The #metoo movement has created space for women to tell their stories. Emboldened, we are speaking out and now is the time for the world, and more specifically men, to listen. But if we want real social change, the reckoning has only just begun.
Vital questions must be addressed, about how to raise boys so they grow up to be good men, the type who don’t abuse women. How to weed out sexism and misogyny, to change the culture we live in at its very roots. It will be a lifelong project of replacing reaction with reflection, social conditioning with awareness and a whole lot of un-learning.
A great place to start is the family home, so foundational in instructing children about gender roles. Kids absorb ethics, values and ideologies from their parents, whose words and more importantly behavior can either reinforce or challenge stereotypes. Providing a great opportunity for interception by stealthy gender ninjas (Try saying that three times in a row!)
I am not a parent, and I acknowledge raising the next generation of tiny humans is the hardest job around. And gender roles are reinforced daily from every angle; language, literature, art, the media, peers, well-meaning family and friends, consumerism etc in ways that make the current gender system seem natural and normal.
Adherence to traditional gender roles not only allows sexism to thrive, but limits girl’s potential and boys ability to fully express themselves. But gender roles are not rigid, they are specific to time and place, fluid and in flux.
Teaching tiny humans’ critical thinking is a great start. Encourage them to spot stereotypes, question commonly held beliefs if they go against what they observe to be true and teach them about reasoning and logic.
Gloria Steinem said: “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters”. That’s because women’s roles can’t expand and evolve unless men’s do too.
After falling down an internet worm hole recently I discovered this fantastic manifesto Raising boys the feminist way by dr finn mackay. I wish I could re-publish the whole thing – its brilliant, very comprehensive with lots of super thoughtful ideas and examples. I highly recommend you follow the link and read the whole article.
For those busy parents who do not have time to read the entire piece, here is a summary:
- Value and teach bodily integrity for themselves and others
- Good male and female role models
- Role models must include gentle and caring men
- Role models must include strong and powerful women
- Give them all the options in terms of clothes and colours
- Give them all the options in terms of toys
- Don’t presume the sex of others
- Facilitate and encourage children to express emotion, including crying
- Swap round sex pronouns for characters in books, read a different version each time
- Model egalitarian relationships between men and women & have male and female friends
- Encourage your child to have male and female friends
- Challenge prejudice and discuss that with your child
- Teach them domestic work and make it fun and important
- Teach them practical and DIY tasks and make it fun and important
- Teach them caring for babies and animals and make it fun and important
- Never use ‘girl’ as an insult, never use sexist language like ‘sissies’ ‘playing like a girl’
- Do not give a girl compliments that you would not equally give to a boy
- Model dealing with conflict in ways other than violence or aggression
- Do not normalise or glamourize weapons or violence, including in toy choices and clothing
- Avoid heavily gendered children’s TV shows
- Seek out and employ female tradespeople if you can and let your child watch them working
- Facilitate and encourage physical play and expression
- Watch women in sport, including team sports like football and rugby
- Give yourself a break