He says if the song had the same lyrics but was about boys, everyone would say it was sexist. My answer? “You are correct, sir.” And so begins the argument. He doesn’t understand why girl power songs are OK. Ultimately, I think he doesn’t understand why girl power itself is OK. He is truly, honestly, offended.
This is a kid who has been to more than one protest at the Texas Capitol. He and I engage in women’s rights-centered political discussions all the time. He enjoyed several detentions this past school year for opening his big mouth to talk about Big Things in a variety of classrooms where it was not the time or place for opening one’s big mouth. He stayed up with me watching Wendy Davis and Leticia van de Putte eviscerate hypocritical politicians.
And yet, he thinks girl power is kind of bullshit. It makes him angry. He thinks it’s unfair. He completely doesn’t understand Title IX and why it’s important. I know he’s only 12, but I can’t help but feel that I’m about to have my Progressive Parent Card revoked unequivocally.
I’ve been trying to explain glass ceilings, and elbowing your way out of second-class citizenry, and hidden patriarchal norms, and #yesallwomen, and various feminist viewpoints, but he is not.buying.what.I.am.selling. He sees his best friends going off to schools that are only for girls. He is not allowed in girls-only book clubs. He had a huge misunderstanding with his school about lacrosse and why only the girls had a team (that turned out to not be true, but he was livid for a few weeks). He is getting this perception that girls get special treatment, while boys are left to sink or swim. I’ve tried explaining that really everyone is left to sink or swim, and that, while some things have changed and are still changing, it’s still a man’s world, and it’s okay for females to rise up against this so that they can have an equivalent shot at success.
I’ve been trying to explain to him that it’s not that girls don’t get a fair shake (though they often don’t), it’s that girls get a different shake. A lot of times (in fact, I could argue the majority of the time) that unfairness, that differentness, isn’t even on purpose. It’s built into society. So, giving girls a safe place is not unfair, it’s not anti-male, it’s a way to build them up so that when the world starts to knock them down they have more airspace for falling and righting themselves. It’s balancing out the shake.
He doesn’t see it, though. He is a white, middle-class male, who is growing up feeling slighted and undervalued when his mom and sister shout Beyoncé lyrics in the car.
This is when I start to wonder, is he feeling this way because he has been brought up to believe the sexes are equal? Does he not understand girl power because to him, girls and boys have equal rights and opportunities? When I argue my own point, am I actually, in a horribly ironic, 180-degree flip trick, teaching him that women are second-class citizens?
Obviously, I don’t want him to start thinking that women really are second-class citizens and that’s why Beyoncé and Sara Bareilles and Katy Perry sing the songs they do. (Side note: Please don’t get me started on the confusing conversations I have with my 8-year-old daughter about the words in these songs versus the perception of mainstream beauty—jeez.)
But also, if my son accepts the status quo, he’ll never realize he’s been swallowed up by the social norms that dictate so much of women’s lives. (In obvious ways and in ways we ourselves don’t even realize sometimes.) I’m damned if I do, I’m damned if I don’t, and I’m afraid I’ve damned myself for even trying.
What’s a mama to do? I don’t want to be raising the anti-feminist version of Alex P. Keaton. I don’t want to discount the progress made by the feminist movement. I don’t want to downplay all the maddening anti-woman bullshit that is still out there, and frankly, getting worse every day. But most of all, I don’t want my son to grow into a man who resents women because he thinks they have had unfair advantages. I want him to understand he is part of a generation that can work to change all of this, but that nothing will change if he resents Beyoncé and girls-only book clubs.
I fully admit to him that nothing is fair, for anyone. But how can I make him see that even this unfairness is unequal?
It’s hard out here for a mom, y’all. And it’s even harder out here for a kid. Or maybe just for my kid. Sigh.
A version of this article appeared on the author’s blog Haiku of the Day.