What about the boys?

Anna Quindlen

May 06, 1993|By Anna Quindlen

THE eighth grade boys were not happy campers the day I came to call. "Why don't you ever write about the sexual harassment of men?" one of them asked darkly.

"Why don't you ever write about men being raped?" Well, I said, one answer is obvious: Men have plenty of troubles, but they are not always identical to those of women.

Looking back on Take Our Daughters to Work Day, and the inevitable and considerable backlash on the subject of boys, the same thought crosses my mind.

The women who cooked up this idea believed there was something important we needed to communicate to our daughters about their worth in the world. Boys need to learn many things about themselves, too. But they are different things than girls need, addressed in a different fashion.

Take Our Daughters to Work Day was about the hearts and minds of little women. The girls at the New York Times put out a newspaper called Girls' Times, and they quoted Marie Wilson, president of the Ms. Foundation for Women, saying we wanted girls to feel "visible, valued and heard."

But what about the boys? people kept asking. And I understood the concerns, because one of the greatest challenges I face as a mother is bringing up feminist sons.

If 20 years from now the guys still don't get it, we will still be struggling, at work and at home. If I raise two retro princes with corked-up emotions to hand down to some newer version of my younger self, it will be a great failure, for me and for them.

But the simple fact is that no one has to assure her sons that a boy can grow up to be president, or to teach them that little trick of holding your keys just so to jab out the eyes of a rapist. Girls wonder how you juggle work and family; boys figure they'll do it by getting married. We still start from different places.

There's no doubt that boys need a hand, too. But it's a different hand, a different way, to take them where they need to go.

Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.

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