Why we need to change the world for our boys
LETTER FROM THE EDITORS
There has been a lot of discussion of how stereotypes affect girls for the last 30 years, but recently we've begun to hear more about how those same stereotypes are affecting and damaging boys as well. The National Union of Teachers found that boys were in fact policed more than girls in terms of conforming to gender stereotypes, with teachers reporting that girls “have more freedom of movement. For example, it’s OK for girls to want to play football but boys aren’t supposed to like ‘girly’ things. The word ‘tomboy’ isn’t a particularly negative word – but it’s terrible to be called a sissy,” and “One boy has given up his dancing career because of peer pressure. We’ve had boys sniggering because another boy talked about reading something.” Most worryingly, they mentioned that boys aged only 4-7 were already aware that it wasn't ok for them to express their emotions, “It really worries me that, even in KS1 we already have to combat the ‘boys don’t cry’ thing ... Generally, the girls are much more relaxed about expressing their emotions – with the boys it often comes out in aggression or fighting.” With suicide is the biggest cause of death in men under 50, we see the impact of this culture of repressing men's feelings.
For this first edition of Sonshine, titled Introductions, we introduce our journey to setting up the magazine.
I had always imagined I’d have daughters and I was ready to bring them up with feminist ideas. But then I had boys! Beautiful, hilarious, wonderful boys who, like their friends – both boys and girls – enjoy football, running, painting, dressing up, choosing their own clothes, and all sorts of things that are often classed as inherently male or female.
I’ve heard negative comments about my little boy dressing up as a princess, wanting to try on makeup and even for crying. Before they're five our little boys are being taught to keep their feelings inside to be macho. I find it heartbreaking.
Things branded feminine in this world are so often treated with derision, I’ve experienced it throughout my life and I don’t want my children (boys or girls) to either perpetuate that cycle, or be held back by it themselves. It's brilliant that girls are learning to fight back against the boring sexism that our culture reinforces with campaigns like This Girl Can. But, it's so important that boys are aware of the all-pervading dynamics, otherwise they'll find themselves believing girls can't throw, that boys are strong and shouldn't express their emotions, that girls nurture and boys run fast. It's vital that campaigns like these address boys as well as girls.
I want all children to be able to enjoy the things they gravitate towards without feeling embarrassed or uncool. To accept that sometimes men and women bring different experiences and ideas to the table and neither is more valid than the other. That it's good to question stereotypes and to find balance in every walk of life. We're using Sonshine to help us notice the pervasive stereotyping that's everywhere, to find ways to show our sons - this isn't how you have to be, and this isn't how girls are either.
When my first child, my daughter, refused to wear trousers I wasn’t really surprised. I'd done the same as a small girl. But I was surprised when my second child, my son, did the same.
I realised that if I was going to let my daughter dictate her wardrobe, I had to do the same for my son. So we go with it.
But I am still sometimes uncomfortable about my boy dressed ‘as a girl’ in public. My own internal sexism is alive and kicking apparently – I don’t want my boy to be like a girl… because… girls aren’t as good? He really wants to be like the most amazing person he knows: his sister. What could I possibly tell either of them to explain that that is not ok?
Meeting Hayley and seeing our kids grow up together, similar and different, gave us a spark.
We can’t change things for her if we don’t change things for him too.
I want our sons to learn respect. Respect for themselves and their choices and respect for others' choices. To learn that if someone isn't enjoying it, you stop. That no means no, whatever the context, and that relationships are built on sharing and trust.
While Hayley and I have found plenty of resources to help parents break down female stereotypes for their daughters, few places encourage us to broaden the macho constrictions for the boys. Worse, talking about a strong woman is characterised as "for the girls", not "for everyone". Boys need to know that gender is not a division. That there are brilliant female and male scientists, dancers, writers, inventors, nurses, partners, parents… just the same way we want the girls to know it.