I taught my little ones to nurture plants and care for the natural world; to love flowers and bubbles and all things beautiful; to grow, gather, cook food; to explore, to play-fight and to stand and stare at skies and water. Unafraid, because they were boys, and any mistakes I might make would be all my own, uncomplicated by the fear of past lives.
I watch my children, and try to measure in them a confidence and strength I wish I had known at their age—and I see their innocence, too: the vulnerability of untried inner resource, the easy triggers of embarrassment, the fragile lines of communication, the teenage tension between coolness and warmth. They are not automatically tougher for being male; if they are more resilient than I was, it’s because they have been treated gently. At home, anyway. Not always outside the home, and sometimes it’s because they are boys.
If there’s something you wouldn’t say or do to a girl, then don’t do it to a boy either. Are you happy for your daughter and her buddies to exclude a boy from their badminton group simply because he’s a boy? If two kids are playing chess, should the boy be expected to let the girl win just because he’s a boy and she’s a girl? Do you use coarser language in front of boys than you would in front of girls?
As for jokes and social media funnies—try gender-swapping and see if the post is still amusing. I once unfriended a relative simply because she shared a nude picture of very young men on social media. If she’d be uncomfortable with middle-aged men gawping at very young women, why was it OK for her to gawp at very young males in the nude?
The world has much to learn on how to bring up girls undamaged, free-spirited and strong—and part of this depends on whether we bring up the next generation of men secure, resilient and gentle. Because harm spreads across the lines of generations and gender.
Please, world, be kind to boys too. Don’t be harsh on them because you cannot read their emotions. Don’t propagate the jokes that belittle males any more than you would joke about females. Don’t demean a whole gender for the sake of whoever damaged you.
Be gentle with my children for the sake of theirs.
Fiona M Jones is a creative writer living in Scotland. Her short fiction, CNF, poetry and educational content is published all over the world, and one of her stories gained a star rating in Tangent Online's "Recommended Reading" list for 2020. You can follow Fiona's work through @FiiJ20 on Facebook and Twitter.