Here's the Backlash You Can Expect for Blogging About Gender Norms

The moment I hear Barbara Walters say my name on national TV, I realize I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear her say my name on national TV. She prefaces it with novelist and explains that I’ve written an op-ed piece for the New York Times, and for a few perfect seconds, I actually feel like the accomplished women she’s describing to her colleagues on The View. It’s a remarkably giddy sensation.

And then thud—Joy Behar speaks: “She needs to mind her own business.”

The she in question is me, and the business is how we raise little boys. In a parenting blog for the Times, I’d put forth the idea that we shouldn’t teach little boys gender-based etiquette such as letting ladies go first. I said we should teach them to be kind to all people, to respect all people, to extend courtesy to all people. The issue had arisen in our house because my 4-year-old son had been told by his preschool teacher that a gentleman lets girls go first. I didn’t agree with the philosophy and instead thought that such behavior taught boys to treat girls differently and instilled in girls a sense of entitlement for the wrong things. So assuming it was my business, I wrote about it.

The crash from high to low I felt while watching The View pretty much sums up my entire experience with the fallout from the blog post: The Wall Street Journal includes it in its Best of the Web Today roundup (giddy). It chastises me for using my son’s name (thud). The Today show invites me to come on to talk about it (giddy). Hoda misses my point entirely (thud).  Many of the some three hundred comments the essay ultimately garnered were mean and nasty and said awful things about the man my son would one day be.

Of course, this is what happens when you voice an opinion online, and I expected dissent. 

What I didn’t expect was for the outcry to be over something I never actually said—for people to read that I want to raise my son to treat men and women equally and take that to mean I intend to raise a callous brute who will mistreat women. I didn’t expect people to willfully misunderstand my point in order to support their own agendas. And even if I had been clever enough to anticipate all that, I would never have expected the dissent to be expressed with such vitriol. That an article that calls for common courtesy for everyone incited so much discourtesy, especially from men insisting that women deserve a special kind of respect, is sublime, if not appalling, irony.

by Lynn Messina
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16 Comments Have Been Posted

Kudos to you!

I applaud your efforts and appreciate your willingness to voice your opinion so publicly. I am trying to teach my 7-year-old daughter that her gender should not define her or her choices (although sadly, it does to a large degree) and I swell with pride when I hear her tell the little neighborhood boys that "there's no such thing as girl toys and boy toys, there's just toys." Sadly though, parents who try to instill these values are few and far between (or so it seems) and the battle to reject gendered ideas about behavior, consumption and ideology is an uphill one. I'm glad to know there are other like-minded parents out there who aren't afraid to buck cultural norms and teach their children that kindness is a human value, not a gendered one.

I loved the article and

I loved the article and shared it with enthusiasm when I saw the blogpost. I plan to raise any children I may bear/adopt/foster/care for with a similar philosophy. We can only combat sexism if we teach others to see it in their personal lives!

This can be changed

It is unfortunate that many people cannot have a constructive conversation without misconstruing ideas to the detriment of the entire discussion. But please- don't stop talking about this issue. I think the title of this post should be marked with an asterisk. * This is the backlash you will receive today. In a few years the scene will change thanks to the hard work of vocal people who believe that everyone should be treated equally.


You're cool.
What you do is relevant to me as a man who is raising a kid (who's born male) through every sexist and heterosexist movies that still exist on the internet, trying to get him find his own way.
Haters gonna hate.
You're cool.
Thanks for ur blog !

Why Would They Get It?

While I am not a parent, I completely get and agree with your point. The idea that little boys should treat their little girl counterparts differently is damaging. Imagine if we teach children to respect everyone despite their gender? What if a little boy, let's another "person" go first? We live in a world where women are responsible for themselves, as in they maintain careers, households, head companies, organize how does being treated differently by men help in any of these situations? We beg for equality, while demanding we be treated differently.

In my opinion your son will grown into a wonderful man that will not only care for his partner (man or woman) but everyone else and that's a GREAT gift.

A Travesty

The notion you present through your example is precisely the way I envisioned raising a son if I ever had one. I have always been stalwart in my belief that teaching a child that there is *any* difference between boys and girls, or the way you are supposed to treat them, creates the impression of difference which could negatively impact not only how he will see women, but how he might see himself (sexism hurts us all).

The ignorance and conclusion-jumping that took place with the publication of the blog piece was a terrible and unfortunate incident I find appalling. I hope you don't allow this to deter you from continuing to put these wonderful, feminist thoughts forward in the mainstream media. This entire situation surely goes to show how very much they are needed! Best wishes!

Great article!

I just wanted to chime in with a "great job" as I think you voiced a very valid point by noting how something that appears "good" (teaching "gentelman-t behavior) is really just another way to drive home the message that the genders are different and that there is a power imbalance that is innate (ie, girls are weaker, need doors held open for them). I think that teaching kids to be more polite, kind, and compassionate in general without a gendered protocol that dictates to whom they're kind, polite, compassionate with, etc, is a very good thing. It's sad that people refuse to see that and make a big deal out of what is a really nice lesson for kids overall: be kind and compassionate to everyone.

Thank you for being the messanger that's getting berated in the process. Hopefully your writing will open the minds of some even if it's met with resistance from others.


I agree with your article,

I agree with your article, and I'll go a step further: I don't like traditional ideas of chivalry (like letting girls go first) because in some ways it can reinforce the idea that men are gatekeepers of femininity. Men LET women go first... harmless in itself, except that the aggregate of millions of little acts like this can start to teach women that a man must LET us do the things we want to do.

Backlash--is it all code for rape culture?

<cite>That an article that calls for common courtesy for everyone incited so much discourtesy, especially from men insisting that women deserve a special kind of respect, is sublime, if not appalling, irony.</cite>

In my experience, most "special" kinds of "respect" are really just masked forms of something which amounts to being a huge insult.

Behaving differently towards women sets up a number of psychological queues to treat women differently in other ways as well. Suddenly women are all members of a foreign outgroup, and along with the "special" kinds of "respect" come a mountain of negative treatment common to ingroup versus outgroup situations.

Much of the "special respect" shown towards women is really based in keeping women "in their place." It often comes with language that revolves around what a woman must do to retain being worthy of said "special respect," or of requiring "special assistance," all of which is generally demeaning. It also often comes with a loaded set of expectations and unilaterally based sense of entitlement for engaging in the act of showing "special respect." Performing an act of common courtesy is suddenly something which should be reciprocated towards with a response that, if not necessarily outright sexual, is still underpinned in heteronormative courting behavior. "Special" respect is suddenly a coin for creating an obligation of a sexually related response.

Isn't it insulting that we have to teach our boys/men to behave "specially" towards women? Is the message here that without special training, they're going to behave like neanderthals? I feel like this fits into the inherent slap that the entire rape apologist mantra of victim blaming falls under: really, what that says at its heart is that males in our society are so incapable of appropriate moral behavior that immoral behavior is really their default, and special training and over the top effort are required to overcome this. I'm not saying I believe this to be true--I'm saying it's the underlying message every time someone victim blames, and it's also an underlying message in a set of etiquette rules which diverge for treatment towards women.

Not to to mention frequently an excuse for every other form of systematic mistreatment. Lower average wages? Oh, that's ok, because we women get "special respect" when it comes to social etiquette.

If anything, I think men should be bending over backwards to say that gender neutral etiquette should be the norm, and that they are in fact capable of behaving civilly towards everyone, rather than being a bunch of raping neanderthals who can only have a chance of behaving properly towards women if it's a special rule (and then only if she acts "like she should," which is code for "subservient" among other things), and for whom it should be fine to simply misbehave towards everyone else (particularly those who don't fall under a narrowly defined pattern of being "proper" women--those who step out of line either need to be taught their place or simply are no more than chattel and fair game for the "real people" to do with as they would).

You would think that a "real man" would be proud of being able to act with common courtesy towards all, that he would feel it would reflect upon him as being a good person of sound moral upbringing to be able to treat all around him equally. If anything, you would think such all around magnanimity would enhance his "man status." Cries against gender neutral etiquette and related complaints of "sissification" sound instead like a number of people who are so unsure of their own self worth that they can only wrap their own importance in their ability to push the status quo and treat women as "special," which ultimately means "lessor." If treating everyone with equal dignity will somehow compromise you (or, particularly, call into question your sexual orientation--isn't that what concerns over "sissification" are really about?), then you have some issues you need to work on.

I love you a lot right now.

I love you a lot right now. This is precisely the argument I try to make in discussion of etiquette, though my version is usually a lot messier. Thank you for existing.

"Chivalry is a poor substitute for justice"

Said by one of the women who pioneered the right to vote for women in Canada.

I think that we should ALL have to right to be chivalrous to everyone/gender. Imagine the world if men and women treated each other with an unselfish courtesy.

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It's not your fault some people equate the sexism that is chivalry with manners. Five hundred years ago, opening a door for a woman made a hell of a lot more sense because women would need to manage to get themselves and their massive skirts through doors.

Times have changed. If you go through a door first, hold it. If someone behind you is carrying a bunch of stuff, for ghod's sakes, open the damn door.

Good for you, Lynn.

Another mom who totally agrees with you.

just posting more support

i just want to give you further support to try to help outweigh all the undeserved attacks. i am not a parent and am 95% sure i will never be one, but i work with kids regularly and do my best to challenge any of the gendered nonsense that comes up in class. i encourage them to remember that everyone is different and unique, so there's no such thing as "girl colors" or "boy activities" or whatever. keep up the good work, and thanks to all of the parents out there who are trying to raise kids who will be more kind and open-minded than the previous generations.


I respect your journey as a parent as I am a mother to a son as well. But your logic is misguided. Instead of teaching him that boys are supposed to let ladies go first perhaps it would be better to teach him simple courtesy regardless of gender. I have taught both my son and daughter to help others by opening doors for elderly people whom might need an extra hand and giving up their seat for a person who might need it more than they do. I myself don't mind opening doors for others, regardless of gender, and vise versa. It's a simple act of kindness.


Who are you replying to? If it's to the article, that's precisely what her NYT blog was about, to teach boys to treat people the same, regardless of gender, and it was the commenters who got it wrong.

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