Family, Self

Mothers, Please Teach Your Sons That Feminism Is For EVERYONE


Tara Kennedy-Kline wrote a controversial article on recently declaring that, as a woman and mother, she does not (and will not) support feminism because "as long as being feminist means suppressing masculinity, it cannot possibly be called a 'quest for equality'." She goes on to say, "I do not believe that opposite sexes can ever be completely equal, as there are very specific limitations for each gender." Wow, now that's a limited mindset if I've ever heard one. I've listened to plenty of people espousing the virtues of traditional gender roles, but I've never heard anyone claim that each gender suffers from very specific limitations. What kind of limitations, exactly? Kennedy-Kline doesn't say (I'm assuming she's referring to women not being able to pee standing up. But that's because she's never tried this.)

Kennedy-Kline would have you think that all feminists are man-hating monsters who want her young sons to have their genitals snipped, but she is gravely mistaken. We feminists don't just want freedom for ourselves and our daughters, but for Kennedy-Kline and her husband and sons as well. What she describes as "chivalry"—opening doors, carrying heavy things, paying the bill on a date—is really just courtesy. I've written in the past about how kindness is the new chivalry; it's a moral imperative that people of any gender or persuasion should feel compelled to (and socially encouraged to) take action on. Kennedy-Kline is right that individuals do have their own unique strengths and weaknesses: physical, emotional and intellectual, but those don't always fall as neatly in line with traditional gender roles as she seems convinced they do.

Arguing that her boys should pay the bill on a date is pretty benign, though, and actually makes sense given the fact that men are still consistently paid higher than women in the same jobs. Where Kennedy-Kline loses me completely is when she argues that women who don't want to be catcalled on the street think her young sons are predators (what?), or that the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter wants her boys "to know that the fact they have a penis makes them as a threat." Kennedy-Kline's world view comes into crystal clear focus when she writes: "Teaching my boys that they are somehow wrong, perverted or bad if they look at what is being flaunted in front of them is also making the job of parents a thousand times harder to have that conversation about steering clear of "easy" girls. And let's not assume for one second that there aren't plenty of them."

This is more of the same tired old "slut shaming" double standard that has been shoved down women's throats for years. I'm not going to angrily chastise Kennedy-Kline for having drank the cultural Kool-Aid on this mindset, but rather, try to speak to her as the mother of a 9-year-old girl, mom-to-mom. Here goes:

Tara, I'm sorry that you were taught that having breasts means that you are flaunting your sexuality. Unfortunately, you're not the only woman of mothering age who had that pounded into her skull by an unforgiving patriarchy. I'm sorry that so many women have been shamed into believing that having sexual desires, like every human being does, makes them "easy" specifically because they're female. It's not true. I'm asking you to kindly stop looking at young girls like they are inherently manipulative sirens hoping to lure your young sons with their sensual magic, only to ravenously devour them and then ruin their lives by crying foul, citing male perversion and threatening, sword-like genitalia. It makes me truly worried for girls like my daughter, who might one day run into boys like your sons.

By teaching your sons that women should be "ladylike, demure, and feminine," you're telling them that all women who have sex are easy because being ladylike, demure and feminine means never giving in to sexual urges, unless you're married. And even then, after marriage, if women are to continue to be demure, that means they have no physical agency, that they are not in charge of what happens to them (or their bodies). It seems to me, you might be teaching your sons that women are objects, not people. And I'm not okay with that. My daughter won't be okay with that, either. Because even at nine, my daughter knows that she is a whole person who has the right to exist freely and unencumbered by abuses and the unreasonable expectations of others. Of people like you. Your whole "limited mindset" is so steeped in patriarchy and so defined by being a second-class citizen, of course it makes sense to you that boys should "treasure, protect and admire the women in their lives." Women aren't objects to be treasured or admired. Women are people. And as such, we should be treated the way any person wants to be treated: with love, kindness and respect.

I know you think you know everything there is to know about feminism based on a cursory look at the progressive Internet, but here are some other hashtags that might help you find flaws in your logic. For example, check out the hashtag #DudesGreetingDudes. I think you'll see from the hilarious examples provided that men saying hello to each other and complimenting men they don't know feels completely ridiculous. That's also how being greeted on the street by strange men feels to women! Or check out this article by Joe Randazzo who says that Twitter actually made him a feminist! He's a man! With a penis. And two kids. Two boys. Just like you. He writes, "It's hard, with hindsight, to understand how anyone could claim not to be a feminist. To do so is to state that you do not believe women are men's equals; that harassment is not a problem; that women are the sexual property of men; that women do not deserve fair wages; that they should be forced to wear masks and hover in doorways. Yet, I remember how little I understood not so very long ago, and I think I'm a pretty open-minded person."

I understand that you're fighting an uphill battle here, Tara, because you, like so many American women, are bombarded with the messaging that being a feminist means that you hate men, and of course you don't hate men. You have two sons and you love them. I understand that. Because you love your sons, I hope you'll teach them that the toxic masculinity that we Americans love to celebrate in movies full of violence is harmful to men and women alike. No one benefits from the sanctioning and celebration of male aggression. Not women — and not men, either. Toxic male aggression leaves boys and men feeling lonely, like shells of people. It leaves boys feeling like they can't cry and men feeling like they can't be vulnerable, that they must always have the answers and always be right. Here's a video about that you might want to watch. See if it informs how you want to raise your boys. Maybe it can help you expand your limited mindset and join us, male and female feminists, in creating a world where whole people can love one another without harmful constricts, shame and gender "limitations". My daughter and I will save you and your sons a seat on the bus to the future. It's been a fun ride so far.