Can Women Raise Men?



    I was just having a conversation with my brother yesterday about how there are certain things that boys have to learn when they are growing up about being men and about defending themselves.  It was interesting to see how our points of view differed on certain points because of our gender differences and it really made me think about the fact that it is extremely important for male children to have positive male role models in their lives.  As good as our intentions are in raising our boys to be good men,  he stated that there are just certain things that only a man can teach another man.

    This became apparent when our conversation turned to the topic of bullying and self defense.  As a mother, my first reaction if my sons have issues like this in school is to alert the school authorities and to try to talk through the problem.  My brother argued that this path does not always lead to a solution and that male children need to know how to defend themselves physically should the need arise that they find themselves in some kind of a fight.  He contended that men are naturally more aggressive than women are and that there comes a time in every man’s life when he has to stand up and fight.

    Although I don’t advocate violence of any kind, I know that there is some truth to what he is saying due to my experiences as an educator.  My male students are very physical and rough in the way they interact during sports activities and even during regular daily exchanges.  Many times, this kind of horseplay gets serious and it leads to fist fights or scuffles where I have to separate these boys from wrestling around on the floor. 

    So the question then becomes whether it’s realistic to strictly advocate for non-violence when you are raising male children and if that is setting them up to become victims in this society where there are problems with bullying everywhere you turn around.  My brother seems to think that this makes our boys targets for this kind of abuse and has made the decision to have his son in boxing classes for the past few months in order for his son to learn how to defend himself in a controlled environment. 

    I should probably add that his decision came after the fact that his son was bullied by a boy in his class numerous times.  My brother and my Sister in Law alerted the teacher and Principal about what was going on and nothing really changed so they feel that they had no choice but to take matters into their own hands in order to empower their child to not fall into a pattern of being victimized.  They were very concerned about the messages that my nephew was receiving about the rewards of doing the right thing when he continued to be abused in class despite the fact that he repeatedly reported the problem to his teacher.

    As a mother, I have to say that I am somewhat torn about this whole issue.  I realize that my sons have to know how to defend themselves because of the society that we live in and the messages that we give males about pride and competition.  I’m not ashamed to say that I tell my boys not to let anyone put their hands on them and to hit back if someone hits them first.  That’s the way that I was raised and that is the way that I am raising my children.

    As an educator, however, I also realize that these messages can also confuse children who don’t always know when it is appropriate to react a certain way when they are feeling threatened.  Also, it is not conducive to a learning environment to have children taking matters into their own hands and using their hands to solve conflicts instead of using words to communicate their feelings to one another.  There is a fine line between being a victim and being an aggressor.

    At the end of the day, it seems that both genders have very different ideas about how male children should be raised.  Are we as mothers doing a disservice to our sons by expecting them to be pacifists and to adopt non-violent stances?  My brother argues that by doing this, we are inadvertently pigeonholing our boys into the roles of victims and targets.  What do you think?

© 2011, Tough Cookie Mommy. All rights reserved.


  1. BiculturalMama says

    You bring up some good points – both you and your brother. I don’t have a point of view yet as I have a toddler girl, but would be interested in hearing what other people say.

  2. BiculturalMama says

    You bring up some good points – both you and your brother. I don’t have a point of view yet as I have a toddler girl, but would be interested in hearing what other people say.

  3. BiculturalMama says

    You bring up some good points – both you and your brother. I don’t have a point of view yet as I have a toddler girl, but would be interested in hearing what other people say.

  4. BiculturalMama says

    You bring up some good points – both you and your brother. I don’t have a point of view yet as I have a toddler girl, but would be interested in hearing what other people say.

  5. This is a thought provoking topic, Maria especially because my son had started school. I worry about him being bullied for being ‘different’ in his school to be honest but the men in my family were also raised to use ‘self defense’ but I do not want my son to grow up thinking he needs to be hit everyone who hit him first, I want him to be able to to stand up for himself without being violent – that’s the balancing line that I still need to figure out how. 

    • Maureen, yes they will have to find the balance between defending themselves when they are feeling threatened and just succumbing to feelings of anger or violence. We have a lot of work to do as parents in order to impart these lessons to our sons.

  6. Thanks for this thoughtful, balanced post. As the mom of four sons, I believe in teaching them the skills to defend themselves or others physically, and then teaching them the judgement and self control to avoid using those skills except when really necessary. Of course, it’s a work in progress!

    • It certainly is a work in progress! You definitely mention all of the components that it takes to instill these values in our sons. I’m sure it will be easier said than done in all of our cases.

  7. Great post.  I’m really torn on this subject as well, and my husband and I have had many conversations about the subject.  While I don’t advocate violence either, I absolutely agree that there comes a time in almost every man’s life where he may need to stand up and fight – as a parent, I feel I need to make sure my boys are confident and able to do so if/when it’s required of them.  I don’t necessarily think that means always hit back if they hit first, but it might – it just depends on the situation.  I guess my goal is to make sure my boys have the intelligence, education, compassion, confidence and discipline to make a sound judgement about when it IS the right time to stand up and fight.  My boys are still both under 3, so I’ve got some time on this one, but it’s something I think about a lot as well.

    • Lynette, I think you are right, the most important thing is to teach our boys how to use good judgment in order to gauge how they should react in all kinds of different situations. Not such an easy feat if we think about it…

  8. I’ve wondered this myself Maria.  I was just thinking about my son – he’s 7 – and the values I am trying to instill in him versus the characteristics I’m attracted to in men.  Yes, I want him to be caring, sensitive, have empathy, be well mannered – but personally I like a man that is an alpha male.  That means some level of presence, hanging with the boys, sports, etc.  The heroes of my romance novels are always uber tough men – special ops, very physical etc.  But I don’t want my son handling guns or playing rough.  There is definitely a paradox here…

    • Daria, it is trying to find a comfortable balance between the two that seems to be the problem. We want our sons to be demonstrative of their feelings and to show compassion but we want them to be like traditional male heroes too. How can we instill all of these values simultaneously?

  9. I always think about what kind of men I want my boys to be. If i was out with my husband and we were attacked or threatened in any way, I would expect him to stand up for himself and me. So that’s how I raise my boys. You don’t start the fight but you don’t allow yourself to get victimized either.

    • Cassie, that is how I’m trying to raise my boys too. Unfortunately, there is a lot of gray area to cover surrounding this topic. Add to that the fact that they are children and it opens the door for a lot of confusion and misinterpretation too.

  10. Nissa Bolinger says

    Wow, as the mom to two boys (and two girls), this is most definitely food for thought! I can’t wait for my husband to get home this evening–this will be dinner conversation tonight for sure, as it’s something that has not come up yet.  New follower via Super Stalker Sunday very much looking forward to future posts! 🙂

    Nissa (

  11. Working Mommy says

    It is difficult to go one way or another…as the mommy of a son, now, I definitely agree that men need to know how to defend themselves. My father advocated for me to defend myself if it was absolutely necessary. I was taught to never start a physical altercation, but to end one should it ever present itself. It is all about how you teach your children how to properly handle violent situations.


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