A few months ago, I was having a rough time with my son. This is not unusual, as he is going through a particularly ornery stage and I am stubborn as a mule who is really good at yelling but not much else in the discipline realm. I ended up calling my parents for backup, and put them on the phone with my son as I stood in the bathroom listening to the conversation. Most of it was great. My dad was telling my son that he needs to listen to me because I’m the Mom and I have his best interests at heart and all that. But then! Then he told my son that he needed to change his behavior because he is “the man of the house,” and I “need” him to take care of me and our home. And that’s when I almost punched a hole through the wall.
First of all, my son is seven-years-old. All he needs to “take care of” is his laundry and cleaning his room and doing homework and getting dirty and talking about his Pokemon cards. I give him responsibilities, but he sure as hell is NOT responsible for my emotional or physical well-being. I’m an adult, and more importantly, I’m THE adult in his life. Shouldering the burden of supporting an emotionally broken adult is definitely not his job. (It should also be noted that I’m not emotionally broken. At least, not any more than anyone else.)
Second of all, and I say this with all due respect, but shut up, Dad. Telling my son that he is the man of the house completely diminishes everything I do around there, which is to say, EVERYTHING. I take him to school, I stay home when he’s sick, I pay for insurance, I sign him up for soccer, I buy him clothes, I help with homework, I cook him meals, I take him for play dates, I hug him when he’s scared or sad, I explain where babies come from and what periods are when he asks (long story). I. DO. IT. ALL. There is no “man” of the house because the “man” that was in my house decided being an adult was too difficult so I had to kick him out to save my home and my family from drowning in irresponsibility, lies, and shitty whiskey.
I was really confused (and, you know, pissed off) by my dad’s comment, knowing full well that he didn’t “mean anything” by it (but that’s the problem, isn’t it?), because my parents raised my sister and me in a pretty egalitarian household. Dad did chores, Mom did chores, we did chores. Dad cooked, Mom … ordered pizza. There was no talk of “women’s work,” and both of my parents toiled in the yard until I was old enough to help out and then it became my job. The fact that I played guitar (loudly) was something my parents not only tolerated, but encouraged. And the reason I’m fiercely independent? Why I’ve been able to kick my moron exes to the curb and stand alone? Uh, because my parents taught me I could. Equally. No “man of the house” nonsense. So what gives?
To raise boys (as in non-adults; children, if you will) with the notion that they are the “men” of the house sends a very clear message that what women do, and what women accomplish — even if it is RAISING MEN — is less important. This idea is at the root of many men’s fucked up ideas about how to treat women. It is where misogyny starts brewing. It is how dudes feel comfortable brazenly hitting on me at bars. It is how I politely turn them down because they are people and I am polite to people, even to ones I don’t know. It is how they get angry when I reject them and it is how I wind up being called a bitch, or asked if I’m on my period. It is how they feel entitled to me and in charge of me, no matter our relationship or the reality of the situation.
When we tell boys to “man up,” we are implying men are adults and that women are secondary, child-like beings, incapable of caring for themselves on any level without the help of a dude. Which has been completely contrary to everything I’ve experienced and am teaching my son. I expect my son to work hard. I don’t hand that kid anything. I also teach him that everyone deserves to be treated with respect, including himself. None of these life lessons are gender dependent.
I would like to express again: I’m the one holding it down. I don’t expect a medal; I certainly don’t deserve one. This isn’t me whining, it’s me being fucking angry. Kid’s dad wants to be an ass? Cool, peace out, I got this. But telling my kid to be the “man of the house” or to “man up” is just teaching him that even though I’m a woman, and I’m the one who is doing everything, it doesn’t matter because being a MAN is the only way to be an ADULT. That line of thinking is ignorant and dangerous for both genders, but it seems like women are the ones who continue to get the brunt of it. Think about it next time you tell someone to “man up,” “take it like a man,” “be the man of the house,” or “grow some balls.”
Lauren Delaney is a not-35-yet single mom who lives in a house with two grown adults, her child, and a dog who thinks he is a cat. She enjoys a nice glass of whiskey, Van Halen (never Van Hagar), and tacos. Lauren curses up a storm over at the delightful blog Put Your Damn Pants On.