By Jean Lomas-Hamilton of this slow process
The comments started when she was two weeks old.
“Now, little one, you watch out for those boys because we know what boys are like …”
“She’ll NEVER date! Her dad will make sure of that.”
“It’s too early for her to be hanging out with boys. She’s too young.”
Let me reiterate: My daughter was two weeks old and so were the boys referred to in the comments above. Two weeks old, and already their sexuality and how they were expected to express it was a topic of concern.
We all think it’s cute to talk to and about babies like they’re little adults, but these kinds of comments just make me feel … icky. Because this is how it starts. This is where we lay the foundation for sexism. For rape culture. For all those things we want to change about the world but can’t seem to figure out how.
Setting up infant boys as dangerous predators and infant girls as defenseless prey. Using phrases like “lock up your daughters” to tell little boys they’re meant to be sexually aggressive and little girls that they’ll need their fathers (or grandfathers, or uncles, or brothers) to protect them from boys who are “only after one thing.”
Even before we’re old enough to understand the words, we’re told who we’re expected to be and how we’re expected to behave based on outdated gender norms that may not even apply to us when we’re grown. Is it any wonder, then, that so many people act out these expectations later in life without stopping to consider what might be wrong with that?
If we want things to change, we need to change the way we talk to and about our kids—right from the beginning. With that in mind, here are 7 responses I’ve found helpful when faced with comments like the ones above:
1. “Maybe it’s the boys who’ll need to watch out for her in a few years.”
2. “Maybe the girls will need to watch out for her.”
3. “Wouldn’t it be great if children were raised with a sense of not only their own body autonomy, but other people’s, too? That way no one would have to ‘watch out’ for anyone.”
4. “I actually hope she does date if she wants to. And has amazing sex when she’s ready. That is how we got her, after all.”
5. “Why would you assume that baby boys are dangerous?”
6. “I think it’s important for her to have friends of all genders.”
7. “Um. They’re babies.”
All of these have worked for me, but the last one’s my personal favorite. Because as cute as we might think it is to frame children in this way, they’re not predators, and they aren’t prey. They’re babies. Can we please let them be babies, just for a little while?
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About the Author
Jean Lomas-Hamilton has a husband, a baby, a cat, and a lot of thoughts. You can read about them all on her blog, this slow process. Jean’s writing has been featured on Scary Mommy, BlogHer, and, in her younger days, more than one public bathroom wall. She’s also on Facebook and Twitter … so there’s that.