I have heard, more times than I can count, “It’s easier to raise boys.” These words have come from pregnant women and fathers-to-be, the childless, and people who have already done the work of growing their children into adults. This is, I think, one of those things we are just supposed to accept about the world. Boys are easy to raise; girls are not. For a time, I believed this was the truth about childrearing. I had heard it so often I never really thought to question it. Many years ago, though, a pregnant co-worker of mine expressed gratitude for knowing she was carrying a boy because it would be “so much easier” than raising a girl. For some reason, on this occasion, I was taken aback. Although she acknowledged a healthy baby was what really mattered, the amount of relief she seemed to feel over knowing she would be spared the difficulties of raising a girl seemed pretty strong. I couldn’t help but wonder if her relief was disproportionate to the actual work of raising any child. I wondered if she was right to feel so relieved. Could raising a girl really be that much harder?
I’m going to disregard the (hopefully obvious) problem with making the assumption that sex and gender are one in the same. Clearly, when people speak of boys being easier than girls, they are basing it on cisgender expectations. While the topic of gender expectations is certainly worthy of discussion, it’s not what I want to talk about right now. I want to talk about this idea that the level of difficulty in parenting is somehow determined by the child’s gender.
When I became pregnant, I wanted a girl. Yes, I would have loved a boy with just as much ferocity, but I wanted a girl and I got one. My daughter is crazy smart. She’s shy. She loves history and she has an incredible knack for sarcasm. She has a misogyny detector that is off the charts. But these aren’t the things you can see. You can see her gorgeous head of curls, though, so I often hear things like, “Oh, you better watch out when she gets older.” I know this is intended as a compliment, as if I have made some sort of accomplishment by bringing a pretty girl into the world, but I certainly don’t hear it as a compliment. Instead, I think of all the times I was told how hard it is to raise girls.
The truth of the matter is it is hard to raise girls. My daughter already knows she is more likely to be judged by her looks than by her character. She knows about catcalls and how much harder it will be for her to peacefully walk down the street than it will be for her friends who are boys. This is the reality for girls and women, and it is absolutely the result of patriarchy. Sure, I can tell my daughter she can grow up to be anything she wants, but I would be doing her a real disservice if I neglected to tell her about all of the ways it won’t be fair for her because she is a she.
It’s not difficult to compile a list of the many injustices women regularly face. There are statistics about salaries. Slut shaming. Victim blaming. Lies about “having it all.” Mommy wars, and guilt, and on and on. Of course, making it to womanhood is a feat in and of itself. We have to first spend our childhood years being told we should like pink and Disney princesses. By adolescence, we have to habituate the act of comparing our bodies to our peers’. And let’s not forget the many dangers of having sex, and how any unwanted resulting consequences are entirely our fault. These things seemingly make the case for why people are right to say raising girls is harder. But what are we really saying when we say it’s easier to raise boys? What we really mean is:
We are perfectly content with the status quo.
We are comfortable with the patriarchy.
We accept rape culture.
We know boys will be boys.
What we are really doing when we allow ourselves to believe it’s easier to raise boys is giving them a free pass to behave badly. If bringing up boys is, in fact, easier, it’s only because we allow it to be so. We wouldn’t call it easy if we were committed to raising our sons in direct opposition to the ridiculous allowances our society makes for them. No, it shouldn’t be difficult to teach our young men about consent. It shouldn’t be difficult to teach them they alone are responsible for their actions. It shouldn’t be difficult to teach them they are not owed one damn thing by any girl or woman, ever, but in actuality these are hard concepts to instill.
When the news came out about the Stanford rape case, I shared in the collective outrage. I cannot recall a time I felt as much fury at a stranger as I did when I read the letter the rapist’s father penned. Indisputably, this particular injustice is fueled by affluence and white privilege. I suspect, though, there’s a lot more to the story. More than wealth and race, I am absolutely convinced the Turners are content with the status quo. The Turners are comfortable with the patriarchy. They embody rape culture and now they have the audacity to believe they have been treated unfairly because, hey, boys will be boys.
Because of the actions of Carl-Fredrik Arndt and Peter Jonsson, we have been reminded of the importance of not being a bystander. Indeed, it is terrifying to think of how the victim’s story could have ended if not for these two men. But we don’t have to wait until we are in the midst of something horrific before we act. If you want to avoid being a bystander, start by questioning the next person you hear claim “boys are easier,” or ask yourself why you believe it. Don’t dress your infant son in a “Future Ladies Man” onesie no matter how humorous you think it is. And if you think it’s important to talk to your daughters about birth control, rape, drinking responsibly, and presenting themselves “respectfully” in public, then it needs to be just as important to have these conversations with your sons.
I won’t dispute the fact that our society was designed (by males, of course) to be advantageous to boys and men, but I refuse to accept that it must remain that way. We can and should hold our boys to higher standards than we currently do, and we can definitely stop making excuses for their behavior. We start by not allowing the words “It’s easier to raise boys than girls” to be our reality.