Care and Feeding

Can I Boycott My Friend’s Sexist “Women-Only” Baby Shower?

“I don’t want to support this gender-essentialist nonsense.”

A woman smiles as she opens a gift at a baby shower and another woman sitting beside her looks on and smiles.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by monkeybusinessimages/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

Care and Feeding is Slate’s parenting advice column. Have a question for Care and Feeding? Submit it here or post it in the Slate Parenting Facebook group.

Dear Care and Feeding,

I’ve been invited to a women-only baby shower and am conflicted about going. I was marginally OK with the women-only bridal shower, as my friend said it was women-only because her husband-to-be was stationed abroad, and she’d be sad to have her male friends there but not her husband-to-be. Now that she’s pregnant and her husband is stationed in town, she’s having a women-only baby shower “same as the bridal shower.” She’d always seemed progressive, so I’ve been surprised by the binary gender division and the exclusion, and I’m tempted to RSVP saying no. I want to support my friend, but I don’t want to support this gender-essentialist nonsense. Do I just send my regrets, or do I tell her why I’m not attending?

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—No to No Boys Allowed

Dear No Boys Allowed,

While baby showers are increasingly becoming mixed-gender events, there are still a lot of women who seem to view this as a day for “the girls.” To be entirely fair, the lack of hands-on effort that previous generations of men (and some backwards-ass modern-day descendants) put into baby care has a lot to do with this. I understand why that would be a turnoff to you, but I think it’s harsh to punish this person for choosing to have a baby shower with the people that she wants most to be showered by at this time. Maybe she really enjoyed the crowd at the bridal shower and wants to have the same energy again. Maybe her husband has been getting on her nerves, and she wants a break. Perhaps Suzy’s husband made her super uncomfortable at a BBQ, and she’s just scorching the whole earth to make it easier on herself.

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Regardless of why your friend has made this choice, a women-only baby shower is not what is keeping the patriarchy alive. Your friend is doing what marginalized people often do, which is creating a space exclusively for her and others like her, and there’s no shame, regression, or gender violence in that—as long as anyone in her group who identifies as a woman or femme is included. In any case, there’s a good chance she’s just limiting the invite to people who seem most likely to be hype about onesies—and while that isn’t the case for all women, that might be the truth for her circle.

Go or don’t, but it’s not necessary to cite the lack of men attending as your reason. Honestly, baby showers aren’t most people’s favorite social event, and I’d be willing to bet some of these guys were relieved not to have to be there. Best of luck to you.

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From this week’s letter, “I’ve Tried Not to Comment on How My Grandson Is Being Raised, but I’ve Had Enough: “I see a lot of red flags in how he is being parented, all in the name of positive love and affirming his ‘feelings.’ ”

Dear Care and Feeding,

My son is a high school freshman; he’s a very well-adjusted kid and comfortable in his own skin. He’s also at the point where he’s becoming interested in girls. A challenge that he’s facing involves one of his close male friends. This friend is on the autism spectrum and shares whatever is on his mind, and my son is used to his behavior. The friend has recently started asking questions about whether he and my son can be a couple, which is not something that my son is interested in. My son has always deflected these questions, but he is now becoming embarrassed when these questions are asked in the presence of girls. My son feels awkward with the line of questioning. He doesn’t want to alienate his friend, but he also wants to be “noticed” by the girls in his class. What’s the right way for him to walk this line?

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—Partly Sonny, Mostly Cloudy

Dear Partly Sonny,

If your son has been friends with this kid for a while, I’d imagine he has some script for talking to other friends about this particular young man and explaining behaviors that may be unfamiliar to someone who hasn’t spent time with him. If not, that is language that should be developed with the involvement as much as possible of his friend and perhaps his friend’s parent, a school counselor, or autism advocacy organizations, all of whom can help your son find the best way to navigate what is going on while respecting his friend’s personhood and autonomy.

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Be sure your son understands that he can and must assert boundaries for himself and that there is a big difference between awkward questions and inappropriate treatment, between being asked a question he finds annoying and being made to feel truly uncomfortable. You want to ensure that he doesn’t throw this friend away to impress some girls, but also that he feels comfortable and is treated the way he needs to be treated by his buddy—or anyone else. Nice, mature girls will be understanding about the friend’s behavior, and though your son shouldn’t get points for having a differently abled pal, some may even be impressed by the relationship. Make sure he knows better than to take advantage of such attitudes and to keep being the good homeboy he’s been all along.

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• If you missed Thursday’s Care and Feeding column, read it here.

• Discuss this column in the Slate Parenting Facebook group!

Dear Care and Feeding,

Last week, my fiancé (“Allan”) asked me to move into a house with him. Allan has two boys, ages 12 and 8, with whom I have a great relationship. However, the eldest, “Noah,” has ADHD and struggles with impulse control. When he gets upset, he often screams, throws things, and cannot contain himself.

This behavior frightens my cat (“Stevie”), who was a rescue from an animal shelter. Stevie lived in an abusive home, and I have spent years trying to make him feel safe with me. Though Stevie likes Allan’s younger son, he cannot handle Noah. Oftentimes, Noah will be sweet to him because he is desperate for Stevie’s affection. But if Noah gets frustrated, he throws pillows at him, screams in his face, or yanks his tail. Lately, this relationship has gotten so bad that Stevie hides under my bed preemptively when he smells Noah walking toward my apartment. My cat wants nothing to do with him.

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Although our wedding is not for another two years, Allan wants to move in right away so we can save money on rent and take “the next step.” I would say yes if not for Stevie. How can I put my cat in a potentially unsafe home? In two years, Noah will be 14, and he might manage his impulses better. But that is not guaranteed. What do I do?

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—Fears for Feline

Dear Fears for Feline,

I’m sorry you and your kitty are going through this! You say that you’d be happy to move in now were it not for Stevie; I hope that’s true. How about putting it to Allan that you’d be open to cohabitating sooner, but that the situation with Noah and Stevie has to be rectified before that happens? You have a beloved pet that you have cared for over the course of years, and you see the apparent danger to him with your stepson-to-be; your fiancé owes it to you to prioritize addressing this behavior and figuring out a solution. Noah struggles with impulse control, but he doesn’t grab his teacher’s arm or hit his father when he has an issue with them, I’d imagine. He has to come to understand the severity of being violent to an animal, something children don’t always recognize. When Noah can be with the cat, you can move in. This shouldn’t take two years, but it can’t wait two years either.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

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My wife of three years teaches middle school. She’s an amazing teacher (I say this objectively; she’s won many teaching awards) and has built wonderful relationships with her students. She teaches huge classes of 30-plus students. Generally, her methodology is very focused on strict routines/procedures, systems, and a lot of teacher-oriented control, rather than allowing students freedom to move around or have unstructured time. I have no opinion on this (not being a teacher myself) except that it’s really started to affect our parenting.

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We have a 2-year-old daughter who’s a happy, well-adjusted kid. She behaves like any other 2-year-old: She wanders/roams the house, gets into stuff, and is generally pretty chaotic. I see no problem with this. My wife, on the other hand, is driven nuts by my daughter’s behavior. My wife wants to structure every aspect of our daughter’s life—think routines and behavior charts at age 2, color-coded clothing systems, scheduling time blocks of “reading” to prevent screen time. You name it, my wife has an idea for how it should be structured. I am very uncomfortable with this. My own parents controlled nearly every hour of my childhood, and it gave me lifelong anxiety; I was never able to build the skill of self-management or making my own decisions about how to spend my time. I also missed out on a lot of the joyful spontaneity my friends experienced in their households. When I try to bring this up with my wife, she notes that she’s the teacher in the family, and I don’t have experience with child development.

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I’ll also note that I’m a stay-at-home dad, and I find it frustrating to push my daughter into routines and systems I don’t personally believe in. Whenever I give my daughter “chill time,” my wife comes home and gets upset that I didn’t follow the schedule for the day. She thinks I’m undermining her parenting decisions. If I had my way, we’d have just enough structure in our home to keep the chaos at bay, but anything more than that seems like overkill. What should we do? Is there a way to persuade my wife to relinquish the reins a little bit? Do I even have a leg to stand on, considering my wife is the teacher here, not me? Please help.

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—Dad in the Dakotas

Dear Dad in the Dakotas,

You are your daughter’s parent and, thus, you absolutely have more than “a leg to stand on.” Furthermore, you also have the experience of being raised under similar circumstances and the scars to prove it. Let your wife know that you are in constant awe of what she has been able to do in the classroom and as a mother, and that you have the utmost respect for her work in both regards. (Big freaking) however, your own childhood experiences with extreme structures and boundaries left you very cold, causing you a lifetime of anxiety that you wish to protect your little girl from. Let her know that you think it is very important that the two of you work together to make decisions that work for all three of you, and that you do not intend to defer to her on all things child-rearing because she is a teacher.

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For the record, teachers and parents play two very different roles, and what works (or is absolutely essential) in a classroom of 30 is not guaranteed to work, or perhaps even necessary, at home. Furthermore, as this is your child too, there is a great chance that she might react much as you did in the face of an overabundance of rules and regulations.

Think about what a more equitable division of power over parenting decisions might look like and point out the things that aren’t working for you. You may feel outmatched here, but you are not. You are as much of a parent as your wife is, and you have to advocate for your child’s needs. It may require a third party, such as a therapist or family counselor, to help the two of you get on the same page here, but it is incredibly important that you do. No backing down—your kid needs you.

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—Jamilah

More Advice From Slate

I am a Type-A personality, very competitive and goal-oriented. I took the hardest classes in school, received two degrees in college, and started working 80-hour weeks at 23 as a consultant—and loved my life. Now I am 36, successful, with a loving family and on track to make partner in the next year or two. My problem? I suddenly find myself waking up and not wanting to do anything. I guess you could call it burnout, but I am not unhappy, just … lazy. After working so hard for pretty much my entire life, my logical side says walking away now when I am two years or less from partner seems stupid. It’s not one of those things you can take a leave of absence from and come back on the same track. But at the same time I am struggling to motivate myself. I have no alternative thing I want to do—other than sleep and read and watch TV. I fantasize about running a bar on an island in the Caribbean (of course, real bar owners would work more than my fantasy-self) which isn’t realistic, of course, as my family depends on my income. Is this a mid-life crisis? How do I get back my motivation?

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