Raising a Boy is Harder than Raising a Girl
“You’re so lucky to have a boy,” the nurse said, as she checked my vitals on my second day of motherhood. “There’s just so much stress around the safety of girls these days.”
“That’s not necessarily true,” I said to her. “My parents raised two girls and they loved it. Also, bad things happen to boys too.”
“Hmm,” she said dreamily and walked away. I don’t think she heard me. Even if she did, my opinion probably didn’t make sense. Or, as I have come to realise from hearing these comments over and over in the last year and a half, she probably suffered from selective hearing.
When I tell people that raising a boy is no different from raising a girl — safety and security being just one of the many stressors — they don’t listen. They definitely don’t hear my follow-up statement — that raising a boy in this day and age is even more challenging than raising a girl.
But it’s true. Please, hear me out.
I’m not denying the battles that women still fight every day for equal rights, equal pay or just basic respect for themselves and future generations. I also haven’t forgotten how I had to (actually still need to) censor what I wear, what I say and how I conduct myself in public, so as not to attract the “wrong” kind of attention or even worse, ire and judgment from all around.
But I see how my friends, even my nanny, are raising their daughters to be bold, fierce, independent and strong, and I know that things are on track to get much, much better for womankind in the future. “This princess slays her own dragons,” is one of the mantras my friend has for her daughter.
When I look through my mommy-networks online, I see parents sharing quotes, poems and articles resonating similar ideas and wishes for their girls. It never fails to make me smile.
Yet, a simple search on Google for guides to raise boys kicks up blogs, articles and lists that are partly sensible, sometimes counter-productive and, a lot of times, disturbing.
In an article on the ScaryMommy blog — top result to my Google search — titled “15 Rules for Raising Sons,” the author suggests some interesting guidelines, such as: letting him dance in a tutu if he so pleases, and letting him start picking out baby names for his own children. But these positives get washed out when she suggests we teach our sons “what a skank is so he’ll never bring one home” and how he should cry only if there’s blood. At first, I thought this piece was satire, or an attempt at making light of situations parents tend to take too seriously.
But having read other articles on the same subject, I’ve come to realise that, while the tone of writing differs across blogs, the message they send out to boys and their parents is more or less the same: Be sensitive, but not too sensitive. Learn ballet but make sure you can still throw a ball. Treat women well, unless they dress a certain way, in which case they aren’t worthy of your respect, let alone time.
Closer to home in India, the Vogue Empower video, “Boys Don’t Cry/Ladke Nahi Rote Hain,” beautifully conveyed that boys should not make girls cry. While I agreed wholeheartedly with the campaign to curb domestic abuse, a part of me still wished it had mentioned that it’s okay for boys to cry sometimes. When they lose a game of cricket, maybe, or when a lover breaks their heart. We need to tell our boys that’s it’s human to cry, to show emotion… to feel.
In the American documentary, The Mask You Live In, director Jennifer Siebel Newsom grabbed American notions of masculinity by the horns as she interviewed boys and men across different age groups and race and economic backgrounds. She revealed how societal notions of masculinity, the pressure to be strong, to ‘man up,’ were rendering boys lonely, confused, depressed — and very often, suicidal. Similar stories and stats from India are hard to come by. But what data we do have shows the number of men committing suicide in India is significantly higher than the number of women. The highest number of suicides are recorded among men aged 30 to 49 years (though the rates among men and women aged 15 to 29 years aren’t far behind).
Read about India’s teen suicide problem on The Swaddle.
Causes for suicides are wide-ranging, but the top three listed are family problems (pressure to marry, do well in college, get a great job), followed by illnesses and unknown.
This worries me greatly, because for all our claims at being liberal, forward-thinking and more aware than the previous generation of parents and grandparents, we’re still not paying attention to what truly matters.
We see a gentle and sensitive boy and whisper that he needs to just man up. We’re not above telling our boys from an early age – sometimes infancy! — that boys don’t cry. We smile the naughtier they are, thinking it means they are strong enough not to get bullied. (We don’t worry about them becoming the bully. Pink tutus will obviously forestall that.)
This has to stop.
We’re changing the way we educate our girls. But when it comes to our boys, we’re not evolving our ideas. We think they will be OK because they will always have the upper hand by virtue of the male privilege dangling between their legs.
When I look at my child, so happy and free from all the shackles that tend to plague those of his gender, I wonder what I can do to ensure he stays that way. Truth is, that no matter how hard I try, I won’t always be around to protect him. But what I can do is encourage and empower him, much like some parents do with their daughters.
I think it’s important that my son learns to slay dragons, too. And if he finds it all too overwhelming, he can rest assured that it’s okay to break down and cry. And maybe even summon a princess to help.