Is there really anything we can tell our small sons that they don’t already know about girls?
Shall we tell them that they can be friends with girls? I think they already know that from school.
Should we tell them that girls can be excellent athletes? Our boys are probably on a co-ed team right now and everybody knows Sophie is the best player they’ve got, anyway.
Should we tell them that girls can be astronauts and engineers and poets and doctors and lawyers and moms and governors and Senators and anything at all?
Sure, we could tell our small sons those things – and have our boys say, “Duh, tell me something I don’t know”.
Girls as peers is their reality.
After the overwhelming response to last week’s post, What Do We Tell Our Daughters?, I did some thinking.
Do we need to have a serious talk about girls and their abilities with every boy under the age of twelve – boys who are experiencing a much different world than did their fathers and grandfathers?
Or do we really need to talk directly to the men in the survey? Men thirty-three to sixty-seven?
I mean, they are probably someone’s son, or were at some point. So let me talk about these guys – our big sons – and all the people who love them.
And believe me – I love men. In every facet of their wonderful complexity.
Many years ago I read a book which was so insightful, so helpful, that I reached out to the author to say “thank you for writing this book, you are amazing, did I say thank you?” That book was What Could He Be Thinking by Dr. Michael Gurian. Mike became a friend and I’ve relied on him over the years for research-based insights. He was also a guest on my podcast twice, here and here.
In fact, when wrote about this subject in 2009, (in a post which you might enjoy at this moment: What Do Men Want?) I explored Mike’s idea that all men view themselves as heroes on a quest – and that’s a really important foundational piece when we try to figure out why so many men surveyed by Harvard expect their female partner to subordinate her career and to be the primary caregiver for their children.
My friend Dr. Gurian suggests that the male quest is about achievement and status and it’s biologically wired via the testosterone, vasporession and other hormones influencing their minds and bodies. In his book, he quotes a 42-year old male pediatrician as saying,
I admire my wife, who can take ten years off work and just focus on raising children. Even I, who love kids and have devoted myself to them, can’t see myself separating my job from my life. If I didn’t have my work, my family would not have a reason to love me. I know that sounds strange, but that’s they way I feel. I need to be doing something to make them proud of me.”
I’ve heard this same sentiment expressed by many of my male clients. And I hear another thing from them – so many men feel like their quest is very solitary. They are alone, fighting the good fight, overcoming the odds, doing everything they can to achieve and make a mark.
For many men, work is the way they identify who they are – alone, against the odds, proving something. And other men in the workplace are worthy competitors who help a man measure his success.
But today, there are women in the mix. Talented, educated women who have things they want to accomplish in their own careers. They bring plenty to the table – skills, expertise, perspective and, yes, drive.
And here’s the deal: Today, a good woman can help a good man reach his goals – not as a meek help-meet, but as a hero in her own right.
In What Do Men Want, I suggested that all men see themselves as Luke Skywalker – a hero on a quest – and we all know that while they gave Princess Leia a weapon, she didn’t shoot very well.
But times have changed, and now we have Katniss Everdeen who happens to be a very good shot. And she has Gale, and Peeta, and Haymitch – all good men – who support her, and she supports them in turn.
She is not subordinate in any way, and yet a revolution is fought and won.
So, this Katniss analogy right here? This is what I would tell the men in the study:
All the women in your life have the ability to be the strong, courageous, warrior partner you need to fulfill your quest.
When given half the chance, your female partner will have your back whether it’s at work, or at home.
Because she really wants you to achieve your quest – you’re life’s mission – and all she’s asking is that you want the same thing for her.