To the Editors of Parenting Magazine:
It is not often I write to a publication about an article, but I could not shake the frustration I felt when reading “How to Raise a Man” by Shawn Bean (June 2013 issue). It wasn’t just the poorly quoted “professional” opinions, the oversimplification of a growing epidemic of boys with swag instead of men with manners, or the lack of any real how-to advice (I read the article and still am not sure how to raise a man) that angered me. I was willing to overlook those things thinking this may just be a quickly thrown together piece by a busy dad. But, when I got to the second page and saw the clearly anti-homosexual and anti-mother agenda (whether intended or accidental), I could not let this one slide. Now, I am writing to you.
Let me first start by saying I generally enjoy Shawn Bean’s articles and find them usually thought-provoking and insightful. I don’t think he or Parenting magazine intended for this article to come off this way, but it did. I also want to preface by saying that I am not homosexual. Neither am I a relentless feminist. I just believe in equality.
My first clue something was wrong with this article was Bean’s statement that he was “totally buying the new Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven.” This would be an awesome way to break the gender stereotypes, except Bean had to add he was buying the “gender-neutral black and silver.” Sure, his son may prefer black and silver. Certainly, Bean is referencing the recent change in Easy-Bake’s toy line at the request of a young girl seeking to buy her brother an Easy-Bake. I understand that. But, the way Bean wrote this line comes across as “Cooking is okay for boys, but pink isn’t.” With a single statement he tears down one gender stereotype while seemingly upholding another: pink is for girls.
The second, minor point of criticism is Lise Eliot’s quote, “At birth, you are wired for three things: sucking, swallowing, and gag reflex.” I know where Bean is going by including this little snippet, but I find it hard to trust an associate professor of neuroscience who fails to mention that infants are also hardwired for blinking, breathing, urinating, and the multitude of other involuntary actions one’s body performs just to stay alive. It’s a minor oversimplification on the surface, but one that makes it hard for me to trust any other “fact” Bean quotes her as saying. I suppose this is either an instance of check your sources or quote them better.
Then comes the big no-no. The reason that I took to a word processor and began writing this letter: the anti-homosexual and anti-mother slant. It started with the quote, “No one can raise a son like a committed father.” The source, executive vice president of the National Fatherhood Initiative Christopher Brown, was a dead giveaway that this particular section would be slanted. It is true as Bean says that “father absence is a growing epidemic.” All you need is daytime television and the news to see evidence of that every day. But as a stay-at-home mother, I find Brown’s statement insulting. Compared to his peers, my son has been two months ahead across the board and in every category of development since the age of one-month-old. His father and I attribute his early sitting, crawling, talking, pulling-up, clapping, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, preference for reading activities, recognition of words, and ability to follow simple commands (yes, all of this before six months of age) to my diligent and persistent work with him during the day. But how can that be if I am the mother? I thought only fathers could raise their sons best?
I also ask Brown and Bean to consider a family situation that Bean may not have even thought of—or if he did he didn’t address it in the article—a lesbian couple raising a child. Just because a man is not part of that family unit does not mean the son will show “higher rates of health and emotional problems” and participate in drug use and criminal behavior as Bean suggests. I would argue that the problem with boys who exhibit these issues is not that they have one less man in their life but that their father’s actively choose not to participate in their sons’ lives. It is a difference of being actively rejected as opposed to not having a male figure in the first place.
I agree two parents are best for a child. That is not to say that single mothers or fathers (who are probably just as insulted by this article as I am) are not capable. I know they work hard to provide the best for their children. These single parents need applauded instead of having this article slapped in their faces. But, I ask, why do those two parents have to be one male and one female? Homosexual couples are just as capable of raising a child as heterosexual couples.
The rest of the article does a nice job summarizing why gender equality is an issue worth advocating. I almost wish Bean went back to his draft, erased everything above “Chivalry in the ‘You Go, Girl’ Era” and Ronald Levant’s section, and just submitted the final two sections. Everything above that does a disservice to the point he wanted to make. As I said, I’m still not sure “how to raise a man.” Apparently, I just need to give my son an (black and silver) Easy-Bake oven and make sure his dad never leaves me. That is what I got from the article.
Finally, I thought it odd you focused four pages on this topic, including a two-page picture spread, but didn’t think to include a “How to Raise a Lady” article. Not everyone has a son. I realized that the hard way while writing my “mommy blog”. But, if you do ever decide to include an article like that, consider soliciting me. I would be more than willing to write it.
Thank you for reading my criticism of Shawn Bean’s article. I hope you will consider what I had to say and address the shortfalls in a future issue.