Why the #boymom fad hurts girls and boys alike

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Image courtesy of Andrew Seaman.

If you haven’t been living under a rock this past year, you’ve probably seen the emergence of the #boymom movement.  I’m about to rant about why it’s harmful not only to girls boys but also boys.  Hear me out.  You may say “this is harmless and for moms who are trapped at home with boys all day”.  And I would encourage you to think about it a little differently.

Warning, warning!  I’m not a #boymom.  But even if I were a #boymom, I would be so anti-#boymom you couldn’t get me to stop responding to it on social media even more than I do now.  I also understand that not everyone uses #boymom in the way the hashtag is really intended.  Some parents of both sexes and gender-identifications of kids use it to just embrace that they have boys.  I get that.  I wish that was the normal use of this hashtag.

Instead, #boymom embraces the “Boys will Be Boys” side of life.  That annoying sentence that ascribes crappy behavior and gender normy things (being loud, dirty, and playing hard) to boy children.  Now, why is this an issue?

  1. It is harmful to assume girls don’t do this or aren’t like this.  My kid is loud, likes to get dirty, and is really assertive.  She’s fearless.  She’s physical.  She’s wildly independent.  And yeah, she’s super gross and wants to give unwelcome, sloppy mouth kisses.  She also is obsessed with building toys, dinos, space, and trains – along with horses.  What is this to say?  It’s to say that girls are not all demure, Barbie-obsessed, princess-ballerinas who sit quietly and listen to direction.
  2. It assumes all boys are somehow heathens obsessed with fighting one another and never sit and listen.  #boymom also suggests that boys can’t and don’t like typical “girl” things – dolls, dress up, princesses, etc. – and that there is something wrong with this.
  3. It further amplifies this “boys do these things, girls do these other things” and “girls play with these toys, boys play with these other toys” that I’ve talked about a lot in my gender roles series.
  4. It sometimes is really penis-centric.  I know it makes people uncomfortable to be reminded that while, yes, their boys may whip it out at uncomfortable times to pee at the park (I have seen friends deal with this and it’s both sucky and funny and you have my greatest sympathies), some boys do not have penises.  Trans children do exist and you may know some.  This seems to leave them and their parents erased from the record.

I think it’s a lot to put on a little kid to suggest that boys can’t do things that we typically ascribe to female gender norms.  Toxic masculinity contributes to an assumption that boys and men only have one acceptable emotion – anger – and this furthers beliefs about power dynamics and weird, gender-normy divisions of labor (my husband is a stay-at-home parent so this is patently false).  Boys deserve to grow up in a world where they are allowed to feel a full range of emotions.

And boys deserve to know that they CAN be in ballet or gymnastics or figure skating.  That they can love and be good at cooking or taking care of children and families.  My greatest frustration at times is my husband’s inability to cook.  Cooking is a vital skill, people!  Boys can also love horses.  Seriously, there need to be more boys showing in the lower level on horseback!  More of the top USEF competitors in the world are male than female – just watch Grand Prix show jumping.  Equestrian is a physical sport especially over fences or in something like dressage where strong arms and legs in riders are prized.  Gymnasts, dancers, and skaters are strong.  I say this as a lover of hockey who will probably get her kid in skating in a year or two because I think it will be fun for her.

Don’t get me started on how we should encourage kids to watch men *and* women’s sports.  My kid loves to root for our women’s basketball team.  The games are endless fun and the women’s team is doing much better than our men’s team.  I see a lot of girl parents taking their girls to these games which is so important.  But boys should see women playing just as much!  Let’s normalize the power of having women represented in sports!

Girls, too, deserve to be messy, physical, building toy obsessed humans.  I talked about how my gender performance as a child was often read “wrong” by friends and extended family.  It always felt like the elephant at the room around gift-giving holidays.  Who was going to give me a doll or a dress I definitely didn’t want?  Who was going to remind me that my attempts to “do” gender in a way my parents and I felt was appropriate was “wrong”.

I work in a male-dominated world in data.  I’ve been in a male-dominated field all of my adulthood but have been thankful to find female mentors and role models who bucked the trends.  However, more than half the time I get directed to talk “data” or API or programming with someone on or off campus, it’s a dude.  These dudes are cool, trust me, because we are all a little awesome and weird in our own ways, but it’s a reminder that I’m in the minority.  I think it’s healthy to express these things.  And when I attended a super-cool data conference in the fall and there were only 2 women panelists the whole day, you can bet I wrote this up in the post-conference survey!

#boymom isn’t going to improve our discussion of these gender norms.  It only reminds us that boys are “crazy” (another great pejorative term for the mentally-ill that I’ve seen used with the hashtag), dirty, crass, and loud.  That they are not good at sitting still.  And, reflexively, that girls are always to be quite, prim-and-proper, clean, and good listeners.  I have a really challenging toddler girl.  I can confirm that she causes as much chaos if not more than her male counterparts.  She does have female counterparts who are girls AND boys who sit quietly, listen, and will play nice and neat.  She also has friends of both sexes who like to play dressup and trains.

Kids shouldn’t be relegated to either.  #boymom just continues this false dichotomy of gender and sex.  And “boys will be boys” is harmful to boys in the long run as much as it also hurts girls.

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