Friday, 4 October 2013

a boy

Yesterday on the blog I shared a letter to my daughters.  I'm glad that people liked it, and it generated lots of discussion.  One of the questions that arose was, what would you say to a son?  Would it be the same as you'd say to a daughter?  

Before I had children I was determined that I would bring them up gender-blind.  I'd done social sciences, and learned all about how people treated babies differently according to the colour of babygro they were wearing - because of their assumptions of the baby's gender, rather than the gender itself.  I was determined my children would not be pigeon-holed.

However, I'm sure I didn't entirely wipe out my own gender bias, and my children live in our society.

Also (and this is entirely based on casual observation, I know nothing of the psychology of it), children seem to go through a phase of gender-imprinting, around the age of 2-4.  Have you noticed something like this too?  During this phase, they act like gender impersonators.  They are girlier than girly, more boyish than boys.  They eschew trappings of the other gender, to focus on the one they feel fits them best.  There's nothing wrong with going through all this, it's just a way of them finding out who they are, and trying things on for size, and it will calm down later.

All children are different.  But I think there are some general differences between boys and girls too.  These are all on a spectrum, and there are massive crossovers, but would I give the same advice to my son as my daughter?  Some would be the same, and some would be different.  An important difference is about power.  Men are generally stronger than women, and, at times in our history (and even now in places) patriarchy is enforced through violence.  Rape is used as a weapon of war, and as a way of controlling women's movements.  I would want to advise my son, not only not to hurt women, but to help ensure the world is safer for women.  We must move beyond teaching women to avoid being raped, to teaching men how to make spaces safe for women.

But enough waffle, here's my

Letter to my son

To my beautiful boy.  You hate me calling you beautiful, and yet you are.  You are very clever, you make me laugh, and you're a good friend.

You've got a temper on you, but your Dad and I are pretty grumpy too.  Sometimes you get really mad, and you're loath to say when you need a cuddle.  You hate it when I kiss you.  You're growing up, but I'll always remember the sheer terror of becoming your Mum, and constantly wanting to check that you were still breathing.

You get on well with your sisters, although they do really annoy you sometimes.  I feel really proud of you when I see the tenderness you feel toward your littlest sister.  You're amazingly good at looking after people who need it.  You're a really good person.  Your teachers have also commented on your caring side, and I hope you don't lost it as you grow up.  There's an idea that men shouldn't be caring, perhaps because more often it is women who are carers, but I think that maybe men show it in different ways.  I care for you and your sisters with my time, and in person.  Your Dad cares for all of us, by working hard and bringing in the money, but it's all caring.

I hope you can have a strong relationship with your sisters, like I have with my brother, because it can really help when you're a grown up.  Who else can you moan about your Mum and Dad to?!

We are lucky enough to live in a country where our lives aren't at risk, and where we can have a really good quality of life.  But you know that there are problems in lots of places around the world.  I hope that you can be part of the solution.

In our country things are changing, people are understanding that boys and girls, men and women, we are all people.  We are all different, and we are all equal.  In some other societies women are still pushed down, and mistreated.  I hope you will have the courage to say that that is not right.  That all people (women, men, of all colours and creeds, of all abilities) are people.  That all people are valuable.  

Real men treat women with respect.

A minister called Martin-Niemöller, who lived in Germany when Hitler was in charge, and thought the Nazis were doing a bad thing said:
First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
He wasn't telling the truth.  He was speaking out, but he was having a go at the people who were sitting by and letting it happen.  In life, sometimes you find that you are in a more powerful position than someone else.  If you see someone weaker getting pushed around, or picked on, then you should speak out.  You don't have to fight all the bullies, you just need to say 'I think this is wrong.

Sometimes you need to be braver than you actually are, but you've already found ways to do that.  Like wearing a mask when lots of people are looking at you.  There is always a way to do something.

One thing that I am very proud of about you, is that you don't make fun of people who are different.  You have friends who are different and it doesn't seem to bother you a bit.  You learn what they're like, shrug your shoulders and carry on.  If other people go on about it, you seem to be genuinely mystified.  One of your friends once criticised a teacher, and said that he was gay.  You checked what he meant, and I heard you say to your friend that you had no idea why it would matter if your teacher was married to a man or a woman.  You weren't mean to your friend, you just challenged his assumption that being gay was bad.  You made him think again.  Please keep doing that.

At the moment, you are feeling very nervous about performing in front of people.  It is really getting you down.  You dread being called up at school, even for good things, because you think people will be talking about you behind your back.  You have found some ways to cope with this, and I hope it is just a passing thing, because your light shines bright, and I would hate you to hide it.  I promise I will keep on trying to help you get braver.  Any ideas?

I suspect that this is the start of you moving into adolescence.  You know that I hated adolescence, but I think that things can be better than they were for me.  Your Uncle didn't seem to have many problems.  One problem with adolescence though is that you start to see girls (or boys, or both) as being sexy.  There's nothing wrong with that.  But watch out.  Lots of music video's, adverts, and all sorts of things make it look like women and girls are just there to be looked at.  They are not there for that.  Always remember that they are people (so you can talk to them).

I like the toys you like playing with.  The hero factory stuff which you put together in infinite combinations.  You love building blocks, to make high towers (and shoot them down with your Nerf gun).  You would never shoot at a person, and that's great.

I don't like the Beast Quest books that you love to read at the moment.  But I'm glad you love to read.  I don't like them because I think the girl in them is a rubbish character.  Also, Adam Blade is not a real person.  So there.  Any suggestions of good books he should put on his Xmas list?

You love playing games on the computer/tablet/phone/X-box, and I'm glad you can have fun.  I promise to lighten up a bit when you're totally addicted.  Do you think that you could maybe promise to learn how to use computers to design games and other things in return?  We are increasingly using these devices, and it's not good enough just to use a computer - you've got to learn to programme too.

I believe that we all spend our lives learning, because we are all curious.  I think it's best to get a really good education, not for what you've filled your head with (although that's likely to come in handy), but so you know lots of good ways to learn.  People learn anway, that's what they do.  This really clever man, called Sugata Mitra gave kids computers, and found that they learned how to use them themselves!  Whatever you do you will be learning, so direct some of that energy somewhere useful.  Don't just learn how to find diamonds in minecraft, learn how to map the human genome.  Or something.  BTW this video is 20 minutes long.

Whatever you do as an adult, do something that you feel is usefull, because that will make you feel it is worthwhile.  I hope you will find someone to share your life with, with whom you can agree how your lives will go.

I'm sure that there are lots of other things I could say, but I think you'll figure it out.  I love you, and I hope I'll be there for you long after you don't feel you need me (which might be quite soon!).

Lots of love


Posts in this series

This post is from a series inspired by Fat Mum Slim's post on 50 things to blog about.  You can find the rest of them here.