I usually just scroll right past shared links and "inspirational" stories on Facebook, because I'm very suspicious of attempts to inspire me, but for whatever reason (actually, because I was trapped in the car with a sleeping baby and nothing to do), I followed this link to a story of a single mom, raising three boys. I thought "Hey! I'm raising two boys, I'm sure I'll find this relevant/amusing/to be a good waste of time". It was all three up until the final paragraph when I got to add "rage inducing" to the list.
You can read it yourself but the gist is basically a bunch of moderately amusing anecdotes in the boys-are-dirty, their-bathrooms-are-filthy vein, mixed with a few other gender stereotypes. Cliche but fairly inoffensive (unless, I guess, you believe it is possible for a boy to be clean but I guess that's a discussion for another day).
And then, as the gently amusing post wraps up, there's this:
"No doubt raising three boys as a single mom has it challenges, but to my surprise, I think I have the overall advantage. The truth is, as the mother of three boys, I feel blessed to only have to worry about three penises in the world. Mothers of girls need to worry about ALL the penises in the world. So buying Goober by the case doesn’t seem so bad after all."
Boom goes the dynamite. Cut to: A scene of me ripping my computer screen off, throwing it in the air, blowing it up with a bazooka and then lighting my house on fire.
As a mother of boys who also happens to be a woman, I am so sick of this ridiculous, sexist bullshit about sex, sexuality and consequences that gets thrown around like it is completely reasonable, acceptable and aw-shucks adorable.
Seriously, read that paragraph again, reflect on how many times you've read/heard similar things and then try and think about what the fuck that even means.
Here's what I've managed to work out:
"Mothers of girls need to worry about all the penises in the world."
Penises cannot be controlled. They are free agents, acting of their own volition, completely divorced from the boys and men who are endowed with them. Therefore it is the responsibility of girls and their mothers to dodge them at all costs. Make no mention of the sexual agency of girls in the exchange. It is not relevant.
mother of three boys, I feel blessed to only have to worry about three
penises in the world"
Penises act alone. There are no other sexual organs to worry about! Mothers of girls must act with constant vigilance to prevent penises from approaching their daughters but mothers of sons must only worry about their son's own penises.
I guess you could argue that if your concern is preventing the dreaded s-e-x then mothers of daughters could just worry about their daughter's vaginas, and mothers of sons could worry about their own son's penises and then everything would be cool, but as we know, penises are roving maniacs.
(And listen, I know it's a leftist cliche to throw out the word "hetero-normative" but hello.. there is a chance that you MIGHT have to worry about all the penises in the world even if you have only sons. I'm blowing your mind, right?)
My boys are way, way too young for me to be worried about their future sexual relationships, but I do worry about the understanding they glean about their role in male-female interactions through this kind of casual sexism. How many times do you hear Dads of little girls joke about scaring off boys in high school? How many times do you hear the same joke in reverse?
Boys and girls should be equal participants and equally responsible in sexual relationships, and these cliches shift the burden of responsibility, making boys hapless pursuers controlled by their irrepressible biological urges and making girls gatekeepers, protectors, and ultimately the party saddled with the burden of any unpleasant consequences.
When I had one, and then another boy I will admit that I was a little disappointed because part of me felt like raising boys is the less exciting path. Boys are boys, easy peasy (ha!). Having a girl seemed like an opportunity to shape a little mind to explore life outside of the norms imposed on her. The further into ushering my babies into little-boyhood I get, the more I realize how stupid that thinking was.
Here's how I'd re-write that final paragraph:
"No doubt raising two boys has it challenges, but I'm hoping that along with other parents of my generation, it's an opportunity to raise them up into loving and respectful men. The truth is, as the
mother of two boys, I feel blessed to be able to encourage them to handle all of their relationships, sexual and otherwise responsibly and respectfully. I hope that all of the mothers of girls out there do the same."
Sure it's not as pat, and it's a bit cloyingly idealistic, but it doesn't make me want to torch anything.