My sons really like girls. They have since they were very little. They see them as perfectly acceptable cohorts, play-date mates, and partners in crime. Girls, especially older girls, sometimes think they are cute.
Little, at the age of 5, articulated his adulation for those who run the matriarchal society: “They smell nice and are soft and sometimes give me candy and are good at manhunt.” Little knows what’s good.
My older son, Big, is no different. He likes girls, and they like him. He is in 7th grade this year, and it’s a bit of an understatement to say that boys and girls are starting to understand some pretty critical differences between them. Big, who is the oldest in our household, (hence his nickname) sometimes hangs out with children who have older siblings, and he learns some things, let me tell you. So when he came home with some gender-specific smack talk, I paused to let him know that I was listening. Yes, the Girl in the house was listening and didn’t like what she was hearing.
“That wasn’t very friendly,” I said, after he tried out “Bros Before Hoes” and taught it to his younger brother, who, by the way, was happy to share what he had learned in 5th grade with his older brother, most of it involving “boobies”. This was becoming a conference quickly. I wanted to nip it, if you’ll pardon the pun, in the bud before it became a rally. I gave my youngest a Look then warned my older son to stop.
“What do you mean by that – bros before hoes?” I quizzed him. “You know, some girls can be psychos,” he said. “They want to date you, then they get mad and you have to buy them stuff to get them not to be mad at you and then you can’t hang out with your friends.” I held my tongue and decided not to tell him about my 12th grade boyfriend, who was so controlling and jealous that I had to hide when I was just hanging out with my own girlfriends in high school. Another story, but one in a long line of examples that not only girls can be “psycho”.
Instead, I just told him this: “Hopefully, Big, the girl who is lucky enough to be your girlfriend someday (emphasis added) will be your best friend and you will want to be with her. She’ll probably be pretty and cool – but she will not be a princess, right?” (I’m just checking. We have the No Princesses talk periodically).
Eye roll from Big. “Yeah, mom. But girls can be psychos.” “Hah! So can boys!” I one upped him in typical “I know you are but what am I?” fashion. Then I remembered that I am the adult. (It’s really no fun sometimes.)
“Seriously, Big. Cut the girl bashing. A lot of your good friends are girls and you could hurt their feelings.”
Another eye roll. If you asked him, I was making a mountain out of a hoe-hill. A few days later, Big came in from school and in a casual discussion with Little, busted out the C word.
Yes, that one.
The C – yoU – Next – Tuesday word. Cue glass breaking. Lightning bolts striking. Eclipse. Direful screams.
Everything stopped. In slow motion, I felt, my head turned and it was all Godzilla and Rodin. Screeeeeeeee!
Needless to say, there was turmoil at the kitchen table.: wha wha wha wha wha (cue Peanuts adult sound effects).
And then, a smirk from Big. And I had had it.
And once I was over being angry, I started to worry. Worry that my son was changing, that boy-dom was changing him, from the sweet little puppy that followed me around adoringly to a werewolf that couldn’t contain the moonlight madness and sprouted beastliness like stiff hair from pores all over. I worried, most of all, that Big would believe the hype about women from boys – and men -who didn’t understand or validate them and vilified them instead, and, as horrid as that would be for the girls, that he would ultimately be all the poorer for it.
That night, we drove to our guitar lesson. It was quiet on the road. Nothing but green lights all the way down the main street and more winding side roads before our 15 minutes in the car together would be up. My opportunity. I have started to realize that car seats are great places to have conversations with boys – no challenging eye contact, a captive audience, no judgy neighbors or family members to hear you, and if need be, distraction per the radio or passing scenery.
“Big, I need to talk to you today about the way you have been talking about girls and their parts. Particularly their brains and their vaginas.”
Vagina. The word hit Big like a bolt. He leaned into the car door, willing the side airbag to swallow him up.
“And since you keep bringing those parts up – in a really disrespectful way – I am going to tell you the truth about them, and you are going to listen,” I continued, mentally checking my speed and taking an inventory of the car doors. “First, it’s a vagina – not a synonym for a cat or anything that starts with C. When you talk about one, use the correct term. Vaginas are amazing creative forces…”
“OH MY GOD, Mom…” He was positively slumping, becoming one with the floor mat.
“Hey, YOU keep bringing it up, Big…so as the owner and operator of one, I am going to tell you to stop speaking disrespectfully of them. Everyone gets here on earth because of the vagina. It’s the way in, and most of the time, it’s the way out of a woman’s body. For everyone. “
“MOM! YOU ARE SO EMBARRASSING! I can’t believe you are saying these things!!” he moaned. But I had let the vagina out of the barn door, and there was no stopping it.
“Oh no, son. You brought it up and I asked you not to, several times. You ignored my request. You were disrespectful. So we are going to talk about the VAGINA now. People you love – who love you- have them. I have one, Grammy has one, my mother had one…and someday, you might want to get very close to the owner and operator of one. And no self respecting, cool, smart woman is going to let you get close to hers if she hears you talking about vaginas the way you have been recently.”
He was silent. He was thinking. He was desperately hoping I was done.
“So, Big, are we clear on this? Have I made my point?” Big nodded.
It’s been a few months and the girl part bashing has stopped. I am satisfied that I’ve struck a win for girls everywhere, no doubt, but the biggest win for me is that my son will grow up to understand that girls are people with some different parts but similar feelings, that they can be valid allies, perfectly acceptable friends and even mothers – women who want their sons to go out into the world and create rich, meaningful relationships with people, regardless of what makes them different from him.