What our boys learn

Yesterday, Emily Wierenga apologized.  I’m glad, because she owed it to those who were hurt by her original post about relationships and submission.  There were several reasons why I didn’t respond to the first post.  First, I was late to the game.  I’d been on vacation when it appeared, so I missed it–all I saw was the fallout.  Second, plenty of others had already written what needed to be said.  Third, I already didn’t care much for her theology or her title of “Everyday Radical” (she’s not particularly radical); I really couldn’t figure out why everyone was so surprised by her words.

I don’t want to go around and around about the original post.  I will say that no matter how “heartfelt” or sincere-sounding her apology, she still has problematic theology that she refuses to acknowledge.  I’m glad she understands how hurtful her words were, but she also needs to examine her beliefs a lot more closely.  Her original post was addressed to people like me–Christian feminists.  It was not a rallying cry for people who share her views but something written to those of us she feels are outside that theology.  Therefore, I see no need to extend some kind of olive branch in her direction.  I don’t stand with Emily or people who share her beliefs, despite the fact that we may all call ourselves Christians.  As a woman, as a feminist, and as a Christian, I have a responsibility to address things that contribute to the way women are seen in the church.  That includes speaking out against the patriarchal leanings of other writers–whether those people are men or women.  The fact that we both have vaginas in no way obligates me to some kind of womanly solidarity.

When I saw that Emily was offering an apology, I was glad; I believed she was doing the right thing–until I read a couple of paragraphs down.  These words made my blood boil:

I didn’t know the way I would cry at night for fear of sending my boys to school, for all of the school shootings and drugs but not only that: for the way they wouldn’t be taught how to be strong leaders, but rather, would be questioned about their gender, made guilty for the way their kind had treated women in the past, and told that they could be attracted to either males or females because there was no male or female: there just was.

I’m not going to waste time on the rest of her apology; it wasn’t bad, though I think she still needs to consider the implications of her original post beyond its triggering effect.  No, I want to address what I quoted above.  I am the mother of a nine-year-old boy who attends public school; there has never once been a time when I have been afraid that he would be taught any of those things Emily mentions:

1. They wouldn’t be taught how to be strong leaders

First of all, that’s not the job of the school.  The job of the school is to teach our children how to read and write and do sums.  If we want any of our children–sons or daughters–to be “strong leaders,” then we must take responsibility as their parents.  Not only that, this desire to have (in particular boys) become strong leaders ignores the fact that not everyone has a personality suited to “leadership” (at least, not the way it’s defined in conservative evangelical circles).  As for what I think Emily might actually mean–that boys need to learn to be strong leaders so they can lead their wives–that is most definitely not something I want my son learning at school.  If that’s your religious belief, you’re welcome to it, but don’t impose it on my kid.

2. They . . . would be questioned about their gender

As far as I know, this is a made-up concern.  I have yet to meet a teacher or school employee who questions my child’s gender.  I’m not entirely sure how Emily means this, but if she means that girls are given unfair advantage because there’s a sudden backlash against boys, she needs a pretty serious reality check.  Boys are still more frequently called on in class, and boys are more often encouraged to explore math and science.  What gets questioned is when boys fail to live up to that expectation.

If Emily means that suddenly boys won’t be boys and girls won’t be girls, that’s also pretty ridiculous.  Is she assuming some mass takeover of our schools by an imaginary army of transgender people and their allies?  Or is she just lamenting that now it’s okay for boys to like pink and take ballet?  (I doubt she’s having the same questions about whether girls can climb trees and play with trucks.)

3. . . . made guilty for the way their kind had treated women in the past

My son hasn’t yet come home telling me that girls are good and boys are bad for hurting them.  Again, this is not a thing that happens in schools.  I just don’t understand where Emily’s deep fear of feminists is coming from.  We’re not staging protests on the high school campuses or storming the gates of district offices.  We’re not making impassioned pleas at school board meetings.  No one is telling our boys that “their kind” are heinous beasts that have perpetrated evil on womankind.  This smacks of feminist stereotypes.  What I hope my son is learning (and I believe he is, if his behavior is an indication) is that girls are equally intelligent, interesting, strong, brave, and fun.  Through his friendships with girls, my son is learning things that will eventually make him a better man.  The adults around him are encouraging this–and that’s a very good thing.

Also, let’s be clear on this: Men being assholes to women? Not so much a thing of the past.

4. . . . told that they could be attracted to either males or females

Damn skippy, though I doubt this happens at age nine.  I certainly hope that my son is aware that whatever sexual attractions he feels are normal.  I learned at church that sexual attraction was bad unless it was within marriage between a man and a woman.  Because I live in a conservative city, the most “sex ed” I got there was a very brief, embarrassed, “Um…uh…use some birth control so you don’t get a nebulous disease we’re not actually going to describe for you.  Now, watch this video of a woman giving birth so you’re too disgusted to get pregnant.”

Anyway, Emily is wrong about this one too–is she not aware that kids are still being bullied for their sexuality?  Even if schools are teaching an inclusive sex education (which they’re not in most places), the horror of having your kid know gay people exist is a lot less scary than being the gay kid who gets threatened or beaten.  Priorities, people.  Sort them.

5. . . . because there was no male or female: there just was.

This is also foolish.  No one teaches or believes this.  It’s fear-mongering.  I do not know any person–cis or trans–who believes or teaches this.  For the love of God, please go look things up before you start spouting off on them.

Oh, wait.  She probably means proper gender roles, not actual genders.  Er…I hope.  What she seems to possibly mean here (?)–though I honestly can’t tell; I’m still confused–is that it’s okay for men to be attracted to men or women to women because the lines between their roles have gotten too fuzzy.  I can’t decide which interpretation of Emily’s words is more offensive.  In either case, gross stereotypes are being perpetuated here.  Whatever Emily’s intent, it changes nothing.  There are no schools teaching these bizarre things about gender.

When I send my son to school, I worry that he might have forgotten his lunch money.  I worry that he might be bullied (or worse, engage in bullying behavior).  I wonder if his ADHD is making him struggle through his day or if he’s getting enough stretch breaks.  I think about whether he’s learning to work cooperatively with all kinds of people.  I hope fervently he doesn’t get hurt on the playground or in phys ed.  I think about ways to make getting his homework done a priority on nights he has ballet class.  I pray that today is not the day a troubled young man decides to show up at his school and shoot a classroom full of children.

I do not worry that he won’t grow up to be the right kind of man.

 

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One thought on “What our boys learn

  1. Even anti-feminists complain about girls being bad and hurting boys and that they deserve to be hurt back for not acting lady-like around them. In other words, women who are assholes to men, are said to deserve abuse, especially since these anti-feminists complain that women are very unfeminine and being assholes to men and ruining their masculinity.

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