The other day, my husband and I took our three boys to a thrift store. It was a good trip because we scored a rip stick and a pogo stick for under 10 dollars.
As we were walking down a clothing aisle, however, we noticed a shirt that was prominently displayed and embroidered with the message, “Anything boys can do girls can do better!”
I knew that my sons noticed the shirt, and I didn’t hide my frustration from them. To them, it was “just a shirt” but to me, it was another example of a trend that I had noticed everywhere. Somehow, in the efforts to empower girls, it has become socially acceptable to tear down boys, and I’m getting damn tired of it.
The thing is, I am all for female empowerment! I am well aware that for generations girls have grown up hearing degrading messages about “running like a girl,” and have had to endure harassing comments about their bodies or physical appearance (I am female, after all). These injustices infuriated me, even at a very young age. I am thrilled that society is finally standing up to these sexist messages, but I don’t think that we have to do it at the expense of the male gender.
Consider TV and movies today. It has become very popular to feature a female heroine who is always highly skilled, intelligent, and courageous (all good things). The problem is that the male characters are often portrayed as completely clueless, incompetent, and almost doofus-like.
Robert Barron, of PBS fame, referred to this phenomenon in an article he wrote titled, “The Trouble With the ‘You Go Girl’ Culture” as the “Homer Simpsonization of men.” He describes how the father in the Simpsons cartoon is portrayed as “stupid, boorish, drunk most of the time, irresponsible, comically incompetent, and childish,” whereas the wife (Marge) has all the brains, competence, and moral responsibility.
Why do we feel that the only way to bring girls up is to tear everything “boy” down? Isn’t it possible to empower girls and boys in media?
One movie that I feel accomplishes this feat is Wonder Woman. Obviously, this movie features a very strong female lead (invincible, really). What I liked about it beyond that, however, is that the man in this movie holds his own. He is not weak or inept. He is strong, capable, and charming — all without undermining or “needing to save” the heroine.
I have also noticed the trend of “bringing down boys” in sports. For far too long, girls were not encouraged to play sports or were told that they weren’t as good as the boys, and that was not good for anybody. But have we pushed things too far the other way?
My husband and I were out to dinner with friends the other night and they mentioned that their son’s soccer team kept getting “killed” by the girls’ soccer teams they were playing against. As in, not even scoring one point.
Girls are tough soccer players, no doubt, but their son felt like the girls were “ramming” him and that he couldn’t ram them back. The boys on his team would stand around, clueless, while the aggressive girls ran circles around them.
As a “boy mom,” I am very sensitive to the messages that are now being directed at boys, and I don’t think it helps anyone to push the narrative that girls are “better” than boys in movies, sports, or anything else — the same way that we shouldn’t say that boys are any better than girls.
I’m doing my best to teach my boys to respect all people, no matter how they identify. My hope is that they would treat everyone the way that they would want to be treated. The world would be a better place if we placed value on all life and genders, without tearing anyone down to do it.