Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

Why Boys Need Feminism

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“Boy… You’re going to carry that weight,

Carry that weight a long time…”

-The Beatles, Carry That Weight

You realize a few things when you bring a baby boy into the world. Your mind swirls with emotion and awe and fear and joy. You start to dream immediately of the kind of life your son will have.

And somewhere in the midst of the love and elation and the dreams there are a few wishes. Please let him be healthy. Please let him have a happy life. Please let me be a good parent. Please let him always feel safe and loved. And also… please let him be tall and strong and bold and athletic. You don’t really say any of this out loud. In fact the last part is said quickly in your head as you rush to tick off the superficial qualities that you only care about because society cares. Because possessing these qualities will make his life a little easier… actually, a lot easier. It will afford him more respect and privilege. It will give him a leg up and an advantage on the playing field of life.

Yes, many of these traits were at one time vital to survival. They used to be desirable in searching for a mate who could provide food and protect the family in a world of man against beast. But now? They are just superficial.

Society still cares. Society still deems these as qualities that all boys and men should strive for. Society still rewards height with higher pay and more leadership positions. Society and the media still perpetuates the idea of men settling disputes with violence. Society still gives a side eye to the man who takes a different path than the traditional “Honey, I’m home” role.

Our world has evolved. But we as a whole are still stuck in Neanderthal times.

I think it’s time for us to grow up.

I think it’s time to talk about boys and men and feminism.

Because boys are a victim of the same system (culture, mindset, tradition) that denies rights to women and the LGBT community, and tries to strip away their value and their worth. Because underneath the blatant misogyny in this system?

The boys and men are losing out.

They are being mislead and mistreated.

They are being told that they have to be tough. That they have to be big and tall and strong. They are told that their job in life is to have a job. They are being taught that their role in parenting is secondary.

They are being boxed in. Into a standard, a stereo type. They are being taught to stuff down feelings and to squash emotion. Unless it’s anger. They are being told that to fight is to prove your manliness. To dominate, to be aggressive, to be tough is the epitome of masculinity.

And it’s all bullshit.

It serves no one.

Not the shy little boy who doesn’t want to fight.

Not the stay at home dad who wants to raise his children and still be respected by his friends and his community.

Not the women or men who fall in love with and share a life with and raise children with these men.

We don’t talk about it much. And it’s understandable. Men make more money than women. They are afforded certain privileges, especially and primarily if they are white straight men. They are almost always the ones in positions of power. But that doesn’t minimize or negate the impact that our culture and society – and in fact most of the whole damn world – has on them.

It shapes their concept of who they should be. It puts undue and unnecessary pressure on them. They are being taught to conform and to look and act and feel a certain hyper masculine way. But rarely do we think about how the system affects men. And that is exactly why I think it needs to be said:

Feminism is for boys too.

Beyond #HeForShe, beyond the battle cry for men to join the movement. Feminism is for boys and men too. To benefit them. To lift the burden they carry from the moment they are photographed in their first “Lil Slugger” outfit.

What if we took these expectations off of boys and just let them grow and evolve organically. No preconceived ideas about who they should be or how they should play or how they should feel. What if we decided that whatever lies within them will lead them exactly where they are supposed to be one day. What if we didn’t have to worry about society bumping up against them violently for not adhering to the plan? Antagonizing them with jeers of being left out or left behind or left hooked?

What if… what if we took the gender ideals – from what colors boys are allowed to like to what types of activities they are expected to engage in – and threw them out with with the grunts and the knuckle dragging.

What if…

What if we stopped expecting or encouraging or allowing boys to settle disputes with violence?

What if we stopped belittling or laughing at tears or emotions when they ripple across a boy’s face.

What if we valued sensitivity in a boy as much as we value a good arm or fast feet?

What if we allowed and encouraged men to talk about and deal with and get help for depression, anxiety, PTSD and any and all emotional and psychological ailments without shaming them or making them feel less than masculine?

What if we took the rape and sexual assault of boys and girls more seriously? What if we took the shame out of it for all victims?

What if we (in the U.S.) gave men paid paternity leave and put changing tables in men’s  rooms and treated dads as vital and crucial in their role of parenting as we do moms. What if being a Stay At Home Dad was just another job?

What if we accepted that our boys might not like sports. That they might like to dance or draw or act or write or cook. What if we took the pressure to fit into one lonely little athletic box -that can’t possibly hold all the boys anyways- off their shoulders?

What if it didn’t matter how tall a man was? That his height was as inconsequential as a woman’s thigh gap or lack thereof.

What if we took pressure off of men to be the sole and/or primary breadwinners in a family? What if we accepted and respected that there is no shame in their wife or significant other making more money?

What if we eliminated the false notion that boys are inherently more violent. What if we realized that nurture (by way of a society that expects it of them) has led us to this false belief?

What if we stopped expecting boys and men to dominate women, to rack up the conquests? What if we allowed and encouraged men to focus on the romance and the emotional connection and appreciate true intimacy?

What if we let boys be whoever the hell they are and didn’t require anything of them other than to grow and learn and to be a good person? What if we did this for all kids?

What if we stopped assuming that men are not able to control their lustful urges and must be protected by covering the female body in school or in the science lab or on the street?

What if we stopped reducing men to bumbling idiots with no self control?

What if we gave boys and men a little more credit?

What if while fighting the good fight for women’s equality and LGBT equality we also acknowledged and focused on how the system affects the mentality of a young boy and consequently shapes the mind of the man? What if we recognized that these very issues that boys deal with as they grow into men are intertwined with the very things that Feminists are trying to achieve?

What if we were all in it together and fought the system together?

What if one thing lead to helping the other. The vicious cycle of misogyny and hyper masculinity ground to a halt by the refusal of men and women to participate in the perpetuation of an ancient myth for one second longer?

What if we eliminated this pressure and instead created a place where boys could express emotion. Could cry. Could deal with anger or fear or sadness without embarrassment. And could grow and mature in a world where they could be their authentic self. What if this trickled down to less violence in our world?

What if it is that simple?

What if inclusivity is truly all encompassing? Women, Men, Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders… all doing it together to just be who we are. Without expectations and parameters and shame and judgement.

What if changing our mindset and calling out pressure and expectations and bullshit for everyone was the thing that finally took down the system.

Maybe there’d be a little less anger in this world. A little less confusion. A little less hate. Maybe there’d be a little more understanding. A little more acceptance.

Maybe boys need to be a part of the feminist cause too.

Tell me what you think. Do you think that changing our cultural mindset about boys and men will have an affect on other feminist causes? Do you think that men are tired of the pressure they feel to fit into these roles at a young age? Or do you think this is a non-issue? 

38 Responses

  1. YES! Everything you write seems to come right out of my brain except you have a much more eloquent way of putting it. Love this so much Gretchen! specially this paragraph “What if inclusivity is truly all encompassing? Women, Men, Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, Transgenders… all doing it together to just be who we are. Without expectations and parameters and shame and judgement.”

    1. Thank you Darla! I guess I’m hoping that if we start stripping away expectations that it will lead to less judgement for everyone. I know it’s a little “pie in the sky”-ish but why not? (and I love that we think alike. that’s a great compliment.)

    1. Dude, you ARE so smart! I think we need to start saying it more. That feminism is for boys too. Maybe it would also help dispel the myth that feminists hate men. Sigh… one can hope.

  2. Hear, hear!

    I’ve already had to sit down with Little Jedi a few times and talk about biological sex and gender and how we don’t have to earmark things as “for girls” and “for boys.” His paternal grandfather is pretty bad about saying “that’s for giiiirls” and so I feel like I need to correct a lot of those messages and talk about *why* it’s a problem to say things like that, how it can be limiting.

    Feminism is for all of us. Especially our children.

    1. Yes! My little one loves to point out “boy” and “girl” stuff all the time. I’m constantly correcting her and trying to explain that there is no such thing. But I’m having a hard time of getting through to her on this because at the age of 6 she’s already been bombarded with that message. She had some girls at school say that they didn’t want to play with her because she liked to play “boy stuff.” Even though we’ve made progress and so many parents are trying to raise their kids to not buy into it, it’s almost impossible to block out all the noise of gender ideals and the implications of everything they see and hear all around them!

  3. I want to marry you and take you to my commune and we can grow a vegetable garden and run around in hemp clothes because YOU ARE MY MIND, but way better and smarter. <3 <3 <3 (sorry for the weird marriage proposal, but i'm leaving it because SERIOUSLY I need you to grow zucchini with me and be Mrs. Gretchen Teliho, but only unofficially because you should totally keep your last name, right? Fuck those archaic traditions that were spawn from ideas of ownership and property)

    what am I even saying anymore?

    ***backs out of room slowly***

    1. You are amazing and awesome and hilarious and I love your weird marriage proposal (that seems strangely fixated on gardening?). But I would join your commune in a second and we would have to ease Lizzi into the idea of you sharing the love. 🙂 Now I’m singing Lenny Kravitz “I build this garden for us” and will be all day… <3

  4. You are so right, girl! Everything you say in this post is absolutely (sadly) true. I think in addition to the expectations and pressures we as a society put on men, man-bashing has become a favorite pastime! They can’t win. If they are too aggressive it’s bad, if they are too soft, that’s bad too.

    I think there has been some progress made. Look how well we receive and accept our male blogging buddies who write about being home with their kids and how well we listen to their ‘feminine’ sides with no judgement. Baby steps – but we have a long way to go!!

    As a mother of a sensitive, caring and loving 21 year old son, I am proud of the way we have always supported and encouraged him to put kindness first above everything else. He is working toward his career in law enforcement and we know he will carry that softer side of him proudly as he faces difficult situations. 🙂

  5. I would love for all this to happen, but, sadly, I don’t see it happening. Too many people enjoy violence and teach their children to love it. It’s too ingrained. Sadly.

  6. Right from the get go boys were always supposed to be part of the feminism movement… because it affects their daughters, their wives, their mothers. But it also affects them, for sure! Feminism is about equality for all… and equal expectations for both sexes, too.

    Jennifer @ The Jenny Evolution

  7. This is brilliant, so impactful it gave me goosebumps. I nodded my head through the whole thing. I am a mother of boys, married to a man, I grew up with a very present father and have more male friends than female. I see the impact of this all the time, and though I’m lucky to know so many men who are confident enough to be more than the stereotype, I know it isn’t easy to be so. This is such a key issue, for men and feminists alike. The more men who are free to accept who they are, the more men there will be to support women (and all groups) having their freedoms too.

      1. Why is he a sad person is it because he doesn’t like feminism he’s right about them they don’t promote equal rights they support paternity fraud and female supremacy (amongst other unequal things) or should I say you support paternity fraud and female supremacy because it gives privileges to women that make men suffer. If you really supported equal rights you wouldn’t support paternity fraud a feminist said “men who are forced to pay for children who are not theirs should deal with it and just pay” and feminists don’t want DNA tests to be mandatory but domestic violence against women in child support cases what would be more useful DNA tests or considering domestic violence against women in a child support case it pretty obvious which ones more useful and important. The reason why feminist don’t want DNA tests to be mandatory is because they don’t want women to take responsibility for themselves and the man should take full responsibility for a women’s action and a neutral decision. Feminism will grind down boys and teach them how to hate I personally don’t like feminism due to the people in that movement I guess that makes me a sad human being as well (which I’m not) provide me evidence (of your lies) tell me which feminist movement is addressing the problems of men. It’s not the dictionary definition that matters about the movement but their actions and words feminism has done and said a lot of unfair things like block processes that would and will have stopped paternity fraud for an example and a certain #.

  8. I have a beautiful, little boy is small for his age, loves balls and glitter glue. I want him to be all the things.

  9. Great post! Thank you, my friend <3 I'm still mindblow that my Dad was allowed to be creative and even sew things and play with dolls when he was little (he was born in 1940). He's become a great man who can see things without bad gender/patriarchal goggles. If one day I have a son, I hope to raise him to be like my father. Feminism is for everyone if we want to have a better and safer society. I once heard that feminist women should want to have daughters instead of sons. That's BS. I hope to have a kid one day, whether boy or girl, I'll want to raise this child to be good persons and to follow their passions, no matter what they are.

  10. I agree with a lot of what you’re saying, but I strongly disagree that physical strength is a superficial quality. Most women and men should be much stronger than they are and should have much more muscle mass than they have, because that’s the state we evolved to be in to be able to survive. We may live differently now, but our bodies and minds still think it’s 150,000 BC, so we have to give our bodies our minds what they require to be healthy – lifting heavy logs, rocks, dead animals (heavy squats, deadlifts, presses), pulling ourselves up into trees (pull ups), short sprints away from danger and towards prey to spear them (sprinting). The further we get from being in the state we evolved to be in, the more our health suffers – being obese, emaciated, weak and inactive leads to all sorts of shitty health problems – diabetes, heart and liver disease, arthritis, cancer, less bone density, being old and weak and falling down the stairs and breaking bones, and crippling mental illness. Going for a jog everyday doesn’t solve these problems – you may lose fat, but you’ll still be emaciated and weak. The only way to solve all these problems is by getting strong and more muscular – you lose fat, get stronger, build more muscle that burns calories even when resting and prevents you getting fat in the future, increase bone density, lung capacity, makes you stronger in old age and less prone to falls and breaks, makes you more resilient to illness; studies have shown the less mass you lose whilst fighting cancer the higher chance you have of surviving it, so having more mass to begin with will automatically give you a better chance of survival – all the things we have evolved to posses and all the things our bodies require to be healthy.
    I have a theory that if your other organs suffer this badly when you’re obese, emaciated, inactive and weak, why would this not be the cause of dysfunction for the most complex organ in your body – your brain. If you are diagnosed with a mental illness, most Doctors send you to a psychologist and give you medication. I think they should prescribe squats, deadlifts, presses and pull ups and a session of sprinting once a week. I say everyone should encourage their daughters and sons to get physically strong as it’s extremely important for their health. It also builds huge amounts of confidence in your own ability to achieve anything. I always think that if I had a daughter especially, I would try to get them into boxing at a young age. Having the ability to battle with someone and then hug them out of respect afterwards, can teach them so much about life and give them huge amounts of confidence when dealing with other people, which I’ve found is one of the most difficult things in life.

  11. What if instead of focusing on gender or race or religion or whatever dividing identifier is the issue of the day and we just focused on human beings and the desire and drive for equality for all?

  12. ***Feminism is for boys too.***

    IS this an issue? YES. YESSSSSSSSS.

    Where did these “ROLES” begin anyhow? Men made them up, obviously!

    I believe in complete equality & empowerment.

    Once we have this: the respect, the love, the being VALUED & Treasured & Listened to…. ( both male and female)

    Well, it will almost be a perfect world.


    1. You are a moron if you believe that it may be a good buzz earlier in life but those days will be and are numbered because boys are going to see what feminism is and how it hates them a side you apparently don’t see which is majority of the movement which is bad to the core it does not promote what it says but the opposite. Feminism is cancer you don’t need feminism for your son to grow up well you need good morals and influences and feminism is not a good influence it will grind boys down because they are the front of feminist attack and, you in the back of your mind know this completely if you make your son grow up with feminism it will make him hate himself because women in that movement blame him for their problems which he has no control over women will try and force him to say he is evil when he is not that what feminism and women in the movement will teach him how to hate and will say to him he’s a rapist, he’s too privileged when women are the most protected gender in the western world and other civilised society name one civilised society in the western world that takes away privileges from women or hurt their rights name one right a man has you don’t you already are equal but you need brainwashed men to do your work and sweep in take all the credit that’s what you feminist do and then say to the person who deserves some credit doesn’t deserve it they the feminist longed to do the hard work but wait someone did it for them and he was male and they disrespect him and treat his existence like it is nothing and isn’t worthy of respect just for being human there are feminist like this go research about them then tell me I’m wrong the whole goal for feminist is gender equality bull crap. If you say a few bad people in the feminist movement don’t represent the whole then a few good people if they do anything good which is rare don’t represent the whole either feminism definition has changed its a man hating hate movement that seeks to blame everything on men their decision and other things amongst that.

      The reason why I say a few good is because there are some who are good but they usually say nothing when their movement is being sexist or condemn their extremists which is annoying and gives them a bad name if they condemn the extremists men will like them because they believe in their goal whole heartedly which they don’t.

  13. Absolutely agree. Especially the “give them more credit.”

    It is surprising how quickly some men are bashed down simply because of the gender they were born into. I was watching a BuzzFeed video the other day where men tried on jeggings. The men were saying that it was really comfortable, but one of the men said “I wish it was socially acceptable to…” and my brain was kind of like, “Yeah, it is hard for men to break gender lines, maybe even more than women.” We look at cross-dressers. Cross-dressing women are being edgy or sophisticated in photography. Male cross-dressers are presented as a joke or farce. Women can wear traditionally male clothing and no one really bats an eye any more, but a man can’t (collared shirts as the only shirt of choice in business?)

    Women can be breadwinners or stay-at-home moms, or be a single parent and society might stall a bit, but they accept it. Men can’t really do all three of those without being labeled a deadbeat (on the last two, obviously).

  14. Teaching boys feminism begins with their fathers. My husband and I have a son and a daughter and early on it was clear that our son emulates his dad and our daughter emulates me. My husband mirrors that it’s good to be both strong and sensitive, that parenting is just as much his responsibility as mine and that it’s ok to cry during a movie and then go out and kick the soccer ball. His dad plays rough with him in a way that I just can’t and then wraps him in a massive, loving hug. It’s one thing for me to tell him that it’s no big deal to have to eat off a pink plate at a birthday party but it’s totally another if he sees his dad doing it while wearing a pink birthday hat. There will always be gender roles but making sure that kids don’t get trapped in those boxes doesn’t begin with society, it begins at home. Great post Gretchen!

  15. I try…I try very hard to be gender neutral with my boys! One of them is into karate and I’m happy to see an equal number of girls in his class; the other one loves art and I’ve put him into art classes. I wanted to put them in cooking classes too last summer but I chickened out when I saw that everyone else who signed up was female!! *sigh* I got nervous and I didn’t want them to be the butt of insensitive jokes, but they are learning cooking at home, as well as laundry and how to load a dishwasher properly!

    And, I agree with Karen above! It helps if your male partner serves as a great example too!!

    1. You sons going to be mass murders. Gender is nothing to ply with. Let them be boys. Don’t force them into female stuff.

      You seem to be a bad mother.

  16. Have you ever watched Tony Porter’s Ted Talk “A Call to Men”? It explores this same topic.

    Check it out:

    I really enjoyed your post. We all need to think critically about how this collective socialization of gender roles is so ingrained in us and damaging for everyone. Thank you for highlighting this issue. I don’t want my nephew to feel ashamed or get picked on, if he’s sensitive and likes to paint his nails. I want my dad to be able to comfortably cry in my arms when he’s going through a tough time and obviously needs the support instead of bottling it up all the time. I don’t want to see my guy friend always feel inadequate because of his small stature.

    I think you perfect summed it up in the following part:

    “And it’s all bullshit. It serves no one.”

    1. You are stupid if you think that’s the case feminism is the new Nazism that movement hates men and boys that disgusting movement disrespects men and boys why do you want your son to be in a movement that will tell him being a boy being masculine is toxic and evil you must really hate your child to do that. And feminism the thing that’s meant to be for support and equality doesn’t support men because they want to keep the perspective men are the perpetrators and women are the victim and they want you to think your gender is divine and can’t do anything wrong thats what feminism teaches it says all men are evil and forcibly brand us men with it and refuse to admit women are spoilt by the law system by divorce and child support. They can’t admit women can be domestic violence perpetrator, a rapist, child abuser, child abductor women abuse their children way more than men do but feminists don’t say that because it goes against the narrow perspective of men perpetrator men evil and women victim women good perspective.

  17. Boys need feminism like they need cancer in their testicles. Decades of feminist demonization of everything male — condemning them for what they are — have left young boys depressed.

    Fuck you and your feminism. We don’t want it. We don’t need it. It’s toxic.


  18. Boys do not need feminism it teaches them how to hate themselves and each other feminism doesn’t give a damn about boys those who think this are brain washed feminism only hates name one feminist group that is addressing how men are the majority of the homeless how we men have higher suicide rates. You also don’t condemn women in their wrongs when they lie about rape which the statistic is not 2-8% but aprox 30-40% are false rape accusations are made by females feminism hates men and boys because why would they label them all potential rapists or say all men are rapist or killallmen why would they pull the mythical wage gap something that doesn’t exist out of their ass and blame it on men why would they blame rape and oppression of rights on men. Feminists lie about everything to the wage to rights tell me one right a man has you dont? Its simply isn’t wise to raise a boy as a feminist because you will make that his back bone and once it falls apart and he sees with his eyes feminist do hate men, males, him it will grind him down and he will hate men and women especially his mother for lying to him. Feminist have only one goal to make men feel bad for women’s bad decisions from work to a party to ignorance to consequences your son will understand this soon enough and learn he can’t be equal because he’s different we are not all the same a lot of people in the feminist movement like to be sheep’s (things they have in common people have things in common so please don’t try to kill me goons). I don’t agree with teaching a boy to be a feminist you are not teaching him to be understanding or respectful of others views but hateful towards them and disrespectful (religion Christianity or Catholics over abortion rights) and anti feminists. You are also telling spread the message of women be irresponsible.

    But to the why’s it simple feminism doesn’t want to admit that some of the responsibility lies on women and them in most of the hell all of the cases to a degree but simply finds it easy to say it’s mens fault we are undervalued by feminism by law in areas child custody, divorce, defence in false rape accusations (having your identity anonymous when they’ve cleared you), paternity fraud etc.

    The reason I gave Christianity and Catholic up as an example is feminist atracked an Argentinean church because they had opposing ideals of abortion go find the video you’ll understand then.

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