Friday, November 30, 2012

20 Things This Mother Will Probably Never Tell Her Son, Actually

Photo by Nicole Aarstad
Last night, after a lovely and heartwarming evening at an annual fundraiser for my place of employment, I settled in with a cup of tea and my laptop to wind down before bed. Several friends had shared a list entitled "20 Things A Mother Should Tell Her Son." I thought to myself, "I am a mother! And I am going to have a son! I should read this!" I took a sip of tea as I clicked and prepared for even more loveliness and heart warmth to round out my night, but found my heart filled with...something other than warmth.

To be honest, I was so troubled by the first item on the list that I almost didn't continue reading. I read the first item to my husband to sort of check my own reaction, as I have been known to overreact on occasion, and he was equally appalled. I soldiered on through the list and continued to find most of it awful, for a variety of reasons.

Here's the list, originally from Werdyab, along with my commentary. 

*snark alert*

20 Things a Mother Should Tell Her Son

1.   You will set the tone for the sexual relationship, so don't take something away from her that you can't give back.

Um. No. Just no. I'm not even going to touch the hetero-normative language of assuming that my son's sexual partners will be people who use the pronoun "her". Possessing a penis does not give you the automatic power to set the tone for the sexual relationship. One person is not in charge. One person does not set the tone. You do nothing to or with a partner without their explicit consent. Consent means saying yes. It is not merely the absence of saying no. Get consent. Your partner also needs your consent. Consent and respect go both ways. Sex is a partnership. If you don't take what isn't expressly given to you, you won't have to worry about being able to give it back.

2.   Play a sport. It will teach you how to win honorably, lose gracefully, respect authority, work with others, manage your time and stay out of trouble. And maybe even throw or catch.

There are many worthwhile activities in addition to sports that teach these things. If you enjoy a sport, then play a sport. If you enjoy music, then sing or play an instrument. If you enjoy art, then draw or paint or sculpt. If you enjoy theater, then act. If you enjoy dancing, then strap on some ballet or tap shoes. Do something you love. Finish what you start. Learn grace, honor, and respect in all that you do. Learn to respect authority, but not blindly. Learn also when it is appropriate to question authority, and learn to recognize and do something about gross abuses of authority.

3.   Use careful aim when you pee. Somebody's got to clean that up, you know.

Um. You. You are the somebody who has to clean that up, you know. There are not magical pee cleaning fairies. If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie, wipe the seatie. 

4.   Save money when you're young because you're going to need it some day.

This is the first useful item on the list thus far, though I imagine there are more profound lessons in saving than "you'll need it someday."

5.   Allow me to introduce you to the dishwasher, oven, washing machine, iron, vacuum, mop and broom. Now please go use them.

Because the magic fairies only clean up your bodily fluids, apparently.

6.   Pray and be a spiritual leader.

If that's authentic for you. Live your truth. Speak your truth. Don't be afraid to fight for what you believe in. If that involves prayer and spiritual leadership, cool. If it doesn't, also cool. 

7.   Don't ever be a bully and don't ever start a fight, but if some idiot clocks you, please defend yourself.

Defend yourself if you are in danger. If an idiot clocks you, and you are able to walk away, walk away. If it seems like an idiot is thinking about clocking you, walk away. If you determine that someone is an idiot, WALK AWAY.

8.   Your knowledge and education is something that nobody can take away from you.

I sincerely hope your knowledge and education include the proper usage of are vs. is. 

9.   Treat women kindly. Forever is a long time to live alone and it's even longer to live with somebody who hates your guts.

Treat everyone kindly, because it is right, not because there is something in it for you. Do not spend more than a few minutes with somebody who hates your guts.

10.  Take pride in your appearance.

There is far more to life than what you look like. Find your style and rock it. Be clean. Wash your clothing, body, and hair on a regular basis.

11.  Be strong and tender at the same time.

Oh hey, I might actually say this to my son. And my daughter.

12.  A woman can do everything that you can do. This includes her having a successful career and you changing diapers at 3 A.M. Mutual respect is the key to a good relationship.

This is not exactly true. It is more accurate to say that the things that men can do and the things that women can do are equally valuable. Since you will grow up with two parents with fulfilling careers and two parents who meet your needs both night and day, you should have no reason to think that either of these are associated with gender. 

13.  "Yes ma'am" and "yes sir" still go a long way.

Address people as they'd like to be addressed. Calling me "ma'am" will go a long way to me giving you a dirty look and telling you not to call me "ma'am."

14.  The reason that they're called "private parts" is because they're "private". Please do not scratch them in public.

If you've got to scratch, you've got to scratch, but try to either find a secluded corner or be discreet. Learn how to satisfy an itch by "jingling your keys in your pocket."

15.  Peer pressure is a scary thing. Be a good leader and others will follow.

Non sequiturs are scary things. I like cake.

16.  Bringing her flowers for no reason is always a good idea.

If her is your mother, this is true. If she is allergic to flowers, or you are creepy stalking her, or any other number of scenarios; not such a good idea. Also, there are plenty of hims who might like being brought flowers for no reason.

17.  Be patriotic.

Do not be blindly patriotic. Be as critical of your country and government as you are appreciative of them. Fight for what is right. What is "patriotic" is not always right.

18.  Potty humor isn't the only thing that's humorous.

But it is hilarious in the right company, and when well-timed.

19.  Please choose your spouse wisely. My daughter-in-law will be the gatekeeper for me spending time with you and my grandchildren.

Please choose whether or not to get married wisely. Do not choose a partner (again with the hetero-normative language, ugh) who appoints him or herself the gatekeeper of your time. A person who attempts to control your access to your family (or theirs to you) is an abusive person. If I am disrespectful to your partner or overstep my role as a grandparent, should you have children, and I refuse to see the errors of my ways, by all means, restrict my time with them; I deserve it.

20.  Remember to call your mother because I might be missing you.

This one stands.

If you're left wondering what I would tell my son (and daughter), check out 25 Lessons for my Children.

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  1. This along with your diagram on choosing gender-appropriate toys should be required reading for all mothers -- of boys or girls. Love it!

    1. Haha, that diagram was awesome, wasn't it? :)

  2. This was wonderful! and just the right amount of snark. ;)

  3. I love you so much right now, Joella.

  4. Yes!! I absolutely hated that first point when I saw it - being the mom to two boys, I kept reading that original list and saying to myself "! no! not saying that at all!" sharing this :)

    1. I know! The first point is nothing more than an affirmation of rape culture. Ugh.

      Thank you for sharing, I appreciate it! :)

  5. Oh my gosh! Best Post Ever!!!! You are awesome! I am sharing this one everywhere!

  6. Um, YES! X1,000. I think you might be my new favorite person.

  7. I took #1 to mean think before having sex before marriage because your future wife or whatever that means to you deserves to be your first and only. I think there is value in that.

    I do prefer your version of #7.

    1. Well, I'm not sure how outright stating that men set the tone for sexual relationships has anything to with waiting for marriage, but fair enough.

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

  8. I don't quite agree with #19. Like for instance my mother law is a horrible abusive women who I wont let anywhere near my children. That does not make me abusive it makes me a protective parent.

    1. There is absolutely a huge difference between protecting your children from abusive people and declaring yourself the gatekeeper of your partner's time. <3

  9. Glad I'm not the only one who snarked and was disgusted by the original list.

  10. I hate to see bloggers bashing other bloggers. I don't necessarily agree with everything on this list either, but I wouldn't attack another blogger. And then you ask for Babble votes? Don't hold your breath.

    1. Since you're anonymous, I don't know if you'll see this reply, but I was not bashing or attacking the author. I actually had to go dig up the meme on facebook again just now to figure out who even wrote the original (and edited the post to add a link to the original list). She looks like a lovely woman with a lovely family and I don't have a bad thing to say about her personally. My criticism is of the pervasiveness of sexism and hetero-normative language all around us. My intention was to point out why I find that problematic, and that with the number of people (thousands!) "good jobbing" the list, it clearly goes unnoticed by so many.

    2. In response to this anonymous comment here, I would have never ever thought of this type of cross referencing as "bashing". In fact I salute you for taking time to debate some very potent ideas about the different approaches to family values in this country. One may read the original post and see how tradition based/conventional the views on family, parenting, sex and gender are reflected. You've stepped out of the tradition boundary, and bravely questioned the messages we are sending by this old world mentality. I see your replies as having a transcendence to what is deemed 'normal', and an openness to connect with and accept your kids as humans, not particular roles projected by society. I hope that the author of this original blog will see this as an opportunity to engage in philosophical conversation, and to not feel "bashed". I hope she is secure enough to step back and look from a bigger, more objective perspective on the way we think things "should be" when it comes to parenting and families. And I hope that together, by doing this great cross referencing to each others values and beliefs, we can learn and progress humanity, rather than stay stuck in the small world in which we've been finding so much 'traditional' comfort. I do salute you for taking this comparison approach, and I will definitely vote for you on Babble. Thank you for taking the time to write.

  11. Joella, obviously you are not from the South. Here it is expected to address older people as sir and ma'am. I have moved many times and while it is not part of my culture at all, it is where we live now so I do not see anything wrong with #13. It is a cultural thing and as such it should be respected just like we respect other cultures when we visit other countries.

    1. Culturally, it is appropriate to address the person as they wish to be addressed. Making a sweeping assumption because of the geographic area that a person exists in that moment, is not respectful, it is presumptive.

    2. You are correct Brenda, I am not from the South. Most of the women I am acquainted with do not prefer ma'am, and to be honest, the few men I know who prefer "sir" are pompous and arrogant.

      That said, I think that respecting local customs and cultures fits quite nicely with "address people as they'd like to be addressed," though I agree with Leah that assuming a person prefers sir or ma'am because of where they're from is a bit presumptive.

    3. As bad as being addressed as "sir" (or, for my wife, "ma'am") is being addressed as "Mr. Alan" and "Miss Jackie". BY PEOPLE IN THEIR 30S!

      Now that I'm older, I don't mind "sir" from a teen or a child, but I really appreciate young adults who understand that they are now real adults and do not have to address other adults as superiors. If you're 18 or over, please just call me "Alan."

    4. Well, I dunno about that, Alan. I'm comin' in pretty fast on 40, and I address my elders as "Miss (Name)" or "Mister (Name)" out of respect, not superiority. I address all persons as sir/ ma'am regardless of age. I was raised to understand that as basic manners, not as an age-related superiority nomenclature. My mom calls me "ma'am" when I talk to her or call out. It's just a gesture of respect to all people, regardless of age.

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  13. I JUST wrote my own rebuttal to this crappy list last night and noticed we have many of the same objections!! I love your number 8, though. I didn't even catch the grammatical error.

    Here's mine if you want to compare and contrast. I've been getting mostly positive feedback with the occasional "lighten up, this is a great, loving list" bull crap. Like you, that "sexual tone" one raised the most red flags. No, No, and MORE NO!

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