Now listen up: What’s fair is fair. I’ve done my part in raising somewhat enlightened teenage boys. Now, Moms of Girls, it’s your turn.
For almost 19 years now I’ve been diligent in teaching The Heirs the proper way to treat everyone, women included. I’ve trained them to have respect for women without the patronization and condescension that men of my own generation can’t seem to keep out of their vocabulary and actions. I’ve taught them that, while certainly there are differences in the sexes, those differences don’t mean a thing in normal, day-to-day business and platonic social interaction.
The result is that it would never occur to my sons to make a sexist remark, not because they’ll get in trouble with all the women who might hear, but because that sort of rhetoric doesn’t automatically pop into their brains. The exception would be Heir I in his button-pushing mode. Heir I has raised the practice of button-pushing to an art form and it is truly a spectacle to witness unless, of course, you are the key pad in which case you just want to smack him.
To his credit, Heir I makes a wonderful boyfriend – loyal, caring and supportive (he has an equally sweet girlfriend, I might add).
The Heirs and I had those uncomfortable, yet necessary, conversations regarding respect and fair treatment in their relationships; that a woman is free to wear what she wants without worrying that some testosterone-drenched jerk is going to interpret it as “asking for it;” that “no” means “no;” that the goal of the evening is to enjoy the company of someone you like and not to exploit another human being.
Most importantly, though, I’ve taught my boys to cook, clean and do laundry.
This last was not so much an attempt on my part to ensure The Heirs accept equal responsibility for housekeeping as to ensure that when they leave home they are still able to function in society without spending all their money on take-out, maid service and the cleaners (even if their meals tend to be heavy on the Kraft Macaroni & Cheese). That this would make them the ideal mate only occurred to me when I realized the mothers of girls are not passing on the same skills to my sons’ future partners.
Perhaps the mothers do this out of some feeling of retribution against a generation of men that has explained away their laziness with, “I can never hope to do it as well as you because I’m a guy.” (What? Being a guy means your eyesight is so inferior that you can’t see mold growing at the bottom of the shower?) Or maybe they had mothers who were so dedicated to being the Always-Needed Mother of Them All that they themselves were never taught these basic survival skills.
For whatever reason, Moms, at least teach your daughters how to turn the stove on. My kid may have to work late one night and I’m afraid she’ll starve to death.
Then there are the mixed dating messages circulating among girls. Dirtman and I taught the boys how to act on a date by forcing them to take me on a date when they were 11 or 12 years old. (I would have had them observe how Dirtman acts on a date, but I really didn’t want them to learn to walk 5 mph faster than their girlfriend and slam doors in her face.) They learned to open doors and pull out chairs for their date, to introduce her to people they might meet, etc.
“She keeps yelling at me,” Heir II complained after one of his first dates. “She says that she’s not a cripple and can open her own door.” One girl raced him to the door so she could open it for herself. Another refused to go through a door he’d opened.
What is it with the door?
On the other hand, whereas I’ve taught The Heirs not to view women as sexual objects, the girls they’re viewing are treating themselves as sexual objects – with their mothers buying the wardrobe. I taught them to keep the sexual innuendo out of their language and girls around them are constantly firing off references to male genitalia. They’re almost forced to counter with their own reference but, then, that would be sexist, wouldn’t it?
In all fairness, I’ve never found anything offensive about the girls The Heirs have had friendships with. But I also know that the process is far from over.
Maybe someday when they open a door, there will be a woman walking through it who will simply say, “thank you.” If she can make Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, I’ll be a happy mother.