Raising Boys Means Teaching Them There’s No Such Thing As “Women’s Work.”
– ILIAH GRANT-ALTORO
Can you cook?
“Una mujer como tu no quiere hijos, verdad?”
A woman like you doesn’t want kids, right?
I’ll never forget the scolding look in my children’s abuela’s eyes as she grilled me on my knowledge of cooking and cleaning, and my desire for children, trying to determine if I was “worthy” of her son based on how I answered her questions.
I could feel the immense cultural pressure weighing down on my shoulders—the pressure to be “worthy” of a relationship based on my domestic abilities. Despite the fact that I am brilliant, creative, adventurous, loving, caring, and kind, all she wanted to know was if I wanted to have kids and what I knew how to cook.
I looked that woman straight in her eyes and told her that I did, in fact, know how to cook and that a “woman like me” — an accusation against my free-spirited and dynamic nature — did indeed want to have children.
Yet none of that should have made me worthy of her son.
When their abuela comes to visit, I can sense her scolding eyes fixed on Amaris, 12, and Ariela, 10, watching to see how well I’m “training” them. She questions their cleaning abilities and asks if they know how to cook; she makes comments that Nasir, 4, won’t need to clean because “él es el único varón” — he’s the only boy — and that the girls will clean after him.
I looked that woman straight in her eyes and told her that my daughters are wild, brilliant, creative, and powerful beings, and that their virtue cannot be measured by household chores.
And then I set her straight with another glare and let her know that the girls will not be given the responsibility of cleaning after their brother simply because he is a boy, and that Nasir will learn to clean up after himself and others.
For many women from Black and brown communities, there is a great burden placed upon us to be domestic goddesses. We are judged on how we “keep a house,” how many meals we can prepare and if we display motherly instincts. We are also expected to train our daughters in this manner so that they, too, can be desirable to a man.
Men and boys are rarely expected to have domestic abilities in order to be desirable to a potential partner. Untidy men are often laughed at and told that what they need is a girlfriend (to clean up after them, obviously), while messy women are scorned and told that they will never find a mate.
I want my son to know how to cook and clean for the sake of his own independence, but also to teach him that domestic work and child rearing are his responsibilities to share with a partner and not theirs alone.
I made the conscious decision to raise a feminist son in his full masculine identity, and his masculinity includes cooking, helping with household chores, and crying whenever he needs to. It’s playing with cars, superheroes, and being wild and rambunctious; it’s also playing with baby dolls and “cooking” in his play kitchen.
I want to raise him from a toddler into a man who expresses emotion, who is comfortable in his feelings, has a natural paternal instinct, and who views himself as an equal partner in a relationship. A man who will change diapers and kiss ouchies, who will put his book down to respond to a crying baby and hand his partner the conditioner on wash days.
I want him to become a man who will cook dinner a few nights per week, do laundry, and load the dishwasher. A man who would never expect to be an unequal player in a relationship and in domestic work and child rearing; a man who will in turn teach his sons to be the same way, and lead by example for his daughters to expect the same from a future partner.
I know, I know, this all sounds amazing yet radical and quite ambitious. I would say that it is indeed ambitious, but not impossible — there are simple actions to take to normalize boys helping in domestic activities.
Allow your sons to help in the kitchen — and start doing this with them when they’re toddlers. Let him crack an egg for you, add the garlic to the chicken and stir the pasta.
My son loves to hold the dust pan for me after I’ve swept the floor, and we will often clean his room together. These simple acts demonstrate teamwork in domestic activities, thus normalizing them in the eyes of your son.
Now, take a deep breath and repeat after me: “A boy can play with a baby doll and it will not emasculate him.”
Allowing your sons to play with baby dolls and to care for them is one of the best ways to prepare them for fatherhood. It gives little boys the opportunity to learn to nurture a baby by letting them change play diapers and feed them toy bottles. This does not emasculate them in any way, but heightens their true divine masculine nature as fathers.
I want my daughters to know how to clean and keep a home in a manner that fits in the realistic dynamic of their families, and I want them to love on their children and care for them. I also want them to know our family recipes and how to prepare customary meals, to pass these traditions down to future generations… and I want my son to do the same.
I may never be able to change my children’s grandmother’s opinion on gender roles and the harsh expectations placed on young girls. I may never change her opinion on the amount of housework that should be given to boys, just like you may never be able to change the opinions of the elders in your life. But you can decide to change the course of your children’s destinies by creating an environment of domestic equality.
You can do this by teaching your sons to share in child rearing and household responsibilities — his future partner will thank you.