Monday 22 July 2019

Arlene Harris: 'When did it become ok to slate mothers for having sons, and to treat boys as being somehow inferior?'

After giving birth to son number five, Sophie Ellis-Bextor had to deny she was hoping for a girl. Mum to three boys Arlene Harris says it's time we stopped being so negative about lads

Sophie Ellis-Bextor has denied she was hoping for a girl after having a fifth son
Sophie Ellis-Bextor has denied she was hoping for a girl after having a fifth son

Arlene Harris

As she savoured the first few hours of her new son's birth, singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor took to Twitter to share her delight at the new addition to her family.

"He's here!" she tweeted. "Mickey Jones born today weighing 7lb 1oz and he's absolutely gorgeous. Welcome to our quirky little family, sweet boy. We're so glad you're here safe."

Wonderful news for Sophie, her husband Richard Jones and Mickey's four older brothers, Sonny (14), Kit (9), Ray (6) and Jesse (2). But not so wonderful, apparently, for the the trolls of Twitter.

Within minutes, social media was awash with hurtful, negative comments about how awful it must be for her to have five sons, how she must secretly have been longing for a daughter and how she would "obviously try again after this terrible disappointment".

Sophie's husband Richard Jones with their newborn son Mickey
Sophie's husband Richard Jones with their newborn son Mickey

It wasn't just the trolls. A tabloid newspaper suggested that she had hinted on TV at the weekend that she was hoping for a daughter,

"I did nothing of the sort. I've only ever wanted whatever babies I've been lucky enough to have," she retorted yesterday.

But there was a similar flurry of negativity when she gave birth to her fourth son and indeed the arrival of Coleen Rooney's fourth young man also resulted in a wave of comments, outraged on her behalf.

As a mum to three boys, I know exactly how Sophie is feeling.

Writer Arlene Harris with sons Cailan, Rodhan, Arlene, Tadhg and husband Mark, can sympathise
Writer Arlene Harris with sons Cailan, Rodhan, Arlene, Tadhg and husband Mark, can sympathise

I was on the receiving end of similar comments after my last son was born, although some people thought they were being diplomatic by adding an extra 'ah well, as long as they are healthy' footnote.

As well as having three sons, I've got two brothers, and I'm heartily sick of the negativity around boys. The age-old expression 'boys will be boys' sums it up. It implies that we shouldn't expect much from the young males of the world. Messy, grubby, loud, wild, smelly, inconsiderate - tick whatever negative description applies, and then write off the behaviour as being typical of the gender.

I find this so offensive. I wouldn't dream of implying someone behaved in a certain way because they were male - or female for that matter - yet it seems that in today's world, it's perfectly acceptable to openly belittle the future men of the world.

When did it become ok to slate mothers for having sons? And when did it become de rigueur to treat boys as being somehow inferior?

Over the years I, and other friends with boys, have experienced veiled barbs and 'humorous' quips about how 'sons are only sons until they find a wife' and other such side-splitting witticisms. People seem to think that only daughters can possibly care about their family or their parents' welfare as they get older. What does this say about the male role models in their lives?

I know many men who are extremely good to their parents, while their female siblings get on with their own lives - and vice versa.

You can't put people into boxes and say that everyone is a certain way because of gender - I should know; each of my boys is entirely different and I wouldn't expect anything of them just because they are male (except perhaps shaving and big feet).

They are sweet, kind, loving, courteous, clever and ambitious, while, at the same time, can be noisy, messy, argumentative and stroppy - not because they are boys, but because they are human.

Having grown up in the middle of two brothers, I never experienced one iota of gender inequality and never felt inferior or superior to them. This, to my mind, is how it should be. Personality is what makes a person, not their gender. I knew families who had all girls and their house was a constant hotbed of chaos, mess and noise; a trio of boys who were the most gentle creatures imaginable; and plenty of others who were somewhere in between.

Sure there were gender differences with most of the boys preferring to run around playing cowboys and Indians while the majority of the girls opted for prams and tea-sets.

Back then, as it is now, the girls were encouraged to get their hands dirty and get involved in all of the stuff the boys liked - and so it should be - but woe betide any boy who wanted to get involved in anything which was perceived as 'girly', and that is also wrong.

We are supposed to be championing equality and I couldn't be more in favour of equal pay, equal rights and an equal voice for everyone, but it goes both ways.

Females have had the short straw for a long time and it has taken a lot of effort to reach a stage where we are on a par in most areas, but there is still much work to be done.

However, while this progress is very welcome, we shouldn't get to the stage where we are elevating females at the expense of males or letting either gender believe they are better than the other. Equality should mean exactly that: we're equal.

So in an age where being male is sometimes seen as something to apologise for, it's time to stop with the girls like 'sugar and spice and all things nice', while boys would rather a dollop of 'slugs and snails and puppy dogs' tails'.

There are countless boys and men who are kind, loving and thoughtful. And similarly, there are plenty of little girls and women who are the opposite.

People should be celebrated for who they are rather than what they are. And pitying celebrities for having a five-a-side of sons is wrong, as is the tired stereotype that all boys are an exhausting handful.

Lumping all men in with the minority of #MeToo sleazebags is also not very productive - not only is it damaging the good males in our lives, but also the young girls who will grow up with a warped idea of the opposite gender. Not everyone is a predator.

As a New Year dawns, it would be nice to think we could see every child as a blessing, and maybe think twice before posting negative and pointless remarks online.

I know from experience that having a gang of boys in your life is a wonderful thing. So to Sophie Ellis Bextor and family, enjoy your gorgeous new addition.

Irish Independent

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