Today’s conversation with my nearly 8 year old son:
Me: Let’s invite Taven to your birthday party.
Son: No, Mom. Don’t you know I have a huge crush on her?
Me: Well, yes. That’s a good reason to invite her. Plus, she can play with the other girls.
Son: I have a crush on every girl I see.
Me: That makes you a boy. (Then to DH) Doesn’t it, honey?
(husband nods in agreement)
Son: I know why girls hate boys.
Son: Because girls want to BE boys.
Me: Where did you hear that?
Son: From a movie. It’s actually about dogs and cats. Cats hate dogs because they want to be dogs. (Bolt)
I’m not sure why I was shocked by this conversation. Perhaps it’s because it was so bizarre and yet it hit so close to home. When my son said girls hated boys, I didn’t challenge his premise, I just asked how he knew it. There is something about an androcentric world that makes women feel like the defective ones, like the left-handed person in a room full of right-handed desks (yes, I’m also left-handed). Also, I was amazed that my son could take a quote about dogs and cats and apply it to boys and girls as a social commentary that reflects much of my experience growing up at school and at church.
I’m torn between my gut level instinct to embrace the notion that “girls hate boys because they secretly want to BE boys” as my truth and seeing it just as the way immature responses to discrimination can often look from the outside.
For example, when I was in 9th grade, our local TV station came to the school the morning of a football game. I was hanging out with some friends from my volleyball team and the camera crew came up to me and asked me if I was excited about the football game that night. Instead of smiling and cheering for the football players I said something like, “No way! football sucks, volleyball rocks!” It was probably not my most shining moment, and I remember getting a lot of negative feedback from teachers (the football coach, of course), and other students. They thought I was a poor sport and that I was jealous of the football team.
Even at the time, I knew I should have expressed school spirit and supported the football players, but I was deeply upset that as a girl on the volleyball team, I didn’t have an equal opportunity to be highlighted for my efforts. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the language to articulate my pain at the discrimination, so I ended up looking like I hated boys because I wanted to BE one.
And perhaps I did, especially at church. The boys in my ward appeared to have a privileged existence. They got to go camping every month, advance in the priesthood which included many meaningful responsibilities, all the while holding the upper hand when it came to male-female relationships. It appeared to be quite the sweet gig. Despite their crotch-scratching, poor social skills, and farting noises, there were definitely times I wished I was a boy. It looked like everything was so much easier for them. Because of my inner conflict I was pretty mean to the boys in my ward as well. I’ve had a lot of regret for my behavior over the years, but I’m just now beginning to see that my acting out was a way to express my anger with the sexual discrimination that I felt.
In the end, I’m glad I had this conversation with my son because it forced me to dig up these uncomfortable memories of my adolescence and examine my behavior in a new, feminist light. This examination has allowed me to be more charitable to myself for acting badly during the most awkward stages of my life. It also helped me focus more closely on the way I teach my three sons about how to treat girls, even the ones who appear to hate them. Perhaps my experience as an angsty teenage girl will come in handy as I mother three sons. I can only hope so.