Motherhood + Balance (Thoughts on Raising a Boy)
We watch the Disney Channel a lot, and by a lot I mean that it's really the only channel Tad enjoys watching when he has the chance in his busy schedule to sit in front of the television. One thing I enjoy about the Disney Channel is the consistent fluidity of their commercials; instead of throwing brands, toys, and seriously annoying infomercials at you, they have decided to showcase educational activities, vintage songs and shorts, and one that always makes me tear up... the 'Dream Big, Princess' Campaign. The entire campaign is set to "inspire girls and kids of all ages to realize their ambitions." The series started in early February 2016 and so far has highlighted new themes each month such as kindness, friendship, adventure, and exploration. Inspired by award winning director and writer Jennifer Lee of Frozen and Wreck-It Ralph, who wrote this letter about how she followed her dreams, which not only revealed that Frozen will soon have a sequel and a Broadway script, but that young girls and boys have written to her saying how Anna and Elsa have inspired them. The commercials are quite moving always featuring the song "Hall of Fame" by The Script and young girls who are "big dreamers" often portrayed as sports stars, scientists, mathematicians, and explorers.
Okay, I like it, it makes me start to tear up. Why? Because I connect with their struggle. As a woman, I am a feminist, and I know that throughout history women have struggled with being allowed to chase their dreams, especially when those dreams involve careers where men tend to dominate. In the face of adversity, women have struggled but they have also strived and overcome a lot of the oppression. You don't need me to tell you that I am a woman for women... but each time I watch the commercials a question pops up in my mind... what about the boys? Before I had my son, if I had come across this campaign, I probably would have been silently cheering. Because women deserve this. Right?
Right. So here's my dilemma: why do I suddenly feel the need to make everyone equal? While I watch these commercials, I find myself having this internal debate. Why are girls the only ones that are allowed to dream big? Well, because men have always been allowed to dream big! But boys shouldn't be pushed aside; my little boy is watching this. He is watching, and he needs to learn that women are just as powerful as men, that they mean as much as men. But will he notice that boys are not included? Will this make him shy away from his dreams? Well, only if you let him be shy... Why can't boys be inspired by princesses, too, and be included? Where are the princes who face adversity?
You see, I have this argument with myself constantly, and I don't know what the right answers are. Over the past few years, as I began reading more lifestyle blogs with mothers who were raising young boys, I began to notice that many of them were forging new paths. Their boys were not raised with gender stereotypes. If he wanted to wear pink shoes and a shirt with Ariel on it, then he could. If he loved watching Snow White and going to dance class, then he could, and they weren't going to tell him that it was wrong or that it was something just for girls. I knew that if I ever had a son, I would raise him that way. That his choices would be exactly what he wanted, whether they expressed masculinity or femininity.
Now that my son is here, I find myself still practicing that belief. And I notice a lot more now than I might have when someone says, "with the way you dress him, I thought he was a girl" or "bonnets are for girls" or "he shouldn't be playing with a doll". While walking through the apple orchard quite recently, we passed a small family with a boy about a year older than Tad, who had decided to pick up rocks from the gravel road and start throwing them. The father said, "Don't throw rocks, there are little girls around," looking directly at Tad and then was quick to add, "Or boys. I can't tell." Yikes. I can name so many things wrong with that statement, one being, "Mind your own business about how I dress my son" and two being "So what if there are little girls around? How about don't throw rocks at anyone?"
Have you seen the movie The Intern? There's an interesting line in it by Anne Hathaway's character Jules Ostin that goes, "So [girls] were always told we could be anything, do anything. And I think guys got, maybe not left behind, but not quite as nurtured, you know? I mean, like, we were the generation of "you go, girl." We had Oprah. And I wonder sometimes how guys fit in, you know? They still seem to be trying to figure it out. They're still dressing like little boys. They're still playing video games ... How, in one generation, have men gone from guys like jack Nicholson and Harrison Ford to... take Ben, here. A dying breed. You know? Look and learn, boys. Because if you ask me, this is what cool is."
She's referencing to Robert DiNiro's character who dresses himself in a suit for work everyday and, iconically and surprisingly to the rest of the cast, a handkerchief to which he explains is for women when they cry. There are some things that I don't necessarily agree with when it comes to all of this. It's such a complicated topic, and I think I struggle with it because I have the ability to understand both sides, all sides! Like, yes, the women of my generation were raised with a "You go, girl" mentality. Doesn't that take away space for men to step in and be the heroes of a woman's story? I think so. So then why would we need a man like Ben's character who carries a hankie for women? We've taught ourselves to carry our own hankie. And I totally get that, but where does that leave young boys? Are their lives going to be greatly changed, their masculinity diminished, and their heroism squashed? Because men need to learn that they're not the hero of a woman's story, but of their own story. Can a princess teach them that; can they be inspired by a woman to chase their dreams?
With all of those questions and insecurities racing around in my head, I begin to narrow down what my real questions are. An adults' perception greatly succeeds a child's perception, at least that's what I believe. Tad is too small to really take in the "Dream Big, Princess" campaign, but I am curious as to what an older boy might think. Does he watch that and think of a sister, friend, or close relative? Or does he think of himself? Would a young boy ever look at a princess's journey through adversity to achieve her dreams and think, "I can achieve my dreams, too, one day because she did."
And that kind of scares me. Why can't there be boys included in this campaign? I wonder how that would change it. I think I might like to see that, to see a boy stating outright that he was inspired by a woman to achieve his true potential. Maybe that's just me fighting for a little boy with big dreams. What do you think?