Ever since sexual harassment revelations about film producer Harvey Weinstein opened a floodgate for such scandals among the rich and powerful, some culture critics are suggesting that to eradicate such predatory behavior, we must raise boys to be more like girls.
In “The Bad News on ‘Good Girls,’” which appeared in last Friday’s New York Times, for example, contributor Jill Filipovic expressed frustration that, even though parents today claim they want their daughters to be strong and independent, there still exist “entrenched and often invisible gender biases” that nudge girls toward being “sweet and passive.” Meanwhile, boys are “raised to embrace risk-taking and aggression.” The result, she claims, is that women are socialized into staying home as mothers and homemakers, and men are encouraged to go out into the world and fill the roles of leaders and bosses.
Part of the reason for this, Filipovic says, is that “[g]irls are taught to protect themselves from predation, and they internalize the message that they are inherently vulnerable; boys move through the world not nearly as encumbered and certainly not seeing their own bodies as sources of weakness or objects for others’ desires.”
But the biological reality is that the weaker are inherently vulnerable to the stronger. Both girls and boys are vulnerable to predatory adults. The old are vulnerable to the young. Weaker boys are vulnerable to stronger boys. And yes, girls and women, generally speaking, are inherently vulnerable to boys or men who are, generally speaking, physically stronger and more aggressive. This is not simply a matter of how they are raised, although this certainly can be ameliorated to some extent by teaching girls from an early age how to defend themselves.
Filipovic’s rebuttal is that “[w]hile girls are being told to protect themselves, too many boys are growing into the men they need to be protected from.” No argument there—as a champion of moral masculinity—otherwise known as chivalry—I wholeheartedly agree that we need to do a better job of inculcating a sense of responsibility as protectors, not predators, in our sons. This is a sense of duty that many young men today are choosing to reject, or never learn in the first place because our culture has failed them by turning its back on traditional ideals of honor and service.
The problem with this solution is that today’s feminists like Filipovic absolutely lose their minds over the notion that men should treat women chivalrously. Gentlemanly behavior is rejected as “benevolent sexism” and considered even worse than violent sexism because it’s supposedly more insidious. Radical feminists today—a minority of women but a very vocal, influential one—make it painfully clear that they refuse to accept men as predators or gentlemen. What they want is for men to vanish from the face of the earth entirely, or failing that, to be molded into the stereotype of a woman that they scorn: emotional, passive, nurturing.
Filipovic disapproves of a society that treats the sexes differently; it irks her that she cannot shop for a baby shower without the clerk asking if the gift is for a boy or a girl. She grudgingly acknowledges that biology “plays a role in development and may also influence gendered preferences, but… whatever natural differences do exist are magnified, and often totally invented, by how we’re nurtured.” No one knows for sure just where the blurred line between nature and nurture is, but it’s clear that what Filipovic wants is to negate the former by overemphasizing the latter.
Toward this end, she urges us to raise children “without gendered roles and expectations.” Here is her solution, which is representative of what feminists today want: “What could make a big difference is raising boys more like our girls—fostering kindness and caretaking, not just by telling them to respect women, but by modeling egalitarianism and male affection and emotional aptitude at home”—i.e., to feminize boys while urging girls to adopt more masculine traits like career ambition.
Filipovic praises her dad because he “worked not just to protect [her and her sisters], or tell us to protect ourselves, but to push us to walk a little farther out in the world.” She wishes other fathers would do the same, but has her doubts about conservative dads because she believes them to be less enlightened, since “[t]hree-quarters of Republican men say that sexism is mostly a thing of the past.”
I suspect Filipovic doesn’t even know any conservative fathers, or she would know we are empowering our daughters to go further into the world. We are raising them to be strong and independent and unafraid to pursue their dreams. We know sexism exists (against men as well as women); we simply don’t want our daughters to absorb the disempowering feminist lesson that they are oppressed victims of a patriarchal nightmare straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale. We are raising them to know they have equal opportunities and equal rights, because as I’ve written before, in America they do have those things.
Repressing the natural differences between men and women will not lead to the blandly egalitarian utopia Filipovic envisions. By all means, let us raise our daughters to be stronger, bolder women. But let us also raise our boys not to be more like girls but to be decent, honorable men.
Image: Warner Bros.