I'll be honest, I was a little relieved when I found out that we were having a boy. As a woman, it felt to me that the world is kinder to boys and men, that I would have less to worry about as the mother of a son than of a daughter. But, as time goes on, I realise that although my worries are different, there's as much to fret over raising boys as there is girls.
I like to think that as card-carrying feminists who generally don't subscribe to ideas around toxic masculinity, we were already in a good position to raise a good man. Ben is lucky to have plenty of men around him to look up to, but we can't keep in our carefully curated social bubble forever - or even for much longer.
Of course, times are changing - they always are - and pop culture gets better all the time. But that's not to say that things are perfect, and after the tragedy in Parkland, this article summed up so well some of my concerns and fears about how our boys are taught to be men, and what it even means to be a man. Over the past few decades, feminists have been working to expand the definition of what it means to be a woman, and there are so many role models for little girls to look up to, but what about role models for boys?
Well, I think I might have found some. As I obsessively binged on Queer Eye, the new Netflix show this week, it occurred to me that these are the role models I want for Ben. For those who haven't seen it, and who missed the original 'Queer Eye for the Straight Guy', too, the premise is a simple makeover show. Five gay guys descend on a slightly hapless man for a week and help him sort out his style, his space and, well, his whole life. But, it's so much more than that...
The presenters are relentlessly enthusiastic, complimenting their makeover-ees appearance, praising their achievements and personality. I imagine that most of these men have never had another man compliment them in such an earnest way, and it feels transformative. Rather than the borderline cruel banter that's usually assumed to be the 'natural' way of communicating between men, this is real championing of other men and it's like nothing I've seen before on TV. Yes, it's schmaltzy and camp - it's reality TV - but it's also a revelation. (Plus, I love me some schmaltz and some camp, as well you know). This is building people up, not tearing them down, and I love it.
And it's not just the presenters themselves; by being so open, they encourage the other men on the show to open up, too. As well as the men they've signed on to help, you see their male friends tear up in joy, their brothers puff up in pride and their colleagues sharing their own struggles about being fathers, husbands and men.
The model of manhood they're putting forward on the show is one that I want for Ben. They're advocating self care, something that women have been encouraged to do for years but which I'm guessing would be an alien concept to most men. They're demonstrating that emotional vulnerability is a strength and not a weakness. They're demanding confidence without arrogance. They're situating manhood as something that's connected, rather than standalone. No man is an island.
There's no doubt that Ben will find his role models as he grows - and I have no idea who they will be. But I have mine now, as his parent - the guys from Queer Eye are (probably inadvertently) giving me a big lesson in how to raise my baby into a great man.