The best way to begin is with superheroes. They saturate a little boy's life from birth. My son, Jack, knew superheroes' names before he knew their stories or watched or read about them. They were on his clothes, in his toy box, on our bookshelves. So when my husband said jokingly, about something or other, "Oh, the irony!" Jack looked at him quizzically. "Oh, the Iron Man?" Barely three, and he had already been indoctrinated.
The superhero tales that inspire huge nerd followings have story lines and illustrations filled with sex and violence. Female characters are all cleavage and half-exposed butt cheeks. Every wrong is righted with bloody (or weirdly bloodless) revenge. These are not the lessons my 3-year-old son needs to learn, and they are not the lessons I want to teach him. The problem is, I love superheroes and so does my husband. Everything from Ant-Man to X-Men is part of our pop culture lexicon. We could hardly wait to share these things with Jack because they mean so much to us. So how do I let my kiddo act out superhero stories without acting out (too much) violence, without learning the wrong things about women, without becoming one of those guys?
When Jack was about two, we started letting him watch a little TV. We stuck to PBS, because it was educational and appropriate. Right around that time, PBS premiered a show called Peg + Cat. The show's main character is a little girl named Peg who loves math, singing, and her hilarious sidekick, Cat. In some episodes, Peg becomes Super Peg, and along with Cat Guy, she protects the city of Mathtropolis from the Arch Villain, Triangulo, and other math-themed supervillains. I saw in this the superhero lessons I wanted Jack to learn: kindness, fairness, imagination, empowerment, fun. If only all superhero stories could be so toddler appropriate.
From there, it got harder. Now I spend a lot of time reminding him that we don't shoot people, or hurt people, or kill people. What I've realized, especially now that we're expecting our second child, is that I need to figure out how to raise Jack in a world that, for the most part, still wants boys to be something very different from what I want Jack to be.
Coming up on Oh, The Iron Man: I will stress about raising my little feminist so you don't have to (or don't have to as much). I'll spend all my time scouring the world of comic books and story books for little-kid-appropriate stories, preferably with strong female lead characters. And I'll read books I would never voluntarily read so I can better understand what I'm facing--for example, Strong Mothers, Strong Sons: Lessons Mothers Need to Raise Extraordinary Men. If the title of that book makes you want to throw up, this is the blog for you.