It’s a boy. This phrase always garners an unwarranted celebration. You’re so lucky, raising a boy is much easier than raising a girl. On the rare occasion that someone did argue this point, it was to grieve over a wall their son had just scribbled in permanent marker, or an outfit that their sons had buried in the dirt. The tragedy of raising sons was limited to boys ruining nice things just because they were boys.
Let’s imagine for a moment the boy falls, and the wreckage is against his own body.
He breaks skin and cries at the sight of him spilling out of himself. Are you a girl? Stop crying. Boys don’t cry. Feelings scab over the boy’s heart. The boy learns how to break everything even himself and remain unscathed. Boys will be boys. This phrase gives the boy a permission to ruin. He learns that the world will not hold him accountable for destroying anything that reminds him of the softness he was denied.
I pick up my son, Adrian from school. His eyebrows are unusually slouched above his eyes. He trades his usual dash towards me for a dragging shuffle across the schoolyard. Violet doesn’t want to be his girlfriend. He is five years old, and rejection has introduced itself in the form of a little girl with a bruise for a name. I want the details. What did he say? What did he do? Today addressing his anger is the homework.
“I just only told her she was my girlfriend and she said ‘ewww’ in front of the whole class. That got me so mad.”
He was embarrassed. I know what shame can do to a boy.
More, I know what a boy’s shame can do to a girl.
Fuck you then, you stuck up bitch!
On the street, you are not phased much by a man’s anger in response to your refusal to acknowledge them. You do not expect to teach the man anything. You know that your rejection will not humble him, & of course he is too upset to take inventory on how your pace quickens in anticipation of a possible chase. There is no real lesson in your callous sidewalk stride. There is only a forward focus fueled by the anticipation of reaching your destination unharmed.
Protecting yourself from men is part of your daily routine. On a first date turned sour, the rules are slightly different than in the street, your smile is your unlikely armor. Keep a man appeased and he is less likely to hurt you. The joke, of course, is always you. Laugh at a man and your family may mourn you. In the office, a man calls you beautiful, and he is your boss. Your bills cannot afford for you to be uncomfortable, so you make yourself invisible, impossible to catch alone and too essential to your work to risk being slowed by closed doors. Your doctor performs a breast exam though you came in with allergies. Although that doesn’t seem right, you question your paranoia. You scold yourself for believing your instincts. A little boy tells you that you belong to him. Curtly you assert that you do not, this embarrasses him into a fury. He puts gum in your hair, or trips you, or tells the class you have cooties. This is when you first learn to costume your refusal in such a way that a boy cannot recognize it as an excuse to harm you.
It is 2019, and Princess Peach is still being kidnapped. No worries. My son is a hero. Nintendo said so. He puts Cappy on his head and cosplays as Mario. I lean into my son as he engages in battle with Bowser on our couch.
“Where is Mario going?”
“I’m on my way to save the Princess! Bowser captured her so that he can marry her!”
What a fantastic opportunity to introduce consent, my mouth opens and shuts with hesitation. I wrestle with being the mom who ruins childhood fun with my feminist agenda.
I dip my toe in the water.
“That sounds horrible. It is never okay to marry someone without their permission.”
Not so bad, I reassure myself. I could have swam deeper and touched on the clear subject of kidnapping. Who fucking writes these storylines anyway? I could have tied in the thousands of missing brown and black girls that receive little to no media attention, how Peach is more likely to be reported missing because she is white. But I didn’t. I simply made an observation on consent. Took my toe out. No ruining fun things in this household!
“Yeah, it is horrible, because she belongs to Mario! Mario has to marry her, not Bowser!”
At this point, I am sure God is a woman and obviously testing me on how dedicated I am to not raising the next generation of entitled assholes.
“Does Mario have Princess Peach’s permission to marry her?” Toe in.
“He’s Mario! It’s supposed to happen!”
Okay, God, I’m jumping in.
“Do you remember when you thought Violet was supposed to be your girlfriend just because you wanted her to be?”
“Did you have Violet’s permission to be her boyfriend?”
His confession is reluctant, frustrated and drawn with guilt. I am not deterred by his somber reflection. I’m close to driving an important point home.
“Were you nice to Violet?”
“Yes. Mom, I’m always nice.”
“Even though you were nice, she still said no when you wanted her to be your girlfriend right?”
“Yeah. That made me sad.”
“Do you think Mario will be sad if Princess Peach decides not to marry him after he was nice enough to save her from Bowser.”
“Yes. But if he doesn’t have her permission, he can be sad, but I guess she can do what she wants.”
I took Cappy off his head, rustled his hair in approval and leaned back into the sofa. A video game could be based on the internal battle happening in my head. Did I say enough? That’s enough for today, right? He’s only six. There’s plenty of time to say more.
“I’m always nice mom.” My sons awareness of his behavior plays in my head like a future courtroom defense. I should have said more. I could say more. I shift myself forward on the couch to think better. I could go on to talk about how nice guys harm women all the time. Perhaps I could gather the crayons, and we could graph a pie chart into perfectly compartmentalized triangles dividing the types of girls nice guys are less likely to harm.
We could color in the shapes until the chart is a glowing bulb highlighting the respect that each girl would earn based solely on her personality, aesthetics and social standing. I could ask him to consider if Mario would have rescued Peach had she been anything other than thin, white, heteronormative, and able-bodied.
I slide back next to my son and consider competing with his game. I could be so enthusiastic with the way that I frame my question that he would excitedly turn off his console to debate whether Mario would risk his life if the Princess was replaced with the mean little girl in his class who calls him names on occasion. I could place Cappy back on his head and while praising his resemblance to Mario, ask him what would have happened if that mean little girl was pushed to the ground by some Bowser Boy; would he rescue her or would he leave her blood to tinge her slice of the pie chart?
I pull a nearby blanket over me. We could use it to role play. I could name him a prince and allow him for a moment to sit gloriously still under the veiled safety of his royalty before I snatch him from under the freedom of his unearned security. We could talk about patriarchy and how boys are victims too. I could ask him if he had ever seen Mario cry or hug Luigi when he was feeling scared. We could imagine a new game level where perhaps, they fell in love with each other or with saving themselves from a world where they are only worth their bravery. I could. I could. I could.
Instead, I kiss my son on the forehead & wish him luck.