The increasing accounts of #Metoo and #WhyIDidntReport have garnered some deeply delayed, but pivotal conversations about the prevalence of sexual harassment in our society. What’s great to see is the widespread condemnation of men that have been accused as abusers, but what we’re lacking is a more introspective discussion about the culture which raises these men to become who they do. How can we change it? When women are subjected to mistreatment and disrespect, we often hear ‘boys need to be raised right.’ Gender norms that suggest men are born inherently worthier than women are common in Pakistan. Misogyny and the patriarchy are plagues which are embedded in almost every institution around us, from the workplace to schools. From birth, girls are raised to be quiet and submissive, while boys are raised to be aggressive and unapologetic. It’s not easy to eradicate decades of deep-rooted misogyny but to ensure a better future that promises our next generations equality, we’ve got to start with our boys. In order to raise the gentlemen of tomorrow, here are a few things we need to teach them as kids.
1. Model Appropriate Behaviour
Babies are unable to fully understand your words, but they are much better learners and observers than adults give them credit for. Initially, the first circle of learning for them is their home — parents are their teachers. In a famous study conducted by leading scientist Albert Bandura, children were made to watch adults play with inflated dolls. Some adults kicked the doll in an aggressive manner, while others played with it rather peacefully. Eventually, the kids mimicked the adults. This study proved that children learn their behaviours by observing the adults around them – especially their parents. In order to help your sons pick up good habits, it is important for parents to maintain a gender-equal household and lead with example.
2. Mind Your Language
‘Don’t cry like a girl,’ ‘be a man, you sissy,’ and ‘boys will be boys.’ These are the most common remarks parents use to govern their kids. They may sound harmless, but nothing is more effective than the power of words. Words are a subtle way of delivering lessons which become more and more deep-rooted as our children grow up. Comments like these reinforce stereotypes, which are the basis for gender discrimination. By using them, we’re effectively telling our boys they cannot express their emotions, which is dangerous. If you see any adults in your household using these phrases with their sons or nephews, have a discussion with them about why it’s problematic to do so.
3. Divide Chores Equally
The common picture of a desi household features the mother and daughters working in the kitchen, while the father and boys sit comfortably waiting to be served. Sexism starts when you tell your daughters it’s their responsibility to do chores, but not your sons. Every family member is equally responsible for household chores: be it a man or woman. Instead of asking your son to perform chores which takes him outside the house — buying groceries and running errands, while keeping your daughter exclusively doing tasks at home, allocate each of them equally. Make your sons accountable for the cleanliness of the home they live in. Similarly, make your daughters independent by letting them run errands outside the house. Your kids will grow up more self-sufficient too.
4. Allow Them To Be Expressive
Gender stereotypes are detrimental to both women and men. For example, being emotional is a natural feeling and has nothing to do with your gender. While your sons are young, let them be expressive – whether it’s them cry, being scared, or excessively happy. Bottling up their emotions can lead to serious issues in the years ahead. It makes them numb to recognising the existence of these same emotions in others. Instead of making them strong, they grow up to be chauvinistic individuals.
5. Let Them Be Friends With Girls
It’s important to be friends with all sorts of people. It helps us learn different perspectives, and understand new schools of thought. If your son has a friend who happens to be a girl, don’t make him feel embarrassed about it. Unfortunately, they may still experience teasing at school. Don’t perpetuate that at home as well! Encourage diverse friendships instead. Teach them that we can be friends with anyone without any unnecessarily negative connotations attached to that friendship.
6. The Importance Of NO
The earlier you teach it, the better they learn. Consent should be taught to boys at a young age. If your son or daughter doesn’t want to be held or hugged, respect his decision. It helps when you teach him how he has to do the same with others, especially girls. Our sons have to be instilled with the responsibility of asking permission before anything and to respect boundaries.
7. Let Them Take Care Of Themselves
There’s a difference between loving your kids and spoiling them. Especially when it comes to sons, mothers are extremely overprotective, and love pampering them. There’s nothing wrong with caring for your child, but not letting them take ownership of their own tasks makes them dependent for life. Moreover, they grow up with the idea that a woman is responsible for their everyday chores and emotional wellbeing. Get your son to polish his shoes, iron his own clothes, set his own alarms, and make his own lunch — because these aren’t exclusively a woman’s duties.
8. Keep The Conversation Going
Gender equality isn’t a one-off topic you discuss with your son and never revisit. It is a broad topic that needs to be taught whenever the occasion arises. The conversation will take different forms as they age. The basic conversations you had with them when they were five or ten, will take on a whole different context when they are fifteen and twenty. From pointing out gendered toys to them as kids to talking about respectful boundaries when they are much older. Talk about everything, and as often as you can.