As feminists we often hear about patriarchy, sexism, and how women have been oppressed by men. We talk less about how women also perpetuate patriarchy by reinforcing sexism and stereotypical notions about gender roles. Even women who have managed to raise strong, independent daughters may be guilty of having different expectations for their sons. I like to call this syndrome the mi pobre hijo (my poor son) syndrome.
Not too long ago my boyfriend, his mother and I were sitting at the kitchen table chatting about his brother having just placed a bid on a foreclosed house. His mother gave me an apple to eat and I stood up to wash it off at the kitchen sink. As I was standing there, she said, “Oh, mi’jo [my son] wants a plate of food”.
I turned around to look at him because we had just eaten prior to going to her house. He stared at me with a smirk on his face, because I’m sure that he was well aware that shit was going to soon hit the fan and sparks were going to start flying. He knows that I can’t stand the mi pobre hijo syndrome.
I said, “We just ate. He doesn’t want anything”.
She said, “Oh, yes he does. I know he does. He needs a plate of food.”
You’ve got to be kidding me.
I said, “If he’s hungry he can make a plate for himself”.
She said, “Oh, mi pobre hijo!!! (my poor son). You don’t even care if he starves to death.”
I flipped around and told her, “Your pobre hijo just ate and isn’t going to starve to death. Your pobre hijo is almost forty years old and if he wants something to eat, he can get it”.
I sat there for another twenty minutes and listened to her whine about whether or not I would ever marry her son, how we should live together, when will we ever have children, why will I not baptize my children with her religion if we ever decide to have children, and so on.
It’s not that I am opposed to giving my boyfriend a plate of food. I’m just opposed to treating a grown ass man as if he is a young, spoiled child.
This kind of mentality has been shoved down my throat since I was a small child. My mother was a strong and feisty woman who was a single mother. I can remember being so small that I had to use a chair to wash dishes when I asked my mother for the first time why my brother never had to help with the housework. “You need to learn to take care of yourself because sometimes men will leave. Men, on the other hand, will always have a woman to take care of them. It’s like they are children,” she said.
Even as young as eight years of age, I knew that it just wasn’t fair. “Why don’t you teach your son to be different then?” I can remember thinking, as I stood up on the chair washing dishes as a young child.
Over the years I have seen this happen over and over again with women in my family and even feminist friends. I’ve seen far too many women treat far too many young boys and men as if they are invalids and young children. My mother frequently laments about “Oh poor him” when talking about something that my brother has to do that I could have done blindfolded. I’ve heard far too many conversations between women about how their grown husband is like “having another child”. When women treat young boys as if they are invalids or a “golden child”, are we really surprised that so many of them grow up to be sexist men?
As a woman, did your parents ever have different expectations for you than they did for your brothers? If you have sons, have you ever found yourself reinforcing the pobre hijo syndrome? Where is the fine line between nurturing sons and coddling them?