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Like most American men, I’ve come to embrace the importance of “leaning in.” Only in my case, it’s not in the boardroom, but rather in the playroom — with Wonder Woman and Rey.
Let me explain. We have 3 young sons, and my oldest, our 6-year-old Jake, may be a bit of a sexist. And I’m trying to fix it, with the help of key female action figures.
My son isn’t misogynistic, per say. He just seems to have developed a preference for who waits on him — that being my wife — and who picks up his clothes, drops him places, and does all these menial tasks that he pretends he’s too young to do. Again and again, that preferred task handler is my wife.
“Can someone refill my water please?” he’ll ask. I’ll offer to do so, and he’ll insist, “No, I want mommy to do it.”
That’s not the worst of it. Not only is he heavily into his “girls are the yucky worstest stage” (he invited zero girls to his birthday party), but he’s taken to telling my wife that she doesn’t know how to play with his toys the right way. Her voices for Batman and Kylo Ren are the worst, he tells her. To be fair, they are the worst, but still, my wife doesn’t need to hear that. Raised on Barbies and dollhouses, she’s doing her best.
It’s funny, until it’s not. I worry that I’m giving off subtle inequalities since I don’t do as much of the cooking and calendar management and other traditionally/unfairly-dumped-on-mom chores as my wife does (for various reasons ranging from schedules to different skill sets), but I’m more than happy to jump in and talk about the nuances of probe droids and social politics of the Justice League for hours on end. And my narratives are strong and my voices tight. But I digress.
I don’t want my son seeing women as lesser. I don’t want him seeing girls as a trade-off in playdates. I want him to make good choices in hiring when he’s a CEO. I want him to give actresses substantial, non-appendage roles if and when he runs a Hollywood studio.
But first and foremost, I also want him to respect my wife. And other girlfriends, friends who are girls, and any other women who end up in his life.
Of course, it’s really hard to judge how much of this is age-appropriate and phase-driven (it doesn’t help that my father-in-law loves to repeat “Boys Rule” to him as some kind of hilarious joke). It’s not as though I was too keen to weave my Princess Leia toy into my Star Wars action as a kid. I think my brother and I opted to take her head off if memory serves. I was way too young to appreciate her golden bikini (wait, that was probably sexist) or her badass iconic feminist message.
So I’m trying to subtly set an example as best I can with my play choices. So I’ll opt to bring Wonder Woman or Batgirl into the mix whenever I can, and have them beat up bad guys with ease. I accentuate her powers and try to have her clearly and independently take out members of the Legion of Doom in a non-supportive, completely front-and- center role. I even let him see snippets of the bad-ass Wonder Woman from that new Superman vs. Batman trailer. To be sure, I won’t let him see that movie, since it will scare the hell out of him — and not just because it’s directed by Zack Synder.
I’ve found myself squeezing Rey, the new hero of the Star Wars franchise, into every Hoth or Tatooine battle that I can (sometimes I get rebuked for breaking the narrative timeline). A note on Rey — many have talked about her importance to tween girls as an icon, and they’re totally right. But I see her also important for young boys who grow up on too many princess female role models (not that there’s anything wrong with them). A laser-blasting rebel just carries so much more weight in certain circles.
“Does Rey have the Force?” my son asks.
“Oh yes she does. She’s even more powerful in the Force than Kylo Ren. You bet she uses a lightsaber. Hey, do you want to watch Doc McStuffins? She’s tops in her toy doctor field and never seems to need a man’s help.”
Where is this coming from? Do I feel unequal? I wonder if somehow I’ve passed down the sexism with my traditional dad roles, even though I try to cook as many dinners and change every diaper I can when I’m home while also taking out the garbage. I also cringe when I think back on how easy it was to talk back to my mom in ways I would have never imagined with my dad. I don’t want that same dynamic to emerge.
Still, inevitably I’m the one playing catch and going to ball games and doing the wrestling. Is that sexist? You should know, I watched both seasons of Transparent, so I’m extremely sensitive to gender roles.
So I’m trying to coach my wife up. Talking deep backstories on Jedi history. Digging through various superhero incarnation. Voice practice. Trying to find ways to do full family battles. Talking to our son about how much we both loved Jessica Jones. Schooling her on the glory of Kristaps Porzingis.
Is this going to have any impact? Did my talking up the Women’s World Cup last year sink in at all? I don’t know. I won’t know for 20 years. But the other day, my wife and son had a football catch.
“You’re pretty good, mommy.”
Doug Parker is a writer for Babble. You can read more from Babble here: