I am a mother of boys. Better known to some as a DMOB (defensive mother of boys) as opposed to a SMOG (smug mother of girls). Yes, these terms really do exist. And yes, over the years, my boys have meant that I have learnt to have a multitude of apologies up my sleeve and leave the keys in the car for a speedy get away. They weren’t nicknamed “the locusts” for nothing…
I know, and any self-respecting parent knows, that the sexes are different. These differences are largely innate and not learnt. I have tried to do my bit over the years and provide my sons with a gender neutral upbringing. They have all worn pink and largely continue to do so; we had a token doll and pushchair for them to wheel around when they were toddlers – although admittedly the doll ended up buried in the garden somewhere, possibly without its head….; I had several battered books in the Rainbow Fairy series knocking about that they happily read; three of them did ballet and for a brief moment one of them might even have had some Nureyev talent even if football and rugby won in the end. The problem is that no matter what you do – men really are from Mars and women from Venus and you can only paper over this fact for a limited time before the cracks start to appear. Boys are just drawn to mess and noise and things with wheels; they are only interested in make up if they can use it to draw on the wall; clothes are just items to be thrown in a stinking heap on the floor and rarely, if ever, washed; and they have the uncanny ability to make a weapon out of just about anything…it’s mind-boggling.
My boys have taught me many things over the years that, being female, I had no idea about; not least that a two-finger bacon-slice or a head butt can actually be an expression of love and that there is no worse crime than an empty fridge.
I can accept this and more but, being in an all male household, it is up to me, and only me, to teach my boys that they are no smarter or better than the women they might meet on their journey through life. This is a tough one, especially in the light of recent “pussy-grabbing” comments from on high and David Davis’ inappropriate remarks about Diane Abbot. If the highest echelons of our society still hold misogynistic and inherently sexist views how are we to teach our kids’ generation to be different?
So I found myself recently trying to explain the idea of male privilege to my older boys.
Male privilege is the inherent advantage men have in our society simply by dint of being a man. This is more than boys just being stronger than girls, although I have made a point of telling my boys that male sperm and male foetuses are actually weaker than their female counterparts (hence more males are miscarried, stillborn etc) – got to get some balance in there somewhere… Don’t get me wrong, I am not a rabid feminist: being a mother of boys I see that the emasculation of boys has the potential to be a problem all of its own. But male privilege exists and is impossible to deny.
“When I leave my tennis club late at night on my own and walk to the car park,” I explained to the boys, leaning against the kitchen cabinets one night after supper. “I stick my car keys out through the fingers of my clenched fist and make sure I don’t walk too near to large trees or walls?”
The boys eyes widened. “Why?”
“Because I have to be prepared in case someone jumps me.”
My eldest frowned. “Why would anyone want to do that?”
“It happens.” I paused. “These are the things girls have to think about. All of the time,” I continued. “They have to be switched on enough to avoid the carriage with a bunch of rowdy men on the late train home on a Friday night. If they are walking home in the dark and see a man approaching on the same side of the road they most likely will cross to the other side.”
“It’s not that bad, surely,” one of the boys said.
“Worse,” I said. “I learnt pretty fast when I was commuting into the City to make sure my back was against the partition glass in a packed tube. Can’t tell you how often I had my arse felt up or pinched!” Their mouths fell open. I continued, the wind in my sails now. “My nickname at work in was the ‘corporate Rottweiler’.” I ignored their sniggers. “Just because I wasn’t scared of speaking my mind in a roomful of men. A bloke would have simply been called ‘assertive’. And I had to change my name when I got married. You won’t have to.”
One of them shrugged. “So?”
I changed tack. “How often have I heard one of you say something like ‘you throw like a girl’?”
“Well, you definitely catch like one,” laughed one, nudging his brother.
“See,” I said. “Right there, that is male privilege in action.”
“No, it’s not. Girls just can’t throw.”
“Not at all. Think of the England women’s cricket team. They can all throw in from the boundary. The difference is girls are generally not taught to throw like boys are from an early age, that’s all.”I stopped to let my words sink in. They both looked sheepish.
“Yeah, maybe you’re right,” one of them mumbled.
“Look at it this way,” I said. “Which one of us is allowed to show our nipples in public without any repercussions?”
They shifted awkwardly on their feet and I could see that my words had finally hit the mark.
“So what are we expected to do about it?” My eldest asked.
“It’s not really about what you have to do,” I said. “Although, I expect you to always make sure you walk your female friends home or drop them off in a taxi first. It’s more about what you shouldn’t do.”
“How do you mean?”
“Don’t joke with your mates about how great so and so’s boobs are. Don’t laugh at a girl who gets cross with you and ask her if it’s the wrong time of the month. Little things like this, on their own, might seem pretty harmless, but they perpetuate the idea that women are inferior to men. Try and treat women with respect and ensure your friends do the same, even when there isn’t a women in the room. Make sure…”
“Is this the sort of respect you mean?” Growled my eldest son, interrupting me. He bent down and threw me over his shoulder in one swift movement.
“Put me down,” I shrieked.
He sniggered and spun me round and round, his collarbone hard across my hips.
“Stop,” I yelled. He ignored me and the floor rushed past. “Stop, or I’ll throw up.” I thumped his backside with a clenched fist. The hoots of his brothers washed over me. After a few more revolutions, he threw me onto the sofa and they all piled on top of me, pinning my arms and burying me in their musky scent. Their fingers probed for my ticklish spots, feeling round my knees and digging up under my ribcage, until I could no longer stifle my shrieks of laughter.
I confess. I begged for mercy, repeatedly. Not my finest moment, for sure.
Sorry girls…I tried…they are all yours now.