I’ll admit it – before I had kids I spent a lot of time thinking about the kind of example I would need to be if I had daughters. I wanted to be sure they would know that the world was wide open to them. That I would be there to help them as they decided for themselves the path they would take in this world. Then I had two little boys.
Boys need strong men in their lives, right? My sons are blessed. They have a highly involved father, who is caring and intelligent. He is devoted to them, and makes every effort to be the best example he can be. They also had wonderful preschool teachers, many of whom were men – can you believe it? Amazing men who were kind and gentle as well as “rough and tumble”. They have two grandfathers, super cool uncles, and the list goes on.
Whew, right? I can relax? Seriously, I know better. Recently, though, the idea that little boys need strong women too kept coming to the front of my mind, insisting that I think about it and become a better example. I’ve had time this summer to read numerous blogs and articles that highlight the triumphs and troubles of the way our media portrays women. We’ve come a long way, baby. One of my favorite reads this summer (which will get a separate blog post) wasInk Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors – by Jennifer K. Stuller. I've also greatly enjoyed reading her blog, which includes her take on the "sexy geek" dilemna from this year's Comic Con. She raises a lot of questions that need to be discussed, and got me thinking.
While the way the media represents women is important – I don’t have a lot of control over what is out there. I can watch what my boys watch and teach them to question and be critical consumers of media. I can encourage them to read and watch media that show women as competent and whole. As a teacher, I go out of my way to find books that have competent women and girls in them for my students to read. Thankfully, there are a lot more choices out there than there ever have been before!
But really, the most important thing I think I can do is be the kind of woman myself that is my vision for our future. So - what exactly does that mean – for ME to be a strong woman? I used to feel a bit defeated. I’ve chosen a “typical girl” profession: I’m a teacher. I’m not a weight lifter, I don’t fix cars in my spare time, and I’m not really into sports. But do I really need to become “masculine” to be strong? The more time I spent thinking about it, the more I realized that I really don’t. I can be my own version of strong.
Courageous – it’s not about being fearless.
I’m not a risk taker. I tend to avoid doing things that I feel I won’t “get” right away. Honestly, it’s one of the traits I’m trying to train OUT of my boys! So, why do I keep doing it myself? I went to cub scout camp with my sons a week ago. Many of the dads there (and several of the moms) were working on a carving project. Yes, it looked hard. Yes, I probably would not have succeeded at the task the first time I tried it. I’ve never really used a knife – not even really for cooking. But instead of giving it a shot – just to see how far I could get – I didn’t try. Hmph. There’s a missed opportunity, huh? Looking back on it, I regret not having tried it. It’s time to start taking some of those risks, for my own personal growth and as a good example for my sons.
Competent – notice I didn’t say “perfect”
Competency requires dedication and practice, and that’s what makes us strong. Competency also gives us independence and confidence. Competency allows me to be proud of who I am. I can model both pride, modesty, and kindness to others- they aren’t mutually exclusive. I can’t be competent at everything, though, and that’s okay. That’s where I think the value of “interdependence” – which is often seen as a more feminine trait – comes in. My boys need to see that strong women are team players (as, honestly, strong men should also be). It’s not a lack of strength or competence to rely on others, as long as you bring your own strengths and talents to the team. I want my sons to see that our family is a team, and that my competencies are as highly valued as those of my husband. This example will – hopefully – help them to view other women and girls in their lives as competent members of their teams.
Caring – yes, this does make us strong.
Caring involves taking risks. When we open our arms to others, we risk being hurt or having someone take advantage. As a child, I was always more emotionally sensitive than many of those around me. Easily hurt, sensitive to criticism, it can be easier to build up walls. Easier doesn’t equal strong, though. Being a girl, my sensitivity was generally accepted as being “okay”. My sons, though, are also sensitive. It’s so much harder for them to see this as a strength, when the accepted mantra is that “boys are tough”. I think this is one of the most important reasons why boys need strong women in their lives – and that those strong women need to realize that being caring IS a strength. It’s time for me to accept that my sensitivity is part of my strength, and to value it as much as I value my intelligence.
Wow – this ended up a lot longer than I expected, and I think I still have a lot more to say. For now, I’d love to hear anyone’s thoughts on boys and strong female role models.