All women in public life have to answer the question, “Are you a feminist?” After becoming the first female campaign manager to win a U.S. presidential campaign, Kellyanne Conway drew that question in an interview with the Washington Post:
You don’t consider yourself a feminist?
I don’t consider myself a feminist. I think my generation isn’t a big fan of labels. My favorite label is mommy. I feel like the feminist movement has been hijacked by the pro-abortion movement or the anti-male sentiments that you read in some of their propaganda and writings. I’m not anti-male. One does not need to be pro-female and call yourself a feminist, when with it comes that whole anti-male culture where we want young boys to sit down and shut up in the classroom. And we have all of these commercials that show what a feckless boob the man in the house is. That’s not the way I see the men in my life, most especially my 12-year-old son. I consider myself a postfeminist. I consider myself one of those women who is a product of her choices, not a victim of her circumstances.
Her answer is typical from Gen X women who refuse to call themselves feminists, and I’ll wager a dime that most of those objections will center on women seeing themselves as products of their choices, not victims of their circumstances.
It is an excellent comment, very Margaret Thatcher-like, and forms the basis of my early feminist shunning. What if I chose a flexible career so I could remain at home when my children were young, my 17-year-old self wondered when older women scoffed at my plans. But while I am no fan of feminism as it is practiced, it is as a mother of a son that I’ve gotten downright angry.
What Feminism Says to Our Sons
Like Conway, I have a son and three daughters. My son is 13 and thus Conway and I have seen what boys endure in today’s society. Feminism as currently practiced lies to us and our daughters, telling us that our worth is tied to our career and our sex life. But it tells our sons they are worthless.
These realizations sneak up on us. When we have our baby sons in our arms, we do not connect that all those horrible things feminists say about men apply to our tiny sweet bundle. The first whispers start in nursery school. The need to have day care mean something more than child minding has sprouted testing for all manner of things, from scissor skills to sight reading. General rambunctiousness or later verbal and fine motor skills common in males mean that the boys fall behind before they even really start school.
Most of us can still shrug this off, assuming things will get better as our sons get older. Things don’t get better. They get worse.
In elementary school, when we drug little boys (and active girls) so that they all conform to our notions of the good little student — that is, the eager-to-learn little girl — the drugs seem to help, for a while.
The assumptions against men, however, are hard for a boy’s mom to miss when her child loses the look of a young boy and begins to look like a young man. In our household, this happened a couple of years ago. People started looking at my son differently. His sisters’ friends’ parents started hesitating about playdates — not because my son had done anything wrong. Just because he was a boy, and boys are threats.
Yes, Cultural Assumptions Matter
Society tends to think of all boys as budding little abusers and rapists. Really, someone even wrote a book on just that, to great acclaim. “Asking For It” by Kate Harding has 60-plus reviews and a 4.5/5-star average for claiming that boys grow up feeling entitled to women’s bodies and thinking that they can go for it whenever the urge strikes.
My objections are two: first, how in this day and age do we in America think this kind of blanket stereotyping is acceptable? Second, what happens when we assume the worst of our sons? If we insist on seeing them through base desires, then why fight those base desires? Be the monster they expect you to be. As I recall, that was one of the arguments feminists used about women’s confidence—that when we treat females as little women, they conform to our expectations.
Sometimes we mothers of sons rationalize that these expectations will not be a problem for our sons because we raised them right. We told them about harassment, sexism, and consent. Well, so did the mothers of sons who formed Families Advocating for Campus Equality. Their stories of basic due process violations are too many to link here, but this one is the latest I’ve seen.
The horror can continue after college. Talk to any mother who has watched her son lose contact with his children due to rather commonplace divorce results. As a media member of Leading Women 4 Shared Parenting, I have interviewed many of these men and a fair few of their mothers.
It doesn’t matter how we raise our sons. Cultural assumptions run against them, and eventually most of us learn this truth, sometimes the hard way.