Why Are We Still Raising Misogynist Boys?
Updated: May 1, 2022
Generations of parents have a lot to answer for
Photo by smpratt90 on Pixabay
"Mommy, why do little boys hate girls so much?" I asked.
"I don't know," she replied. "That's the way they are."
"But why?" I persisted. "Larry doesn't like me 'because I'm a girl.' I can't help it. I was born this way. And what's so terrible about being a girl anyway?"
I'd reached that logical conclusion based on the many conversations Mom and I had had regarding how wrong it was to judge someone by the color of their skin. She didn't want to raise racist children in 1960s Florida.
"I don't know," she replied again, frustrating me. Why didn't she know?
"But doesn't Mrs. X teach him it's wrong to hate girls? She is a girl!"
"It's not my place to tell Mrs. X how to raise Larry," Mom explained. "But a lot of little boys are like this."
Larry was my first-ever friend, and the only one my age in our small neighborhood. Sometimes he was nice, and sometimes he would hit me, run away, and laugh at my impotence. I'd complain to our mothers. Mrs. X grew tired of the tattling. "Hit him back," my mother advised.
It never occurred to me to do it the next time he came within striking distance. I wonder if Larry grew up to be an abuser because his parents taught him it was okay to hit girls.
Not all little boys were pint-sized jerks. Randall was a first-grade classmate with a sweet Southern drawl who I could always count on to be a decent human being around me, or other girls. Bill, a boy in my neighborhood with whom I frequently played, never gave me crap. I remember his hyper-masculine older brother teasing us once as we sat in a tree together.
"Two little lovebirds sittin' in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G, First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Nicole with a baby carriage!"
Years later, I suspect Bill might have been gay. He had all the earmarks of a future femme: Limp-wristed, talked in a higher somewhat feminine voice, and never ever had a problem with girls.
My cousin, on the other hand, was a case study in how parents could do a better job raising their sons.
He wouldn't let me into his treehouse because of his strict No Girls Allowed policy.
I complained to my aunt, noting we'd been up there together the previous summer. She went outside and told him to let me in but he resisted, telling her absolutely no girls allowed. She relented.
I appealed to my mother next, but she didn't want to intervene, because it wasn't her place once again.
"Why doesn't Aunt Y tell him to come down, that he can't play there either until he changes his mind?" I asked.
"That's what I would do," Mom said, "but I'm not Aunt Y."
How different would the world be if parents, but especially mothers, who really should know better, crushed baby misogynists like little entitled bugs?
Why does male entitlement persist?
I never understood why Mrs. X and Aunt Y allowed their sons to get away with misogynist behavior and attitudes.
They were girls, weren't they? Why would they allow their sons to be mean to girls when they were girls themselves? How did they not identify with my frustrations? Perhaps I judge the Silent Generation too harshly. Betty Friedan wasn't even a household name yet, and full-time mothers had little time to read, especially tomes as lengthy as then-popular The Feminine Mystique or Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex.
We spend a ridiculous amount of time debating male privilege and entitlement. I get it with the Boomers and us early Xers: We were raised in less enlightened times, when 'misogyny' wasn't a household word and we wrote off most of it with 'Boys will be boys'. Few questioned why boys were such boys, and whether they could do better.
I have a harder time understanding why some young boys and men today - tail-end Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z - are still so entitled.
We've seen progress, for sure. If you keep your eyes open, know or remember your history and don't subscribe to self-infantilizing victim mentality, you see fewer entitled-feeling men walking among us. When I speak of misogynist behavior I refer to indisputable, harassing, abusive behavior. I don't count compliments, pickup attempts, random comments, and minor events touted as 'misogyny' by the sort of women who will always find an oppression narrative in every interaction with a man.
I don't see 'patriarchy' everywhere and I don't find it 'exhausting' to be a woman. I live in a sexist society, for sure. I'm well aware men are responsible for 90% of the violence in the world, and the people most at risk for violence by men are men.
Much of the Trumpian backlash we experience today is thanks to entitled men's last stand at preserving their penis-granted privilege in a world where too many Others--women, people of color, people of differing sexual preferences or gender identities--are demanding more equality, more power and more of the pie.
The older ones, I get it.
But why the younger ones? We live in a highly gendered society despite more recent attempts to reshape mindsets toward 'gender fluidity'. The male/female differences are still there, and always will be. The problem isn't that our bodies are different, but the values and constructs we assign to them.
Boys are boys, girls are girls, and anyone who doesn't fit either of those boxes is free to be whoever they want to be. The world sends many messages about how we're 'supposed' to think or feel, but gender expectations training starts at home with how parents treat each other, if there's a spouse or partner, and whether they allow toxic expressions in their children.
Anti-misogyny begins at birth. Just as my mother successfully strove to raise two non-racist children at a time when the Civil War was a mere century ago, parents can correct boys when they express sexist ideas or engage in sexist behavior, like with Larry's hit-and-runs.
The easy availability of violent porn may have plenty to answer for, but that's a discussion for another day.
So, I suspect, does the 'self-esteem' movement, where children were taught they deserve anything they want, and when parents were taught to treat children like mini-adults rather than the baby humans they are who need firm (non-violent) hands and adult guidance and restrictions.
They still restricted their daughters' freedom more than they did their sons. The unpleasant truth about the Ford-Kavanagh debacle is that Christine Blasey's parents didn't want her going to parties with boys and beer because they knew what might happen; young Christine snuck out behind her parents' back and learned they were right. She didn't tell, I believe, partly because she knew what her parents' reaction would be: To restrict her freedom further, not as punishment but to 'protect' her.
I keep wondering why we as a society keep allowing young boys and men free reign while restricting women in a manner bearing a passing resemblance to the not-so-benevolent 'protection' offered by the Taliban.
If women are in danger from men, restrict mens' freedom, not women's.
Porno sex ed
It's 2021, more than fifty years after shag-in-the-mud Woodstock, and parents still don't want to talk about sex with their children. It's embarrassing.
Where are kids learning, then, about sex, apart from the fairly sterile stripped-of-all-values-discussions in health class?
TED Talk: Peggy Orenstein: What Young Women Believe About Their Sexual Pleasure
It bothers me greatly to learn many parents still outsource the job to teachers and leave kids to learn about their sexuality and sex roles from a deeply disordered porn industry.
It's no wonder violent sex among young people is on the rise, as Nancy Jo Sales details in her exposé Nothing Personal: My Secret Life in the Dating App Inferno.
I don't damn working parents. Women have always worked, inside or outside the household, and had far less time to raise their children. Only since the post-World War II middle-class boom have mothers had the 'luxury' of staying home to raise children without copious help from relations and 'nurses' or 'governesses' (for those wealthy enough to afford them).
The mantle of responsibility isn't solely on mothers' shoulders, but ultimately, they're the ones who relate to misogyny the most. It's no longer 'boys will be boys.' Fathers will never fully understand what it means to grow up female, or how much they themselves got away with. Privilege holders are blind.
As the Angry White Man becomes the new face of hatred, we need to ask ourselves where they all came from. Why do they think they're entitled to women's jobs, women's lives, women's bodies? Why do they think it's okay to hit or even hate on girls? What if Mrs. X and Aunt Y had challenged her baby boy's misogyny more?
My mother raised a boy after me, and he's in no way a misogynist.
Then again, my cousin turned out okay too.
It's time to stop leaving it to teachers and porn to raise the kids. (Especially porn!) Most of all, rule the baby and teenage Brett Kavanaghs with the iron fist with which we insist on ruling our daughters.
There's nothing wrong with being born a girl. Time to stop punishing us for it.
This article first appeared on Vocal.Media in November 2021.