Mothering a white male

I feel tremendous pressure as the mother of a son – much more so than I do as the mother of a daughter. Because my son is a white male.

I hate how loaded those words are. We all know (well, a lot of white males don’t really get it, obviously) that there’s the life white males live, and then there’s the life the rest of us live. There are a few vocal white males out there (Matt McGorry, for one) who are doing what they can to shift the world order, but for the most part, they are shoveling against the tide.

Thing is, if you put enough shovels together, you might actually get somewhere. I want my son to pick up his own shovel.

My daughter has her work cut out for her. I will do my best to teach her how to get along in the world, let her know she has my undying support, and then get out of her way. But with my son, I am also trying to inoculate him against all the crap he is going to hear his whole life. Be a man, not a [pick a derogatory term for female anatomy]. Don’t cry. Don’t feel. Show no weakness. If you want something, take it. Anything feminine is inferior. Anything not-us is inferior. All the BS we all grew up with.

I’m increasingly sensitive to things like slut shaming – even more than I was when I gave birth to a daughter. Because it’s more than just judging a woman for how she dresses. It’s the dirty looks and whispers when I breastfeed in mixed company. It’s school boards getting bent out of shape when a little girl wears a certain style of sundress. Even supposedly harmless slang, like “boob tube,” infuriates me now. Not because of the message it sends to my daughter – I really think she can hold her own. But I don’t want my son buying into that garbage, and I don’t want him to have to unlearn it later on.

Right now, my son is a feminist. He sees no superiority in his white male status, and no inferiority in others. Last weekend, he shyly played with a little girl in a store. He thought no less of her for her skin color, her gender. He just saw that she was being nice to him. The rest will be taught to him in time – by his family, his playmates, his teachers, the media. White men, and white women, and men and women of color – all will teach him these things. Not because we all buy into it, but because we’re describing the world in which we live.

Well, I’m saying he can do better. I can do better. We can do better.

I am one voice against the cacophony. My shovel – that of Mother – is large now, because I am the center of his universe. But that won’t always be the case. (Mothers of sons get short shrift once those sons are adults. Well, mothers of white sons, anyway.) So I am starting young, and I am starting firm.

When I talk to my daughter, I am telling her how the world is and how to succeed in spite of it. When I talk to my son, I will tell him how the world thinks, how it is wrong, and what it could become if we let go of those presumptions, stereotypes, and misconceptions. It’s a complicated tangle of issues, and I’m still not entirely sure of what I’m doing. But I must try. For him. For all of us.


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