Clementine Ford gets called many things on the internet. As a prominent feminist with a regular column in the Fairfax press and now two books to her name, she's a target for those who disagree with her strong views.
Clementine doesn’t pull any punches, and there are no punches pulled in her latest book, Boys Will Be Boys. I found this book a challenging read. I have a son, and it was confronting on several levels. But if you want to change the world (and that is exactly what Clementine wants to do), you can’t do it by treading softly.
Which is not the same as saying that Clementine herself is ‘hard’ when it comes to raising her son. When she talks about him she is full of the love, joy and frustrations of any parent. She is also very conscious that she has a great responsibility as the mother of a boy.
"It's very common for people to worry about having daughters because they know what potential risks face their girls. Far fewer people worry about having boys because they don't assume that their sons will ever be responsible for that pain. And of course this is the one thing that men who perpetrate violence against women all have in common, is that they are somebody's son," Clementine says.
When trolls start reporting you to DOCS for dressing your son in pink
Haters are gonna hate. And boy do the haters like to pile on Clementine Ford. When a feminist with a profile like Clementine has a son, it’s open season.
Photographs of her son (always from the back) in a pink jumper on social media elicit hundreds of comments. These range from her inability to parent, to how she’s damaging her son, to calls for someone to intervene.
"I'm not scared of them generally, but there's always a flicker of fear that someone might be just scary enough to try and do something about it. It sounds like paranoia but I promise you, it’s not. I know that they've coordinated to report me to DOCS for child abuse, saying that I should be investigated for abusing my son."
At the same time as raising her son to embrace a healthy ideal of masculinity, she’s shielding him from the toxic expressions of men online.
Listen to Clementine on Kinderling Conversation:
How we dress counts, but not in the way you think
Clementine’s son will wear girls' leggings, dresses in summer and yes, even pink jumpers. She says that we attach too much importance to clothes as a means of coding children.
“If I assume that a child is a girl because they're wearing a dress and then I find out they're a boy, I've somehow caused an egregious embarrassment, or [people believe] that it's just wrong. It’s just clothes.”
Children, she says, can be great teachers. They don’t perceive something is 'masculine' or 'feminine' until we give them that meaning.
“We need to be focusing more on teaching our children there's no such thing as gender markers, and nor should they be important. There are just clothes that people like.”
Teaching boys they can’t have everything isn’t the same as bringing them up with less
Clementine was a bit nervous when she found out she was having a boy. She was nervous that the world around her would infuse her son with messages of entitlement and privilege, simply because he was a boy.
“I think it's really important to raise boys to understand that no matter what the world might tell them about their structural privilege, particularly white boys, that the most important things they need to work on in themselves are empathy, respect and understanding.”
She doesn’t want her son to feel he has a birthright to privilege.
“People get confused when they hear that, because they think that means you're raising your son telling them they're worth nothing, that they're worthless and that they don't deserve anything good, which is ridiculous. The opposite of one is not the other.
“To raise everyone with empathy and kindness is important. To raise them to respect people's bodily autonomy is important, and to understand that they can't just have whatever they want, even though they see other men around them taking and having whatever they want. I think this is a really important thing for us to teach them.”
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