It’s a Boy!

Today’s book is "It’s a Boy: Women Writers on Raising Sons," a collection of essays edited by Andi Buchanan, author of Mother Shock.

This is part of her blog book tour, in which different bloggers have been writing about the book each day this month.  It’s been great fun seeing everyone’s different perspectives on the book, from Tertia writing about parenting boy-girl twins to Dawn, who asked Andi some good questions about balancing writing and parenting.  (Go to Andi’s blog for links to everyone who is participating.)

I’m going to start by stealing a question from Shannon, of Peter’s Cross Station, who asked "When I first heard about the project, it sounded like yet another opportunity to make stereotyped claims about gender in children. How have you been able to avoid falling into that old rut?"  Andi replied:

"Well, as I said in my original call for submissions, my whole idea with this book was to refute the gender stereotypes about boys and girls, and to explore whether or not those stereotypes really exist in actual boys and girls through essays by thoughtful writers. For the BOY book, I was specifically looking for pieces that questioned the cultural assumptions we have about boys — whether the essayists ultimately embraced the stereotypes or rejected them was not as important to me as whether or not the writers wrestled with them in the first place. So the BOY book has pieces about a mother being surprised by a son’s love, since what she experienced with her son ran counter to her expectations of what a boy would be like; about a transsexual mother grappling with how to raise her son in the face of everyone’s attitude that her mere presence tips the scale in the direction of him being gay; about a woman nurturing her son’s desire for soft, pretty things, even though a part of her wants to protect him from the harsh, messy world that will surely not be so kind; about boys who defy stereotypes, boys who fit them, and the way mothers adjust their expectations to fit the reality of who their sons are."

There was much in these essays that found me nodding my head in recognition.  I think my favorite essay was "Becoming a Boy"  in which Robin Bradford writes about how her son led her to discover the joy of "boyish" things that she had never done as a girl or woman.  Somewhat to my surprise, the essay that left me looking sheepishly around the metro rubbing tears from my eyes was "The Day He Was Taller" by Jacquelyn Mitchard, which is about her son outgrowing all his clothes and buying himself a suit.

The book is organized into four thematic sections, and I’m afraid I found the first one, about what Andi calls "boy shock" or "prenatal gender apprehension," the hardest to relate to. In response to a question from Sandra, Andi writes:

"[T]he concerns of writers in It’s a Boy were about the otherness of the male gender: What the heck do you do with a boy? Some of the writers in It’s a Girl ask a similar question about raising their daughters, but what prompts that question is not the fear of an unknown gender, but of knowing it all too well."

When I was pregnant with D, we didn’t find out what gender the baby would be until he was born, and I truly didn’t have a preference.  I was under no illusion that I would understand a girl any better than a boy, or be able to provide any more guidance through the treacherous shoals of junior high school.  I may not be able to provide useful advice on whether to report a bully to the teacher or to fight back, but I can’t help with ingratiating oneself with the popular clique of girls either. I sucked at being a teenage girl when I was one; I’m pretty sure I’d suck at being one now if I were pulled back a la Peggy Sue.

It somewhat bothered me that so many of the authors were ambivalent about having sons, and none of them were univocally happy about it.  I asked Andi if she thought this might be because the project was about "women writers on raising sons," and she answered;

"I did worry that perhaps the book would be tilted too much towards the "overly articulate feminist intellectual pondering gender" because it would be written by, well, overly articulate feminist intellectuals who were concerned about issues of gender. But that’s kind of who I wanted exploring the subject — women writers….  And I think even the pieces about being apprehensive about the prospect of having a boy are ultimately about the writers coming to see how their own expectations are flawed, and how they love their child, regardless of gender…  I definitely don’t think writers value boys less. It’s about questioning the cultural assumptions we have about boys and girls and men and women. And questioning things, teasing them apart to find some kind of personal truth, is what writers do."

Given that, I was suprised to read in Andi’s own essay, "It’s a Boy!" this statement:

"We want our daughters to do everything our sons do, yet as mothers ourselves, we know the difficulties and the hard choices they will have to make when they grow up and choose to mother– the career options that dwindle; the daily balancing act that exhausts; the kinds of things our sons will never face, even as they become parents ourselves."

I wish those difficulties on my sons, because the alternative isn’t easy choices, but no choices.  Society has done a much better job of giving both girls and women the option of following either traditionally masculine or traditionally feminine paths than it has as opening up choices for boys and men.

7 Responses to “It’s a Boy!”

  1. Raising WEG Says:

    Wanting a Boy

    I’m so stupid. Last summer, I received an invitation to trade my blog space for a free book. I had to read the book (whose topic sounded fascinating), let the author answer a few questions about the book here, and

  2. jen Says:

    Your mention of the ambivalence many women felt at having a son gives me pause. The stereotype is typically that families keep trying until they have a son, but what I have seen in the real world is just the opposite: moms keep having kids until they get their daughter. It all reminds me of a saying that’s invoked with frightening regularity in my family: a son is a son til he takes a wife, a daughter is yours for the rest of your life.
    My own mother (who uses the aforementioned phrase) has almost no women friends but instead relies very heavily on family connections. She spends all her energy on her own sister, her in-laws, me and my sister, and our daughters. Her grandsons are loved but considered almost foreign creatures. She is definitely a grandma who takes her granddaughters for special girls’ weekends, etc., but would never dream of doing something one-on-one with a grandson — she assumes he would have no interest.
    I can see how my mother arrived at this mindset, but I still think it’s damaging. And it gets back to your point — we need to start thinking of our boys as more than just little income-producers.

  3. magikmama Says:

    I wrote a little piece on having a son. I’m still working on coming to terms with the fact that he gets to be a boy. It’s pretty sad, and not something I’m proud of, but it is true nonetheless.

  4. landismom Says:

    I’ve definitely gotta check this one out. I have both a boy and a girl, and I’ve been surprised about how my expectations for both have alternately been wrong and oh-so-right.

  5. Jennifer Says:

    On a parenting board I read, someone was once brave enough to ask whether people wanted a boy or a girl. I would say it was easily 95% wanting a girl (of the ones who expressed a preference). I think it’s just familiarity – at the beginning, before there is any reality to intrude, you have fantasies of raising someone just like you, only better. And for mothers, just like you very much involves gender. At the time, I would have agreed, but your description of your teenage self rang so true to me, that I now wonder whether I had rocks in my head!
    I still sometimes wonder wistfully what a girl would have been like (we have two boys, and we’re done), but not often, or with any real emotion behind it. I more wonder what are the implications when they hit the real world of raising them with fewer gender stereotypes than their peers. Like Jody’s son, my sons both prefer pink, and while they are train junkies, they also like Angelina Ballerina and Madeline.

  6. chip Says:

    sounds like a great book! I remember distinctly before our first kid was born wanting it to be a girl (and it was), because I feared for any son I’d have in terms of coming into a world where boys and men are pressured into not being true to themselves in ways that I don’t think is as true for women. Now that I have a son I have seen that the gender pressure kicked in with my son in kindergarten (kids pressuring not to cry, not to hug mommy and daddy) while for my daughter they kicked in more around 4th grade.
    I think the biggest challenge raising boys, for men and women, is giving the boy the inner strength to be himself, to be true to himself, despite all of the awful societal pressures to squeeze himself into that stereotypical masculine box. That’s why I love your last sentence, I wish those difficulties on my sons, because the alternative isn’t easy choices, but no choices.

  7. Libby Says:

    Your last paragraph hit home for me: I wish the same difficulties on my son as on my daughter–the same opportunities, too. If I really thought that only my daughter would face the work/life balance issues that both her father and I had faced, that my son would not face them, I would be even more depressed about the world right now than I am.

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