Are You Raising a Man Who’ll “Lean In” or “Lean Back”?


“Mom, what’s ‘lean in’ ?”, my teen son recently asked. While I was tempted to make a joke about it being Sheryl Sandberg’s response to Fat Joe’s 2009 hit “Lean Back”, I knew that I shouldn’t make light of his question. Instead of floundering through our conversation with second hand information, I told my son I’d get back to him while I searched Google for answers. What I found was an overflow of blog posts and articles either dismantling Ms. Sandberg’s credibility or praising her courage to empower women to be more ambitious. The more I read, the more I realized what has been missing from the conversation: boys and men.

While I applaud Ms. Sandberg for not discrediting men, I do have an issue in which some women depict boys and men as villains or the enemy. If we are to change the thinking of our  society, we need to make boys and men our allies. One of the problems I see with improving gender relations, is that we believe that teaching boys to behave like girls and teaching girls to behave like boys will solve the problem. Even Ms. Sandberg suggests that women take a cue from men in asserting themselves in leadership roles. We can’t make the assumption that boys and men know our needs or our struggles. Why aren’t we having honest conversations about gender stereotyping and gender norms in our society with our sons?

When I worked at The Source Magazine, a primarily male dominated office, I was unprepared for the disrespect and chauvinistic behavior of most of the male staff. I was pregnant while employed there and when I approached my sales manager about my maternity leave, I was told that I would have to create a maternity leave plan. I couldn’t believe that this thriving magazine did not think about the needs of their female employees.  What made the matter worse is that the HR Manager was a woman.

As a mom of two boys, I partner with my husband in raising our sons to be tolerant, strong, compassionate, loving men. While my husband talks to my sons about the implications of a man, I help them better understand gender roles and how to interact and engage with girls and women. I want my sons to have a better understanding of what it means to be a woman in this world. I want to raise sons that appreciate what women contribute to this world. I want to raise sons that nurture and support women’s rights while preserving their confidence. I think what we need is to have continuous conversations with our sons and daughters about the importance of respecting each other without conforming to gender bias.

If we want to change the way men and women interact and engage in personal and professional settings, we must raise them to understand that gender bias is a hindrance to both men and women.

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4 Responses to Are You Raising a Man Who’ll “Lean In” or “Lean Back”?

  1. Deb says:

    Absolutely right. All this talk about leaning in and rape culture focuses on women’s responsibility, but we *all* have a responsibility to change societal norms.

  2. Anita says:

    This is great. I think that women are ambitious and I think that the perception of what that looks like is different for everyone. If you are raising a family that is ambitious no matter where you are in the journey. I believe these messages get mixed as we try to put labels on what we should do-lean in or lean back it depends again where you are in the continuum of the process. You are right on the money when we label something we de-value it’s worth. We are all worthy. Thank you for your work it is timely and needed. Blessings, Anita

  3. Mai Bateson says:

    I love this article so much! Gender equality will only be equal if we teach our sons and daughters to respect each other. I’m the only girl in my department and I’ve been working with men in so many years and the golden rule still stand. “Treat others with respect as you also want to be respected.”

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