Ruth G. Garcia is an Associate Professor of English at New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York. Her scholarship focuses on the representation of servants and service in eighteenth-century novels, especially those written by women. Her work has been published in Her Own Worst Enemy: The Eternal Internal Gender Wars of Our Sisters, The Encyclopedia of British Literature 1660-1789, and The Literary Encyclopedia. Dr. Garcia is also a co-editor of Lead, Follow, or Move Out of the Way!: Global Perspectives in Literature and Film (4th edition).
In this personal narrative, I tell of my recent experiment to read so-called “girl books” to my six-year-old son to help him access empathy, which is typically not associated with boys. I use both textual analysis and narrative to show an example of the work engaged in, as well as the challenges faced, by mothers when rearing boys to resist traditional ideas about masculinity and avoid the harmful effects that have been shown to be the result of such ideas. Recounting this moment in my parenting adds to the database of “mother knowledge,” which Besi Brillian Muhonja defines as focused “on the conceptual, cognitive, and experiential processing of the mother and not that of the scholar” (1), and which she explains is necessary to understanding “the different complexities of motherhood” (2). My focus here addresses Muhonja’s concern that there is a “dearth of scholarship on motherhood in relation to sonhood” (2). Additionally, this essay adds to a growing dialogue among mothers of sons, one that revolves around the issue of raising boys in a way that helps them defy a stereotypical masculine identity by bringing greater awareness to the mother’s experience when engaged in this type of mothering.
Reading to Resist: A Feminist Mother’s Attempt to Challenge Traditional Masculinity