out for bullying or worse. I tell my son that men and men can love each other and get married, but I feel frightened at the thought of him being picked on for repeating it to someone. I know the consequences of a culture that doesn’t tackle the problems of policed masculinity are worse, but it is difficult not to worry about it.

For these reasons, I’m going to tentatively say I think international men’s day is a good thing. Gender equality is everyone’s problem – I’m a feminist, not an “equalist” – but I’m in it for my son as much as I am for my daughter.

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