Kids aren’t born knowing about inequality in society. They don’t know that as soon as they can recognise colours and sounds, they are being pigeon-holed into a specific gender by the world around them. So we need to explain and show them about the world sees and treats girls and boys differently (at the moment!) but that it’s changing.
My son struggled with the concept to begin with. He didn’t see why there should be a movement JUST for girls! He wanted there to be “man-anism!” It does seem a bit unfair to young boys that suddenly there seems to be all this talk about “girl power” and opportunities for “strong” girls! What about them and their opportunities? This is where we have to tell them that giving power to women doesn’t mean taking power away from men. It just means sharing the load. Fairness. Equality. Their opportunities are still there too!
Ask them about the women and girls in their life, do you think Mummy shouldn’t be allowed to work? Do you think Mummy shouldn’t be allowed her own money? Do you think Mummy shouldn’t be allowed to go out on her own (without a man)? Do you think your sister should be allowed to go to school?
These are things we take for granted but that weren’t viable options for women 100 years ago, 50 years ago or even now in some other countries. That’s how I got through to my son. He’s stubborn as heck but when I put it in terms of how his female family and friends were affected, he relented.
Boys need to be taught that things may seem unfair now, but they’re not. The balance is being re-adjusted and it will only lead to good things and fairness for everyone.
Inevitably in the face of a shift of power, a backlash is happening. Just as there seems to be some progress for women in society, there is also the rise of a dark, ugly misogynistic faction of men who suddenly feel side lined by the growing opportunities their female counterparts are receiving.
For example Incels, who believe that if it wasn’t for women’s rights, they could have sex with whoever they want, whenever they want (!!!) Do you want your teenage son to be sucked into forums claiming that everything that’s wrong with their sexless lives is the fault of women? By teaching them to pick apart the lies from the myths of feminism then you are protecting them from being swamped by dangerous misinformation.
But also you are protecting them from toxic masculinity. By teaching them that girls and boys don’t have to fit into stereotypes of “strong boy who protects” vs “weak girl who needs protection” you’re allowing them to explore their own natural responses and emotions. Some boys will want to fight, be strong, be stoic and not cry. Some girls will want to be gentle, quiet and calm. But not all and not all of the time. When you take away the stigma of boys crying or girls being “tom boys” and let them be who they want to be, then you will have a much more well adjusted society. And much happier children.
Feminism enhances boys lives in other ways too, not just as a response to toxic masculinity. For example, teaching boys about consent will only serve to enhance their lives. If you teach your son to listen and respect the wishes of his partner, that can only lead to a better relationship. But teaching them about consent also breaks through the grim entitlement which former generations have held. And of course that leads us back to the frustration and disillusionment of the incels mentioned previously.
Teaching boys to listen and understand why feminism exists will encourage empathy in them. Empathy is what is desperately lacking in our society and I mean empathy for all marginalised people. So if you give your child knowledge and understanding about the imbalance in society, awareness of their male privilege or even their white, male privilege, then this will have a trickle down affect in all areas of his life. Being empathetic will not only make his personal relationships stronger, but also his day to day interactions with the world will become more rewarding.
This isn’t to say he can’t laugh at his sister falling over! Just that he doesn’t have to join in when his friends are teasing a boy who’s crying.
Parents of children have the power to change a generation. Parents of boys have an even bigger responsibility (in my opinion) to not raise their boys with the expectations of their forefathers. The world will not be handed to them on a plate, alone. It will be a sharing platter! They’ll have to have mezze or tapas or onion rings with their female cohorts! If we teach our boys about consent and respecting women then a whole generation of girls won’t have to know what it feels like to be whistled at, propositioned, catcalled, winked at, bum-patted, be scared to go for a run at night in the dark, worry about how they are dressed…. and a million other things this generation of women do every. single. day.
Wouldn’t that be amazing? So lets do it! Lets raise feminist boys for a better future for all our kids.
photo credit: hillels HDS-34.jpg via photopin (license)
Jess is a wine-addled, social media tart, Intersectional feminist and chronic over sharer. She lives in Cardiff with her husband, children (G-8/J-5) and some cats. Went to art school but after graduation got sucked into working for “the man”. Now trying to claw her creative way out by fancying herself as a bit of writer.