Long before I was certain that I wanted to get pregnant, I was sure that I wanted a girl. In the same way that writers are advised to write what they know, it seemed like a good idea to birth what I was sure of.
I’m a daughter, an only child in fact, and I have such an incredibly strong relationship with both my parents that friends often comment on how they wish their own parental bond could be more like ours. Some of my happiest memories of adolescence involve my mother and I sitting up late into the night discussing my latest crush, or being wrapped in a duvet during bad period pains discussing what it means to be a woman. How could my experiences as a woman be relevant to bringing up a little boy?
Whilst it’s commonplace to nod to the basic instincts of men wishing to create a mini-me version of themselves by having a son, the notion of women hoping to recreate and reinvent themselves for another generation is often lost. The idea of passing on my experiences of being female – the inspiring, demeaning and mundane – to another female was, for me at least, a pre-parenting safety net. As I grew older I realised that there is no ‘easy’ when it comes to raising a child, whatever their gender may be but I still believed that as a feminist, it would be easier to bring my child up to respect women if she was one.
I was brought up by a fierce and gentle mother. The idea that I could bring up a son to be strong and gentle, powerful and considerate was lost in amongst the dreams of experiencing what it’s like to buy mini ruby slippers and frilly dresses, be the mother of the bride and the maternal grandmother, go on spa days and watch Sex and the City re-runs cuddled up with my daughter on the sofa. The idea of being the only woman in the home, trying to get my husband and son’s attention away from the sport on tv, was not the idyllic family life I hoped for (completely ignoring the fact that I held a season ticket at Anfield for eight years, therefore also stereotyping myself as the ‘football widow’ that I’m clearly not).
My reasons for wanting a girl – because surely I couldn’t have gone so far as to say that I did not want a boy – surmounted to feminism and fashion. It hadn’t struck me that both of these things can resonate just as soundly for a mother with her son, that I could teach my son to be a man through the feminist principles I hold so clear, or that dressing him each morning could be a complete joy.
Then I got pregnant. Seconds after taking the fateful test, before I’d set it down on the side of the bath or released the breath that I held so tightly inside my body, I knew my baby was a boy. I don’t know how or why I knew, but I did. Whilst disappointment may have seemed inevitable after my yearning for a daughter, I was one of the lucky ones who felt nothing but happiness. A few hours later, when shock subsided, I began to fall in love with him.
He’s now nineteen months old, an absolute blessing who has made me appreciate the small things whilst allowing me to dream about magnificent things. For all he is still small, I have discovered that there are so many things that I can teach him from my experience as a woman. He can teach me what it’s like to be first a boy, and then a man, born in 21st century Scotland. My female perspective will shape him as much as my husband’s male position, and our friends and family will present lots of different solutions on what kind of man he could be.
Before I got pregnant, I thought he could be one of two things. A girl or a boy. Like Coke or Diet.
Then I got pregnant and he became a definite article. A boy. Done. Finished. Complete.
And then I met him. This tiny seed of a boy who will grow and grow until he becomes a man.
I have been caught unawares by the gender-based stereotypes that threaten my boy so soon into his life. He might not have the capacity to say more than a few words, or the ability to leave the house on his own but gender stereotypes walk right in to our home uninvited and often unannounced.
Blue blankets and booties quickly becomes ‘bricks for the boys’ and ‘dolls for the girls’. When I joked, during a play session at my local library where my son looked like he may pirouette at any second, that I may take him to ballet classes, the suggestion was immediately scoffed at. “A big boy like that? Rugby is more his game.” When a male member of our social circle spoke down to his wife, I told him that I didn’t want Harry witnessing women being spoken to in that way. The reply? “He’s too young for feminism.”
And then there’s the old “A daughter is a daughter for life, a son is a son till he takes a wife.”
I’ve heard this too often over the past eighteen months. Every time it’s quoted to me I roll my eyes, whilst secretly swallowing the tiny panic it creates.
Then there are the serious concerns that are much harder to swallow down. Suicide is the biggest cause of death for young men in the UK. My (male) best friend committed suicide and I missed the warning signs, if there were any in the first place.
I have been told that I’m at risk of raising a “sensitive boy” because I have chosen to care for him full time until he is three.
There are pressures on a young man to conform, to bite their lip, to prey on the opposite sex.
Last month I read a blog from a woman who has been abused by men. She writes: “If a man wants to prove to me now that he is “not all men”…then he has to work damned hard at it. That isn’t my fault. It’s the fault of his team.” I understand her position and as a woman, I am glad she has stated her position clearly. But as a mother watching her seedling grow into an increasingly beautiful tiny boy, I fear for what he will grow up to understand about “his team” and which position he decides to play.
There are many much-needed causes and campaigns both here in the UK and internationally that I support, advocate and, in some cases, volunteer my time and skills for. Behind every woman’s story on Everyday Sexism is a misguided, mistaken and, in most cases, a complete misogynist of a man. Yet there are many more men who put their shoulder to the wheel of movements such as No More Page 3 and 50:50 Parliament.
It is at this point in my thinking where I realise just how much I have to give to my son. How my experiences as a woman will inform how I bring him up. Up to speed. Up to manhood. Up to the challenge of being a good man.