Emma Brown is an investigative journalist for The Washington Post. She’s also a mother of a 6-year-old girl and 3-year-old boy. When she gave birth to her son, she admits she was of the mindset that boys have it easier than girls and quickly realized that’s not the case. She made it a personal goal to raise her son differently than the men she reported on in the wake of the #MeToo movement and traveled across America, speaking to boys and men about what it means to be a boy today and learn how she could raise her son to be emotionally healthy.
Brown culminated her findings into a book called To Raise a Boy, which explores the ways in which society has failed boys just as much as it fails girls, and how the “folks who are creating a world that our kids grow up in” can help shape our sons into emotionally healthy men.
On the latest episode of The Motherly Podcast, Brown opens up to Motherly co-founder Liz Tenety about her most shocking findings and how it’s helped her become a better mama to both her kids.
“Like language, our brains are born with the ability to speak and understand any language, but we only develop it if we’re exposed to that language,” she explains. “So, for our sons, if we only expose them to the ideas around, boys are supposed to be physical and boys are supposed to be tough and boys are always dominant, or the kind of stereotypes around how we traditionally think of boys, that’s what they end up getting proficient in. And so our duty as parents is to make sure that they have exposure to all the different ways of being human so that they can become proficient in all of those skills, especially emotional connection, which is just so important, for our happiness and our health.”
During her trip across the country, Brown learned some staggering statistics: men are four times as likely to die by suicide than women and one in six boys are sexually violated in childhood. These numbers are correlated to the perception that masculinity means not showing vulnerability or emotions, and male abuse being mislabeled as “horseplay” or “boys messing around.”
“I learned a lot about how important it is to talk to my son about feelings,” Brown tells Tenety. “There’s research showing that parents talk to their daughters more about feelings and use more words to sort of articulate emotions. And so, we give our girls the practice to build those skills that we don’t always give boys.”
“So, I am intentional about talking with my three year old about feelings, and looking at books and wondering what that character feels. How do you know? Because that’s the stage he’s in right now,” she continues. However, conversations about sex and sexuality are rarely easy for parents, even those who conduct interviews for a living.
“I’m intentional about the body stuff and the personal space as he gets older. It’s not super easy for me to talk about sex and sexuality,” Brown admits. “I’m sure that that’s not going to be something that comes naturally to me, but it is something I know from my research that I need to do. And I need to talk to him about pornography, which is the default sex ed for so many boys, right? Make sure he knows that pornography is not real sex. I need to be willing and ready and able to sort of stumble through those conversations rather than shy away from them.”
In America, a girl who acts more masculine is generally praised, while a boy who acts more feminine is generally shunned. Those gender stereotypes need to be erased if we want our kids to grow up happily and healthily. “You can pick the best qualities from what we’ve traditionally called feminine and the best qualities from what we’ve traditionally called masculine,” Brown says, “and people who do that, who can sort of draw from the full spectrum, are people who tend to be successful and creative and fulfilled in their lives.”
To hear more about Emma Brown’s experiences in motherhood and her career, listen to The Motherly Podcast for the full interview.