Sunday, October 27, 2013

my boys and the macho superhero ideal

(alternate title: halloween costumes and another feminist parenting fuck-up)

This year for Halloween Donovan is dressing up as Spiderman, and Quinn as Captain America. They've had their costumes for weeks, adorable little things with the big built-in padded muscles, and they've been wearing said costumes pretty much non-stop. So cute, right? So adorable showing off their tough-guy moves and tough-guy poses and their BIG MUSCLES and they've heard me and countless other adults make such comments to and around them for weeks.
This morning as D wore his Spiderman costume yet again, and got set to wear it to a friend's (non-costume themed) birthday party, I asked him why he likes to wear it so much. "Because I like having these big muscles, Mom." Then he went to find thicker pants to wear under his costume so his legs would look more muscular, too.

My heart broke. I don't know why I was surprised by it, either, but I was.

And then later on this morning I read this post, which led to this one, about how there's so much talk these days about pinkwashing and princess culture and yet no one questions how our boys are being conditioned to be tough and strong and to glorify pirates and superheroes, etc etc etc, and what that might be doing to them. The pressure they may feel to fit that macho ideal. And it all hit me hard.

I feel like I'm fairly conscious about this sort of stuff, and yet here I am feeling blindsided. And maybe I'm blowing things out of proportion, maybe to him it's just for fun, I don't know, but the thought of my sweet, goofy, caring, skinny-as-a-rail Donovan who is just not gonna have the body type for big muscles, ever, that he may already feel insecure about his body or feel the need to look a certain way because that's what we're all pushing and glorifying, it just And I hate that I contributed to that. I feel so foolish for not having seen this as it was coming.

He and I had a brief chat about body types after his comment this morning, and we'll have many more of those over the next few days/weeks/years. The boys will wear these costumes through Halloween, and then the costumes might just go away... maybe I'll try to find non-muscle-bound versions of them, instead. Last week Zach and I watched the documentary Miss Representation, which got me thinking about all the ways I can help my boys see and fight against rape culture and the way women are objectified in our culture, which is a HUGE problem. I don't want to downplay the massive harm those expectations do to women and girls. But it's easy to forget that boys are also vulnerable to body image issues, to that pressure to fit a certain stereotype that is so incredibly, ridiculously limiting. It's overwhelming, feeling like I'm fighting against this massive tide of messages and expectations that come from everywhere so that even I don't always see them coming, and I don't know what I'm doing, and I'm just hoping I can help them be strong in knowing who they are and not needing to fit into unrealistic (or just plain don't-fit-for-them) expectations.


  1. I've thought about this too. I know I just have girls, but I've seen that lack of confidence grow in little boys I know as I've watched them grow. How they are supposed to be big and tough and strong; how it's not okay for boys to cry, etc. I think one of the best things we can do is to speak positively about OURSELVES around them. Me and Ryan around our girls, you and Zach around your boys. My mom was always skinny as a rail. So, so skinny...and even a few inches taller than me. Yet she never spoke about being too skinny or not skinny enough - she spoke about exercising to be HEALTHY, exercising to take care of her body, not exercising to look a certain way. That has been crucial to how I see myself. She may have had critical thoughts about herself, but she didn't vocalize those to me. I still went through a phase where I didn't like me (did I mention my mom is skinnier than me!? So is my sister??)...but I truly am happy with myself now, and happy that my body has the ability to work hard and run marathons and be healthy, no matter how many pounds or inches I am.

    1. Thanks, Maren. Wise words indeed.



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