I remember when my husband and I first started talking about having kids. We had been married a few years, and the pressure from family and friends was mounting all around us. Whether it was a realization of my age or our succumbing to pressure, we had a “sh*t or get off the pot” conversation before I turned 30.
When we did get pregnant with our first, we talked about how we wanted to raise our kid(s) and how we would feel about having a boy or a girl. I knew immediately how I wanted to raise a girl. As a minority woman, I felt like everything was stacked against me. I had to fight so many stereotypes (and still do!), and I knew how much harder I’d have to work at everything to achieve equality. So of course, I’d want a girl to feel empowered, equal, strong, smart, capable, self-motivated, etc. I would teach her sports and math and science and engineering and building and creating and to feel embodied. I was not going to raise a pampered princess who got swallowed up by society’s pressures.
Of course, we ended up with two boys, and I remember feeling like, “What now?” The feminist movement in America is strong. But where does that leave our boys and men?
I think some “boy” things must be in their genetic makeup. The ability to make anything into a weapon. The fascination with their own member. Fart jokes. The need to run and punch and test the law of physics. I didn’t teach my boys any of this; they found them on their own. (Okay, so maybe they got the fart jokes from me.) They seem to explore the world physically in a way I haven’t seen among most little girls.
And then I think some other traits should be cultivated before they get squashed by society. My older one is incredibly sensitive and empathetic, and I find that to be among his best qualities. He is kind and loving and protective of his little brother. I can trust them to be together on the playground without my constant watch because he makes sure Bear Shark isn’t getting hurt or being left behind. When he saw his classmates struggle with their letters and numbers, his teacher said she found him helping and teaching them, while neglecting his own work. He cried when we had to cut down a mesquite tree that was a danger to our house. “That was my favorite tree!”
My younger one is daring, physical and agile. He’s punchy and a jokester and has some wicked Power Rangers fighting moves. He also has a sympathetic response to others’ emotions. If he sees someone crying, he’ll dip his head to the side and say, “Aww… don’t cry. I’m here. Why are you sad?” When he saw a homeless man, begging for money at an intersection, he said, “He doesn’t have money? I have money. I can share. It’s in my room.” He’s only 2 1/2!
I hear in social media all the time about the “wussification” of America. Most of the time, it’s from the white majority telling minorities that offensive jokes are not a big deal. (Insert major eye roll.) But, I also hear it a lot in reference to yoga as a growing trend. What does that even mean? That to be emotionally intelligent is a sign of weakness, especially among men? What is ironic is that being awake and aware and present within your own mind and body is a damn hard thing to do and requires incredible strength – emotional, mental and physical. It requires deep examination of yourself, the deep and vulnerable parts you don’t want anyone to see.
Most of the time, the slow, quiet yoga practices are THE hardest to handle because of the vrtti (aka crazy chaos) in our own minds. It is difficult to shut that out. It is difficult to not give up or give in when things are hard and you are not only feeling unbalanced and awkward but also your mind won’t be quiet. Likewise, it is much easier for bullies to call people “overly sensitive” or “thin skinned” than for them to face their own mental demons and examine their inability to have compassion for others.
Do I want this softening and sensitivity for my boys? Absolutely. Being hard is EASY for either gender, so I don’t need to teach them that per se. The exoskeleton I grew to survive childhood as a minority and a female was pretty thick. No one had to teach me to toughen up; there are enough memories of rude and offensive moments to do that job on its own. Instead, it took heartbreak and courage and vulnerability at major milestones in my life to open back up and invite a humbleness toward humanity.
If my husband and I encourage love, compassion and bigger hearts for our boys, they should be on their way to being true modern men in what I hope is a more understanding, enlightened America than the ugliness we see today. The only “wussification” I see happening is among those who are too emotionally weak to open their hearts to others’ suffering. They build their little wall and call others names to protect their egos and self-made labels. Perhaps they need our compassion more than anyone else.