Raising Feminist Sons
Words by Zu Anjalika Kamis Gunnulfsen | Picture by Helena Lopes
Let me get this out of the way first. Feminism isn’t about men bashing or even trying to emulate or be them. Feminism is the advocacy of women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes.
These days, the word feminist has been lost in translation, resulting in a skewed perception of its meaning.
When the idea of writing about this very topic was thrown at me, I was a little sceptical. After all, who am I to write about this rather heavily debated word, especially after the global uprisings of the Feminist Movement? We have seen one after another media coverage talking and reporting about it. We have seen how lives have been affected by individuals who continue to malign others while riding on the feminist bandwagon. We have seen how many lives have changed just by being authentic to the word itself.
Raising children is not by chance an easy feat but raising boys to make them feminists is a whole new ballgame altogether. I am a mother of two boys – a twelve and an eleven. While it is mostly limited to me, while my rather fabulous yet conservative husband prefers to have an echoing voice on these topics, our conversation at the dinner table mostly consists of anything and everything that catches our fancy or our eye or interest, for that matter – something that we might have read on the news. Names like Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump or topics like sexism or rape are not taboo at home. I figure in this time of social media, with everything at their fingertips, lessons from home need to be starting rather early although I have received quite a few deadly stares from friends who think it’s way too early.
We often talk about vocations like being a singer, dancer or designer to girls who have desires to pursue these interests, however, we do not say them to boys because we do not see these pursuits as manly enough. This itself creates a rift between boys and girls. If we want to create an equal society, we need to give our boys the space and opportunity to do so. Social and political activist, Gloria Steinem couldn’t have said it better, “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.”
Let’s talk to our boys about empathy and diligence – two traits most often touted as being feminine. These skills are highly valued in modern-day workspaces – skills like these are prerequisites to jobs that are fast growing in the Pink Economy.
In our home, we normalise weeping and crying. Why is crying only limited to girls? Men, whatever age they are have feelings too, don’t they? At a certain age, usually around three, boys are told not to cry because they should be strong and not show emotions because of their gender. What a sad state of mentality and perception we pass on to our kids! Crying is not weak, it merely shows we are human with feelings and emotions. Let your children, be they boys or girls cry!
About a year ago, after watching some videos on YouTube, my then-10-year-old came to me and said, “Mamma, I think I am non-binary.” While I was trying so hard not to laugh out loud, just because I thought that is the cutest, first big confession he offered, I managed to compose myself and said, “Let me make myself a tea and we’ll have a chat.” In a nutshell, I told him if this is what it is, we’ll accept him as he is but he should still explore because he is way too young to make that deduction. His non-binary phase lasted for a couple of months and now he’s back to his old self. As parents, we often put limitations on how our kids should act, and what they should be – pink is for girls and blue is for boys. We encourage girls to play dress-up yet boys are often given fire trucks and lego to play with. A fun fact, did you know that until the mid-20th century, pink was a colour for boys and girls were given blue? How did this get reversed? According to neuroscientists, children never had any preference for any sort of toys or colours. They are all conditioned by the adults around them. How lovely to be living in a world with non-small-minded distinctions.
I spoke to a friend recently about raising feminist sons and she quickly quipped that while things are slowly changing in her native India, boys are still favoured while girls are expected to do housework on top of studying to get good grades. “Boys have it easier,” she said. They are not expected to do any chores. Their only job is to excel in school, sports and work. While this mentality will take some time to progress to a more equal one, raising a feminist son will mean that we allow them to take care of themselves – not wait for someone else to do it for them, especially not wait for a woman to wait on them. Teach them to clean, make food, and do laundry. What have they got to lose? Nothing – just much more to gain!
Usually, without any second thoughts or ill-intentions, we make comments like, “don’t run like a girl” or “that’s very sissy, stop that!”. These comments are very derogatory and never should be uttered especially in the presence of our impressionable children. What message does that kind of comment give out – girls are slow runners and some things are gender-biased? Let’s omit those talks from our conversations, shall we?
We normalise girls dressing up but when it comes to our boys, we do the opposite. Dressing up is non-gender specific. Anyone can choose to dress up and look a certain way. Let our children be themselves – pick any colours they like or dress any way they desire.
Long gone are the days when boys should hang out with the boys. Encourage our boys to have friends from various gender groups. This helps our sons to be more aware of the needs and wants of others without being prejudiced by any gender factors. In being so, they will grow more empathetic towards everyone in the human race.
Teach our sons to be strong and sensitive. Having a sensitive side is not being feminine it just means we are adhering to our nature – we are human after all. Men or women, go through many things in life that will require us to be strong in some and sensitive in others. These two traits are not comparable – there’s no need to choose.
There is one thing I love doing with my boys – reading and learning about women of the past and present. This gives my boys perspectives about women and what they are capable of. Mother Theresa, Michelle Obama, Malala Yousafzai, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Gloria Steinam and list goes on.
Let’s be open with our boys about the discussion of feminists and feminism.
The future will only be better when everybody – despite their gender knows and acknowledge that true talent, ability and equality are never gender specific.