Friday, June 1, 2018

Thoughts on Raising Boys in a Women's Power Era

"Read it again!" she said, as we closed Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls. Even though I consider myself an intelligent person, I had only heard of roughly 25% of the women in this book, and would have happily re-read it. "Do you want to?" I asked my son. "No." he said flatly, and walked out of the room.

It's an incredible time to be a woman. With decreasing pay-gaps, #MeToo movements, more women in higher education than ever before, and increasing acceptance of and equality for women in the work-force at every level, it is a great time to be a woman. And, it is a great time to raise a daughter.

But, it is a hard time to raise a son. With lowering male education rates, white males being almost the sole perpetrators of mass gun violence, and the (justified) exposé of all the fallout caused by male privilege, it is a hard time to raise a man. Especially a white one.

I am raising both.

And over this past year, I have become increasingly aware of a massive gap in the feminist movement. A gap that, I think, is significantly contributing to the crisis our boys and men increasingly face.

Simply put, in the push for women to have it all (of which I am a firm supporter), we have not pushed for men to have the same.

Women are encouraged to pursue careers, have families if they wish, be bold, speak up, adventure, wear whatever they please. Women are allowed to be emotional, love cooking, have a good cry, and be driven. Speak up. Shatter glass ceilings. Increasingly, women are praised for leaving their traditional roles of care-givers, home-makers, and child-raisers in order to pursue a career, run for office, or disrupt a male-dominated status quo.

And so it should be.

But, and this is a huge BUT, men are not afforded the same limitless, blow-the-walls-off-your-gendered-expectations environment.

Men are still praised for being career-driven, strong, stoic, leaders, innovators, and confident but they are not praised for taking on traditional feminine roles of care-giving, home-making, self-care, and child-raising. More significantly, they are not praised for demonstrating traditionally feminine emotions like excitement, fear, enjoyment of their own beauty, sadness, tenderness, compassion, or grace.

Until we start valuing all components of what it is to be human, both the traditionally feminine and the traditionally masculine, we will continue to undercut huge swathes of our population.

The era of the 1950s wife and husband roles is gone, and I doubt it will return. But our perpetuation of those gendered stereotypes, and especially our elevation of masculine traits, continues today, even in twisted feminist movements.

If all we're doing is encouraging women to take on traditionally male roles, characteristics, and traits, but not encouraging men to take on traditionally feminine roles, characteristics, and traits, we're simply perpetuating the elevation of masculinity, but with a fashionable purse over it's shoulder. To truly accomplish equity of genders, we have to honor both the traditionally masculine and traditionally feminine - regardless of the gender of the person who manifests it.

What does the current elevation of the masculine look like from a modern parenting perspective? It's pervasive.

I can find legos in blue and pink. I can find soccer balls in blue and pink. I can find Spiderman and Wonderwoman costumes. I can find Luke Skywalker and Rey costumes.

But I cannot find dolls marketed for my son (they come in pink boxes, and are in the girls aisle), even though he loves to play imagination games.  I cannot find art kits for my son (though he makes a mean lanyard). I cannot find a cooking set for my son (though he adores sweets in a way I didn't even know was possible, and I'm sure would love to make them).

And yes, of course, I can get around all of those things, and I am. But no matter how hard I work to show them a counter-narrative, the message to both my children is loud and clear: certain traits are allowed for women and not for men.

And those are the traits we need most of all to maintain the heart of our humanity. Traits of tenderheartedness, perseverance, compassion, gentleness, empathy, resilience, and yes, even fear and especially sadness.

I can find book after book after book for my daughter modeling all of those things. I cannot find those books for my son.

It is easy to find books for my daughter about girls modeling innovation, leadership, strength, warriorhood, fierceness, bravery, courage, and other more traditionally masculine traits.

But in fact, and even more shockingly, I cannot find an equivalent of even those traits for my son.

While I can find countless magazines, books, and shows that elevate the wholeness of humanity embodied in female characters, I cannot find it for my son. I cannot even find masculine characters modeling only positive, traditional masculine traits of strength, leadership, and courage - unless those resources are also laden with dominance, oppression, and violence.

Her books are Bedtime Stories for Rebel Girls, I Dissent: a story about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Fancy Nancy Detective. His are Captain Underpants, Big Nate, the Bad Guys, and Farticus.

I cannot find age appropriate books for him that model the traditionally feminine or positive masculine. I cannot find role models in age-appropriate music, television, or sports who embrace men taking on the traditionally feminine.

And so my husband and I are piecing it together, and valiantly trying to show him that just as much as his sister is allowed to do it all, so is he.

Friends, our children, especially our boys, desperately need this counter-narrative. And they need it modeled through more men. We all do. We need it modeled through men who cry, who are tender-hearted, who love care-giving, diaper-changing, and who sometimes feel so afraid or so excited.

And ladies? We have to honor them for it and make space for them to fill.

I hated it the first time my husband told me he was afraid. I wanted him to be my  protector. But he did not hate it when I said I wanted to go back to grad school and needed more help with the kids. He stepped right in.

When he cries, I still sometimes find myself instinctively chuckling, uncomfortable at a man's tears. When I rant about politics, religion, or economics, he engages and tells me he loves my mind.

When he said he loved babies, at first I teased him, "how cuuute." Then we had babies, and he ran laps around me in patience, ability to soothe them, and enjoyment of their gross noises. When I said I needed to go back to work, he said, "do it."

When he didn't stand up for me when another man made a suggestive comment about my body, I turned to him, "why didn't you defend me?" I asked, upset. "You wanted me to fight for you?" he asked. "You don't need me to do that. Besides, I'm not a fighter. You are."

Ladies, we have so much work to do in allowing our men to also fill all the space we're rightly asking to fill ourselves.

And men - this is on you, too. Please stop denying your "feminine traits." Please stop mocking your brothers who show those traits unabashedly. Take a note from women who are confidently stepping into careers, while still raising families, being politically involved, and finishing every week with a bar of chocolate and a good cry. Fill the space - all the space. There is actually enough space for us all.

That's feminism.

It's not my gender above yours, or my gender is allowed (fill in the blank) but yours isn't. Feminism, real feminism is simply this: we are all valuable, we all hold equal weight, and all positive traits are of equal & essential value, regardless of the genitalia of the human who houses them.

And no, we don't have to individually do it all. But collectively we do, and gender needs to move aside in the conversation. Women can be strong, tenderhearted, and dislike babies. Men can be compassionate, leaders, and have a skin-care routine. What has to stop is the labeling of characteristics in a punitive way based on the gender of the one that embodies whatever trait it is (ie - gentle men being 'softies' and assertive women being 'bossy'. Would you call a gentle woman "soft", or an assertive man "bossy"? Probably not).

Our children are watching, and our girls know, without a doubt, and will increasingly know: they can do anything. But our boys don't. And it's showing - in increasing violence, suicide, depression, and risky behavior. Our boys are lost, because they don't have a space to fill.

But there is so much space to fill. There is so much need for strong, compassionate, wise, gentle, brave, assertive, patient, confident, self-loving, and humble leaders and role models.

And I really believe we can do it. And I really believe, one day, it won't be about being "a man" or being a "a woman", it will be about being "a person."

Our kids are growing up, and in a decade from now, they'll be a part of the voting block, in two decades from now, they'll be a large contingent of consumers and drive the economy, and in three decades from now they'll be our political, economic, and spiritual leaders. Who are we raising them to be? What are we teaching them about the value of others? Of themselves? How are we modeling it now? Their future, and ours, depends on how we intentionally answer that question - in both word, and in action.

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if you have any resources you've found that elevate all of the traits we need as humans, especially resources for boys, please send them my way!

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ps - while exceptions can be found to almost every statement I made in this article, I intentionally chose to speak in broad terms in order to simplify the point. I know plenty of women who make space for men, and plenty of men who fill that space well. I know there are resources for my son, a dear friend recently shared a long list I can't wait to check out (and will likely post here), but they were much, much harder to find than for my daughter.  I also acknowledge the large percentage of people who still hold and value traditional gender roles and traits; even though it is not my own, I respect this perspective when it is agreed upon by all involved in those systems (and I have plenty of people in my life, who I love, who would fall in this camp).

No article that addresses gender norms and touches on issues of racism and systemic oppression can be of any reasonable length and still incorporate all of the different perspectives, influences, and factors at play. I did my best to highlight what felt relevant to the main point, and sincerely acknowledge there are other voices that also need to weigh in on this conversation. My hope is that we begin to learn from those we disagree with, honoring difference, and reducing the threat-response we feel when someone says we are wrong (I'm still working on all of that, too , and I really hope you'll join me if you haven't already :)).

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one reader astutely noted traits like "integrity" and "honesty" weren't listed in this blog and wondered why (thanks for the question!). Many life-giving characteristics were left out because they, in my opinion, have not traditionally been ascribed to one gender and were subsequently not as suited for the primary point of this post. Both men and women have, and continue to be, praised for things like integrity, honesty, generosity, self-control, wisdom, and more.

We absolutely need these traits continually embodied by all people.







Saturday, May 12, 2018

to work. to live. to love.

I grew up with wide open spaces, coming and going, some of my most vivid memories in transit. Looking out car windows, airplane windows, train windows. Still to this day, every time I fly, I press my forehead against the glass, listen to my favorite music, and almost always cry. Nothing exists 30,000 feet up, it's all blank sky and blurry green, blue, brown earth. All going towards something and leaving something (and always someones) in the disappearing horizon. A literal in between of spaces and even time.

I remember watching for border lines as a small child. Where did this country end and the next begin? It boggled my mind when I couldn't see them. Location was such an essence of human communication: where are you from? Where are you going? Where do you live? But through few square inches of opaque plastic, none of that seemed to really matter.

We fragment the Earth, staking places, giving her names, drawing our identities. She blends, smudges lines, scarred by our enforcement of our boundaries, and still always crossing them with her life and beauty.

As many of you know, our family lived for a year in Kenya in 2012. We moved there truly believing we would raise our family there, just the way I had been. But it wasn't meant to be, for a variety of reasons (which you can find digging back in the archives of this blog).

Living in Seattle has been an immensely important season for us, and one we are so excited to continue. We love the Northwest, we love our friends, our home, our neighbors. We love what we do each day and who we do it with. We have grown into adulthood here, wiser, more content, more sure of who we are and what we want our days to consist of.

But living here has been a daily acceptance of a loss as well. No matter how perfectly Seattle fits us, it remains incapable of filling the part of me that will always belong from somewhere else. Certain times are harder, when the weather and daylight hours are almost the same as Nairobi's, when there is a smoky smell in the night sky that floods me with memories of Limuru and Kawai, when someone asks, "where are you from?" and their eyebrows always raise when I say, "I grew up in Kenya and now I live here."

So many times I've heard people say something along the lines of "we'd do something different, but we're just stuck. It's too late for us now."

And so, as we've put roots down here, and truly relished in the constancy and belonging that only comes with time, we've also kept one eye to the door: how do we make sure we don't get stuck?

And so, about 9 months ago, when I saw a wide open window on my grad school schedule that coincided with the kids summer break, I approached my handsome husband (guys, seriously, he's like a fine wine...better and better with age). "I have an idea...I think we need to go somewhere overseas for at least 12 weeks."

The idea has morphed over time, and it's taken a lot of scrappy thinking, and at least a dozen things out of our control falling into place, but it's finally come together. And here it is: from early July to early September, we will travel through Costa Rica, Colombia, and Peru. The hubby will work in each country for a couple weeks, collaborating with local partners and working remotely on larger projects. The kids and I will spend that time exploring, enjoying one another between two very full grad school years, and learning Spanish.  I'll also continue to develop a research proposal I'm working on, and continue working my Beautycounter business and running our Airbnb from a distance (words cannot express how thankful we are for my flexible income sources; we truly couldn't do this trip without them).

We'll get about a week to vacation in each country, and will do a variety of things, including meeting up with friends in Costa Rica, visiting Machu Picchu in Peru, and going to the coffee belt in Colombia. We'll stay in Airbnbs, hotels, bed and breakfasts, and maybe even a hostel or two.

Why are we doing this? Because we want our kids to know this one simple thing: the whole world is a viable place to work, to live, to love. 

In a hundred years from now, our borders will have done one of two things: fortified and caused deeper scarring, or blurred even more as we finally embrace with our Earth already knows - we are all part of one sacred thing: life.

And so we're off. To show that blurred life to our children, to learn from it ourselves, to do our small part in making it more whole, peaceful, and equitable.

Is some part of me scared? oh absolutely. Is there risk involved in what we're doing? you bet. Have I cried over this trip yet? Nope, but I sure will.

But we've never once wondered: should we really do this?

Fear is worth facing. Risks are worth taking. Tears are worth crying.

This trip has not come together easily: there have been so many conversations, going back to the drawing board over and over, thinking it wouldn't happen, canceling reservations, spreadsheets upon spreadsheets, phone calls to teachers, doctors, principles.

But we never let go of the dream when we hit an obstacle. Because we know one simple family value we hold, and one we'll pass down to our kids as best as we can:

the world is worth seeing. people are worth knowing. dreams are worth pursing.

 I hope it's contagious. I hope our trip inspires you. I hope you see it and catch the thought that says, "no way we could do something like that." and I hope you turn that no into a different kind of yes. It might look totally different than what we're doing. But I hope you take risks, I hope you dream big dreams, I hope you blur lines.

Because I know, from 30,000 feet up, sometime over the past 30 years, I've flown over you, my face pressed up against the window. And do you know what I saw? You. Making up the blue, green, brown blur of Earth. You. Borderless, beautiful, full of possibility. You. making the whole world a place to work. to live. to love.



Thursday, March 15, 2018

Concentric Circles

"What are you doing, babe?" I whispered sleepily as you tiptoed towards your daddy's dresser at 6:15am.

"just grabbing the hair gel before I make breakfast burritos."

I smiled and rolled over, but couldn't stay in bed much longer, pulled out of bed by the thought of you making breakfast burritos. Sure, there was a bit of concern regarding the eggs shells, gas stove, and cheese to egg ratios, but I mostly got up because I didn't want to miss it. I didn't want to miss my sneak peek into watching you grow from a boy into a young man.

Parenting feels a lot like driving through a series of tunnels to me. There are long stretches of monotony, sometimes feeling disoriented. And then suddenly, we burst into the light and the landscape is totally different.

Sometimes the new landscape isn't so friendly either - the topography of arguing, rudeness, and short-temperedness sometimes makes me wish for another tunnel. But other times, it almost takes my breath away.

I recently began to think of parenting as a series of concentric circles, with the center circle representing the youngest years of our life and the outside circles representing the years we fully become grown-ups. We start together with our children in the very middle, figuring out our small boundaries and fairly simple roles of engagement: you cry, I try to comfort. you cry, I cry, and then try to comfort. You laugh, I laugh. You laugh, I cry.

And eventually we grow to the edge of that small center circle and break through to the next. The thing I've slowly come to realize is that my children lead the break through. They determine when it's time to move from one set of norms in our interactions with one another, to the next.

For years, he wanted sung to while he fell asleep. Today, he rolled over and said, "ugh, not that song again."

For years, he needed me to squirt his toothpaste. Today, my toothbrush was waiting for me by the sink, toothpaste already on.

For years, she needed help with her socks. Today, she walked out of her room, dressed better than me, looked at my outfit and simply said, "nice, mom."

For years, she wanted coaxing and encouragement for the simplest of tasks. Today, I heard a thud in the other room - when I peeked in, she was picking herself up from the floor, "one handed cartwheels for a 5 year old! gotta keep practicing." and went straight back to it.

They burst through the walls of the concentric circles without much warning, and unless the way has been paved for them, they'll go into a free fall - taking me along. It turns out, I'm meant to lay the foundations for the next state of independence and exploration before we get to it. But too often, I forget and we enter free fall. Or, more likely, I miss that you've broken through into the next phase of being your own person and I'm still trying to hold you to the place you have now outgrown.

This feels especially poignant today as I stood hand in hand with middle schoolers at my kids school participating in the #enough walkout to honor the 17 students and faculty who lost their lives a month ago in Parkland, and to voice their simple request, "we want safe schools."

Whether any of us saw it coming or not, the youth of this country have burst (and in some ways been forcibly evacuated) into the next phase of their development. No longer only concerned with college applications, snapchat filters, and 80s-throwback hightops they're also advocating for their own physical safety and feeling a strong sense of responsibility.

I listened to a one of these students today read a poem written by a classmate called "bullet proof teen." It was powerful, eloquent, and one line hit my core (and I apologize to the author for any errors in my recall of exact wording): "we are bloody flesh but we must be kevlar. we must protect the little boys and girls behind us."

They were talking about my little boy and my little girl. I looked around the heart-shaped gathering of tomorrow's leaders, todays self-identified children and change-makers and saw on their faces a willingness to die for my 6yr old and 8yr old who walk the same halls as these teenagers. I stood in silence, feeling the tears at the back of my throat, facing the justified slap those words probably never intended to bring, accepting the fairness of the question it implicitly asked "why weren't you there to defend me?"

We're in free fall, dear ones. We missed it, you and I. The grown-ups, the decision-makers, the money-spenders, the ones intended by creation's design to protect, to prepare for, and to welcome those younger than us as they keep on through life. We missed building the stable footing for our young people and we are all feeling the free-fall, but none more than our youth and their parents.

So what platform will you build today? Are you building a platform that is actually a plank, only wide enough for you and your dear ones? Are you walking on a gated platform that leads to nowhere but more separation from the rest? Or are you using multiple materials, aware you have a critical piece of the platform and the stranger next to you does too?

My husband and I were 2 of 3 adults standing on that heart-shape with students today. We went to simply be there, not to speak, not to control, but just to be.

The rest of the adults present (most of whom were teachers) stood back, taking photos. I truly believe this was out of respect to our youth and their pain, but presence is more powerful than distance in easing pain and absence is not empowerment. My husband talked to two of the MS organizers afterwards, to thank them for their leadership and allowing us to be there. They replied, "thank you for being here, and thank you for being close."

They're paying attention - those sleepy, tousled heads of your own children confidently making breakfast burritos, and those frontal-lobe developing fierce leaders shouting at our elected leaders through loudspeakers. They're paying attention to us, they want us close, and they've burst through to the next circle. I'm right there with them, doing everything in my power to build the platform we should have built years ago, and also looking to what the next circle is and how we can build that platform too.

We can't afford another free fall as a country and unity is the only way to avoid it. Find a stranger, make a friend. Find an enemy, make peace. Find a resource, build a platform. The circle is getting bigger, and I need you next to me because it's too much pain for one person or one generation. But together? I truly believe we have all we need.



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