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Mom Talk: Why I Wrote A Children’s Book About Feminism (For Boys)

Written by Julie Merberg

Photography by Illustrations By Michéle Brummer Everett

With a name like My First Book of Feminism (for Boys), we’re not surprised Julie Merberg’s brand-new children’s book, which was just released a few weeks ago, is already a best-seller. Below, the mother of four boys (!) tells us why she wrote a kids’ book with such a strong, unique, and needed message. -KHZ

I live in a home with five messy males: my husband and four sons ranging in age from 10-19. The boys have been known to wipe snot on the wall next to their bed rather than getting up to find a tissue. They will take off shoes and post-basketball-practice socks when they walk in the door and leave them right there on the floor for all to smell and see. They will order in Chinese food, spill soy sauce on the table, and expect an evaporation miracle. They will lie about walking the dog, and then when he pees on the floor, they may throw a napkin on top of the puddle and leave it there; or they may pretend they don’t notice. They will hold a conversation, facing away from the toilet while peeing (vaguely) into it, seat down. You see where I’m going? If you are a Virgo or a female, you would be disgusted by my apartment.

I work full-time running a children’s publishing company. For the last 2 years, I was working overtime running a second business as well. Let’s just say I was all fed up and couldn’t take it any more when I sent this letter:

To my beloved boys,

In 2018, I want to give a gift to your future wives.

I want you to start respecting women, and I want you to start with me.

I love you all more than anything and everything in the world. These are not cheap words. This is my truth. And someday when you are blessed enough to have children of your own, you will understand what I mean. Until then, you will have to take my word for it.

I consider it my sacred duty to take care of you—to keep you fed and clothed, safe and warm; to ensure that you are thriving in school and in life; and that you feel absolutely secure in the world. I consider it my duty as a Jewish mother to make sure you are kind and caring, socially conscious and thoughtful, and that you leave this world better than you found it.

But I don’t consider it my job to throw out the orange peels that you left on the ping pong table; to collect glasses from all over the house, load them into the dishwasher, then unload them back into the cupboard before you help yourselves to your next drink; to pick up your laundry wherever you’ve decided to leave it then wash, fold, and put it away; to clear the dining table and clean the kitchen after every single meal, most of which I’ve also cooked; to wipe pee off of the toilet seat, to be the only person in the family who knows where the trash goes…you get the idea.

Along with the rest of the world, we have been talking a lot about what it means to treat women with respect. And I know in my heart that you are all good people. I don’t believe there is any unkind intention in the way you treat me. You probably don’t care if there are candy wrappers on the coffee table or coats on the floor, piles of used tissues in the bathroom, or unmade beds. But I do. You may think it’s OK to use the F-word when you speak to me, or not do the things I’ve asked you to do when I ask you to do them (or ever), but I don’t.

I work hard to give you a comfortable, worry-free, hopefully happy life—and I consider it a privilege to do so. And the truth is that no matter what you do, I will always love you, and I will take care of you for as long as I am able to. This is not a threat. I am not telling you that I will withhold sushi or new sneakers or summer vacation if you don’t do what I’m asking of you. I am not telling you I will withhold my love for you, because that would be impossible. What I’m saying is, I’m tired, and I feel disrespected—because I’ve made my wishes very clear—and I need for you guys to step up. As a much-deserved gift to me now, as a gift to every woman who will ever be in your life, and maybe even as a gift to my future granddaughters…step up. Clean up after yourselves. Pitch in around the house—unload the dishwasher, bring down the trash, walk the dog—without me having to ask. Do it just because you know it will make me happy.

With unconditional love,

In addition to deciding that I needed to go on strike (I stopped serving dinner until they had cleaned up the kitchen and dining table from previous meals; I stopped doing laundry altogether), I decided I had to write My First Book of Feminism (for Boys). I was thinking about all of my feminist fails—the things I desperately wished I had done differently—that I was now trying to undo with less compliant big boys. It is tough to say if I did all of the cleaning in my house because I was the only one who cared about having a clean house, or if my boys (including my husband!) saw cleaning as “women’s work.” But either way, to me, it felt like a question of respect. Even if they did not care if there was wet laundry all over the floor—they should care that I cared.

At the same time, I had to start caring more about the messages I was sending, as the only female in the house, and less about the state of my home. I started to do research for this book (yes, I did research for a board book) because I didn’t want to be the one deciding what issues were most important (I care deeply about toilet-seat lifting). I wanted to be sure to cover universally important issues such as equal pay for equal work, and also the general idea that “women’s rights are human rights.” In the year of #MeToo, I wanted to introduce “no means no.” To toddlers.

And I discovered some really interesting facts, such as:
Boys are discouraged from expressing emotions other than anger
Girls do more household chores than boys starting at an early age
And boys expect to be paid for chores

While I definitely did not want to be preachy or didactic (I am very clearly not the expert on feminism), I did want to address these points so that new moms would be conscious of the subtle messages many of us seem to be sending to our boys. I wanted to give these moms a vehicle to start conversations about equality and respect earlier in the game than I did.

Even though my boys are much too big to sit in my lap and read a board book now, the book in progress started some intense, passionate conversations and deep thinking in my house this past year. And I’d like to think some subtle shifts took place in my family as well. In September, right on the heels of Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation, my oldest son published an article with the headline Brett Kavanaugh deserves to be held accountable for what he did when he was my age. About the same time, my husband took our youngest out for breakfast one morning and my 10-year-old reported to me that he’d seen something really upsetting at the restaurant: A table with 3 men and a woman having a business meeting, where the men kept talking over the woman. “They were so sexist, Mom, it was horrible.”

We started the conversation later than I would have liked, but it looks like my big boys are learning their lessons well.

You can scoop up My First Book Of Feminism (For Boys) on Amazon. And for more on this topic, be sure to check out our pieces on How To Raise A Feminist Son, 20 Books For Mini-Feminists, Teaching Consent To A Toddler, How To Combat Gender Stereotypes In The Media Your Kids Consume, The Chore Gap, and Raising “Nice” Boys.

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  1. Nora says...

    While I think this is essentially a good idea (I guess?) I’m kind of troubled by the perpetuation of gender roles and heteronormativity. “To your future wives” ?!? And talking about your sons “gross habits” just gives this all a bad flavor, sorry.

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