Men have it easy, parents of boys have it tough

From on Wed, 09 Jan 2013 23:04:55

A Swedish toy-shop company is attempting to deflect allegations of sexism by producing a

Last year a Swedish toy-shop company attempted to deflect allegations of sexism by producing a “gender neutral” Christmas catalogue featuring boys with dolls and gun-toting girls. Photo:

It’s never been harder to bring up a daughter,
says Kate Figes elsewhere on these pages
, while discussing Steve
’s latest book Raising Girls. However, I think fathers
of boys have a much harder time.

Living in a free society and bringing a girl up to be a woman in the world
that has been built on the good work of decades of feminists I’m not as
worried as Kate about the problems she might have. It is certainly the case
that women have a harder time and that they’re pressured into thinking that
they should be thin but not care about slimming, beautiful but not
high-maintenance, sexually available but virtuously abstemious, working but
staying at home, clever but unthreatening and independent but grateful.
These, at least, are properly identified problems that can be addressed,
questioned (as Dr
Brooke Magnanti does on hypersexualisation
), transcended, campaigned

Girls clothes are widely varied, boys are given beige trousers, jeans and
t-shirts with dinosaurs on them. Girls can be passive if they choose, boys
are taken to be active, energetic, more of a handful. They might well be
these things, but assumption is against them if they’re not.

Men have many advantages in life, but as an exercise in parenting it’s a much
more difficult challenge. The advice given to parents of girls in the book
that Kate Figes was discussing appears to be applicable to both sexes:

‘Encourage your daughter’s interests, whatever they are. Help her to find her
“spark”. Give her as much time and attention as you can to make her feel
secure and content with who she is. Surround your daughter with other
adults, aunts or friends to whom she can talk when she cannot talk to you,
for the mother-daughter relationship can be notoriously difficult at times.
All of which is good counsel that could equally well be applied to boys.’

Most parents would agree, but all-boys environments and even liberal parents
of sons would say they do but then act as though some activities – dolls,
housework, ballet, some types of pretending – are off limits.

How, then, do we steer boys through male peer-pressure and adult prejudgments
into an adult life that’s really suited the their character, in a way that
parents of girls are now able to do? Steve Biddulph’s earlier book, the
bestselling Raising Boys, is quite emphatic that boys and girls are
different, and that sensitive parenting of boys brings out aspects of their
maleness. Is that the case? Should parents of boys forget about ballet
lessons and resign themselves to having a hall full of big football boots?
Search me, but then I haven’t just written a book on the subject.

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