Here’s regular guest-blogger Julie (my wife) reflecting on how boys should treat girls, and why.
I’ve watched the sea change over the past few years, cresting in the spring tide of #metoo, and although there are bound to be excesses in any pendulum swing like this, I am thrilled to live in a time where the time is finally up for men to treat women as anything less than equals. I’m thrilled as much for the men as I am for us women.
Because living in the peculiar land that is South Africa, I’ve come to acutely appreciate that any prejudice we carry damages the bearer as much as it does the person or group prejudiced against. We are less human when we see anyone else as less than human. Given this, it’s as much a self-serving task to rid ourselves of prejudice as it is a humanitarian one.
Up to our eyeballs in small children (four boys and one girl), my husband and I believe it’s primarily our responsibility to shape the way they think about these kinds of things. About race and gender and prejudice in general. To offer them a way of seeing the world that will set them up to be more fully human as they value every other human they encounter.
Now, we don’t go out looking for moments to stand on our soapbox and preach to our kids – but moments find us – buried at the end of a bedtime conversation, or like today, after an angry outburst that unexpectedly erupted…
All of our kids were crowded around a board game on our bed when one of my boys lost it with his younger 5 year old sister – pushing her hard and causing her to fall off the bed. First, I sent him to the timeout mat (the bathroom) – knowing I was too mad to deal with him in a way that would be good for anyone. Then, I tended to Ivy to make sure she wasn’t badly hurt. Holding her close, I told her that no matter what she had done to illicit her brother’s anger, he had no right to use force in expressing that anger – no right to ever use his strength to punish her or make her feel small.
Then after a long few minutes of collecting myself, I went into the bathroom where her brother awaited. Big eyed and yet not very big at all. I sat down next to him and told him this:
“My boy, you are here because you pushed your sister out of anger – and it was ugly to see. It was ugly for 2 reasons:
The first, is because of what that kind of behaviour does to you. It hurts you as much as it hurts the person being pushed. Because your strength was never meant to be used like that. As a boy with big, strong muscles, you have a responsibility to use your strength to protect those less strong, to lift up those who may need a helping hand or to stand up against bullies. But when you use that strength to hurt others, especially those smaller or weaker than you, you become the bully. And that makes your heart grow smaller, not stronger. It makes you feel weaker and more angry on the inside. Because your strength was never meant to be used that way.
The second reason why what you did was wrong and ugly, is because of what it did to Ivy. Not just on the outside, but on the inside. When you suddenly erupted and pushed her off that bed, she learnt that she can’t trust your strength to protect her or stand by her. And if that happens too many times, she may even start to think that that’s just the way boys are, that that’s what she should expect them to do to her. Imagine if Ivy was to grow up and marry someone who treated her like that – who pushed her around when he was angry – would you think that was ok? Would you think it was ok if Dad pushed Mom around when he was upset? No? It would be terrible!
You are a beautiful boy – inside and out. You are growing up to be strong too. But you must use that strength to make others stronger, not to stand over them and make them afraid. That’s real strength – strength that will make your heart strong, not just your muscles.”
We hugged and he left to go and find his sister and say sorry.
I stayed sitting on that bathroom mat a while longer – amidst the empty loo rolls on the floor and the acrid smell of urine (four little boys remember), reflecting on how thankless, unglamorous and unseen so much of parenting tends to be. But perhaps, after more conversations like this, in bathrooms across the nation and world, there will be less #metoo’s in our future. That’s a glorious, noble and critical task we have before us, moms and dads.
It’s just another ordinary day, but with one more tiny thread stitched into the tapestry that is his story. And hers. And mine. Us three.
Also published on Medium.