Raising men right

Breaking down stereotypes to raise our young boys to become real men

Before you begin reading this, remember at all times, this is an opinion piece. The writer’s intentions are not to tell you how to raise your children, rather to say ‘hey, we are all trying our best’. As a parent that’s all you can do, try your best. But having said that, there are ways to raise functional young men, to break down stereotypes that at times are prominent in our community, and to love and shower your boys – as with all children – with love and respect at all times.
When I read this piece, my heart was filled with so much adoration for the writer; for showing the courage firstly to print this, for finding the compassion in her heart to do so, and for raising – along with her husband and family and friends – two of the most beautiful young men I have had the pleasure of meeting. What I was saddened by was the reaction that followed on social media following the post. But, if we take one positive from this, the author has challenged and raised the subject into the consciousness of every mother, father, aunt, uncle, sister, and brother of every young man out there, trying to find his place in the world. I truly hope you too can see the beauty and love that shines from this piece, and then look at our boys and help break down any damaging stereotypes for males and females that will ultimately make the world a better place – Penni Pappas

“Just because she’s beautiful doesn’t mean she needs to wiggle her butt!”

I am so proud of that quote I can’t tell you! You see, it came from our 7-year-old son who commented this to his aunty while watching an ad for a Disney movie.

I’ve been trying to find the right way to start my article on raising men and then our youngest offspring comes up with this line that is so profound that it has just blown my mind.

Just with that comment alone – I feel there is hope for mankind. Stereotypes can be challenged and broken. Women, you don’t need to wiggle your butts and men, you don’t have to like it.

Too many people feel the need to exaggerate and encourage their child’s gender stereotype – rough and tumble their boys and turn their girls into princesses. God forbid their son likes to put on heels and dance around the house – best we stop that before he acquires a love of expensive shoes! Why don’t we stop our girls from dressing up as builders or firemen? Sure, there are a few exceptions to the rule but in general all I see around me are little princess girls dressed in pink with bows in their hair. The first thing we find ourselves saying to little girls is how beautiful they look. We compliment them on their appearance all the time. I like your outfit. Your hair looks pretty. I love your shoes. You’re so pretty. So of course girls grow up thinking this is what society wants them to be like. How they should act. This is how they’re expected to present themselves. Play down the brain and play up the beauty.
One of my favourite songs is Lily Allen’s ‘Hard out here for a bitch’:

You’re not a size six, and you’re not good looking.
Well, you’d better be rich or be real good at cooking.
You should probably lose some weight, cause we can’t see your bones.
You should probably fix your face or you’ll end up on your own.

It’s all about how hard it is for women to succeed in a world where they’re expected to act and behave in a particular way. And if they don’t fit into that model of ‘perfection’ then they may as well retreat to the deep darkness of the forest and slowly rot away and die. I hear you Lily, it is hard out here for a bitch!
I could go on and on about what’s wrong with the way society expects little girls and women to be, but what I really wanted to talk about is boys. How about we put just as much energy into educating our boys. We’re all about teaching girls to stay safe, being comfortable in their bodies and having the right to say no. However, much less conversation is had with our boys. I feel it’s so much more important that we educate and raise our boys in a way where they will grow up to be respectful husbands, boyfriends and fathers. Teach them that just because a girl is dressed in a particular way doesn’t mean she’s asking for anything. Teach them to be the man that says ‘No, that’s wrong’ rather than the boy that follows the pack. We need to let them express their sensitive side. Let them cry. Let them talk. Let them see that a real man is one who treats a woman as an equal. A real man never hits a woman. A real man will not take advantage of a woman who is vulnerable. A real man will see that a woman is so much more than just her body.

Showing young boys images of women in bikinis and asking them if they think these girls are pretty is not productive or necessary in my view. It’s almost like we’re teaching them that this is what they must enjoy and this is how women must present themselves in order to be seen as attractive. Girls need to be skinny and pretty with long hair and boys must be sporty and love to drink. What happens though when your son hates sport and loves to dress up and perform. Or what about if your son doesn’t like to be a rough and tumble boy and loves nothing more than cuddling up to read a book. Does that make him less male than a sporty jock? Unfortunately, in some people’s eyes – yes. They’re afraid of raising sons to be kind, compassionate and caring. These are all adjectives that people often associate with girls, not boys. Boys are described as strong, tough and fast. Young boys are bombarded with stereotypes of what a man is all the time. Stereotypes that they feel they need to subscribe to in order to be a man.

I disagree. I think the only way we can keep our young women safe is to raise our boys right.

1)The strongest role model for a young boy is the same sex parent or close relative. A child will learn so much more by what he sees rather than what he hears. Be a great role model – treat women with respect and your boys will grow up to do the same.
2) Don’t encourage male stereotypes if they are not already evident in your child. Not all boys have to know how to throw a ball. That’s OK. Don’t push it. Don’t make them feel like a failure.
3) Celebrate their interests. Whatever they may be. The only obstacles and stereotypes they will encounter are the ones we put in front of them.
4) Encourage their sensitive side. It’s okay to cry. Boys do cry. Women love men who cry.
5) Let them talk. As boys grow up they stop talking – to their parents, to their siblings and to each other. Keep the lines of communication open. Let them know they can talk to you any time about anything. Don’t judge them. Just listen.
6) Educate young boys about stereotypes. Talk about why certain advertisements show women in their underwear. Discuss issues such as pornography and how that is not always what a real woman looks like or behaves in the bedroom.
7) Allow young boys to experiment. Let them choose their outfits, the music they want to listen to and the toys they play with. They know who they are and all we can do as parents is help guide them along their way.
8) Above all teach them kindness and respect for everyone – especially women.
I’m certain women would have an easier journey through life if they weren’t constantly bombarded with all these impossible expectations put on them by men and society in general. Let’s educate our boys to accept and love women as they are. Let’s raise our boys to become decent men who will protect a vulnerable woman instead of taking advantage of her. Teach boys that women are their equals and not their playthings. I think if we all do our part we can change things. Let’s not sit back and complain – let’s do something. I’m doing my part to raise real men – you can too!

* Chrystal Psaltopoulos is a freelance blogger and collaborator and community manager at THEMANROOM. You can read all her blogs at www.chrystalovevintage.wordpress.com