Friday, 4 November 2011

Tough Guys or Tender Hearts?

Recently I was forced to think (not always a pretty sight!). I was fortunate enough to attend a screening of “MissRepresentation” at Blissdom Canada – a writing & business conference in Toronto – and the experience led to countless conversations that went well into the night.

Basically, the movie shared how the media’s misrepresentation of women has led to increased challenges for women in society, regarding their appearance, career paths, and overall positions of power and influence. Everyone from elementary school children to celebrities to high-level politicians weighed in on the topic – as did all of the incredible women in attendance that evening.

Admittedly, my initial reaction as a parent of a little boy included a small sigh of relief knowing that these issues were not necessarily directly on my radar as a parent (yay, boys!). However, my little “bliss bubble” was duly shattered the longer the thinking process continued (can ignorance really be bliss??). I may not be raising a daughter, but these were still undoubtedly my issues to deal with.

I was reminded of some of the conflicting messaging I deal with on a regular basis while raising my beautiful little boy. On one hand, I would love for him to be the new “Millennium Man” – sensitive, empathetic, caring, not afraid to show emotions. I want him to believe that women and men are completely equal and the world is open and available to everyone equally. I want him to be blind to gender stereotyping and follow his career aspirations, whatever they may be, without pressure or worries. I want him to grow up always able to hug and love as freely and as openly as he does now.

But in encouraging him to move in that direction, am I building him up for success or setting him up for a world of hurt?

Mainstream media is filled with endless examples of women gravitating towards the ‘tough guy’, while the ‘nice guy’ is quietly pushed aside. We’re constantly presented with heartbreaking stories about various children who have suffered tremendous pressure and ridicule through online and/or in-person bullying. As an ideal, typically boys are encouraged to “man up”, excel at sports, be active & driven and not get hung up on feelings, etc. Of course I want my son to grow up and be accepted in society and excel as a man, but at what point does the contradiction become too much?

At a recent taekwondo tournament, my little guy was competing in his first sparring event and lost in the finals. He promptly burst into tears – partially motivated, I’m sure, by the loss but equally as much by the swift kick to the unprotected thigh he received mid-event. My first instinct as a mom was to take him in my arms and comfort him – letting him know I was incredibly proud of him and hoping the promise of hot chocolate from Tim Horton’s afterwards would help alleviate some of the pain. However, a fleeting thought did pass through my mind – Will people think he’s crying because he didn’t win? Do they think he’s a ‘wimp’ or a ‘suck’? Truthfully, I was horrified, saddened and riddled with guilt all at the same time.

As parents, we want the best for our kids. And unfortunately sometimes that involves a number of difficult contradictions. Be strong but sensitive. Be confident but humble. Be successful but charitable. If we can’t figure it out, how the heck are our kids going to be able to?

I have no idea what the future holds for my little guy – I can only cross my fingers & toes and hope that he’s happy, healthy, and successful – whatever that means to him. For now, I will encourage him to laugh until his cheeks hurt, cry until he feels better and allow me to be there for him through it all.
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