I was a feminist before I knew the word.
The eldest of three daughters, a child of the Girls Can Do Anything! eighties, brought up by strong, thoughtful, culture-critical parents, I was never going to be keen on the patriarchy.
When I was a kid and asked my Mum why she was at home and Dad ‘worked,’ she said that he could earn more money than she could so it made financial sense.
Feminism was all but taken as read at my single-sex high school and in my university experience, where women outnumbered men in all my courses, including law.
I’m not going to list the marks of my feminist cred (oh, go on: I’ll tell you that I don’t shave my legs and my husband and I combined our surnames. How’s that for humblebrag starters?) Just believe me when I say I was not unprepared for being a feminist mother of a little boy.
But here’s (some of) what I don’t know:
How do I (or do I?) communicate to a toddler, then pre-schooler, then big kid, that he is a boy, and that that is a real, substantial thing, without boxing him by gender stereotypes or implicitly encouraging him to do so to other people?
What is a boy, a man, exactly, beyond what SBJ himself is? And we don’t KNOW all of what he’s like yet. And even if we limit discussion to him – ‘the way you care for your cousin/the way you clean up after yourself/the way you like running: these are what make you a boy’ – well, that doesn’t necessarily help for any other boys he knows, let alone the girls.
I can’t think of a single characteristic, beyond what we would observe in SBJ himself, that we can point to and say ‘that’s what a man is like’. I’m a leader, his father follows his feelings ahead of logic, I cook, his dad runs the technology – gender boxes don’t help us much so far.
But I’m not leaning towards raising him like Pop, genderless, as far as the world is concerned. I like being a woman, not a man. I am a woman who talks a lot, played with Lego, leads organisations, likes Jane Austen, makes the odd birthday card and can parallel park like a champ. Internally, all of that matches up just fine for me. I cheerfully ignore, embrace or subvert gender stereotypes at will, and yet I feel like a woman. Not a man, not an androgynous human.
That’s what I want for our boy (inverted, probably, depending on his emerging gender identity), but how do I communicate that to him, especially assuming he goes through a typical season of forging his gender identity through extremes. How do I get that nuance across when he one day refuses to play with girls, or flowers, or saucepans, because he’s a boy? Or wants a short haircut because ‘that’s what boys have’? I’m very happy to tell him that ‘colours are for everyone,’ ‘toys are for everyone,’ but is there something else that goes in that vacuum and tells him what being a boy means?