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Who Run the World … “Boys?”: Empowering our boys in the age of toxic masculinity

Raising Kids |

Anyone who knows me well knows that I’m crazy in love with Beyoncé. (This was established before ‘The Carters’ came along and I have mixed feelings about that whole situation, but it’s not what this blog is about.)

Anyone who knows me well, or even not that well, also knows I’m crazy in love with my kids – my son K, (7) and my daughter B, (4). So when B and I were throwing down to “Run the World” in the kitchen one day, yelling, “WHO RUN THE WORLD? GIRLS!”, it broke my heart a little to hear K pipe up with a very uncertain ,“Boys? Can’t boys run the world?”

He’s 7, and sensitive and sweet, so I couldn’t just lay complicated issues like the patriarchy, privilege and sexism flatly at his feet. Here was a kind boy just wanting to know that he was equal and deserving of an empowerment anthem too.

It made me think of a scene from a widely unseen movie, “The Intern” with Anne Hathaway and Robert DeNiro. Hathaway is the highly successful CEO of a tech startup and DeNiro is her highly-overqualified intern after finding retirement too dull. They’re in a bar having a conversation:

Hathaway’s Character: Here’s my theory about this. We all grew up during the “take your daughter to work day” thing, right?

DeNiro’s Character: Mm-Hmm.

Hathaway: So we were always told we could be anything, do anything. And I think guys got, maybe not left behind, but not quite as nurtured, you know? I mean, like, we were the generation of “you go, girl.” We had Oprah. And I wonder sometimes how guys fit in, you know? They still seem to be trying to figure it out.

So as a mom of a little boy, looking at me, wondering whether there’s a place for him to be a leader too, I see this. I see how our little boys are in need of male empowerment too. But in a positive way, that embraces feminism and equality and looks down on toxic masculinity and outdated messages about how to “be a man”.

I am a passionate supporter and proponent of female empowerment, as well as being a product of it. And now both of my kids are feminists. But we need to remember to empower our boys as well as our girls. Don’t tell my daughter she’s pretty while asking my son what sports he plays. Instead, we need to show our kids – regardless of their gender – the importance and value of empathy, compassion and equality, and how to express their emotions rather than stifle them. We need to ask our girls and boys what they’re passionate about, what they love about their friends and how they want to make the world a better place. So now, in my house, “Who Run the World?” We do.

Erin Skillen

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