We often rely on formal societal structures and institutions to inculcate certain values in our children. However most of the times, these very institutions and societal norms are built on patriarchy and reek of systemic misogyny and sexism that is unfortunately widely accepted. It is important to recognise that values are primarily learnt through observation, role models, and that early childhood value learning is influenced by a process of interpersonal identification with the parents. The underlying intention is to ensure that we have a generation that imbibes and retains feminism not as a legacy from their parents, but as a part of themselves. Here’s what you can do to raise a feminist son in this patriarchal socio-culture milieu:
1. Allow Your Son To Show Emotions And Be Himself
By normalising our sons showing aggression and anger through phrases like “Boys will be boys” and our girls showing softer emotions because “girls are sensitive”, we unconsciously permit only one emotion for our boys to show – anger. Such cultural male norms are harmful to society overall, encouraging boys to resolve conflicts through violence. Instead, allow your son to voice his feelings and express his emotions so that he knows to value them. While toxic masculinity tells us that ‘Boys don’t cry’, make your child understand that it is okay for anyone to cry irrespective of their sex. As an emotionally healthy individual, your son needs to know how to sit with feelings, express them and let them go. Give him the freedom to be himself wholeheartedly!
2. Role Model Equality
The first major exposure to gender roles typically comes from a child’s parents. Make it clear that your contribution in your household is due to your convenience, interest and what works best for the family, not your gender. Similarly, it is ideal to have chore distribution in the household that is not based on gender. Allow your child to have strong wimmin* role models to seek inspiration from, teach him about the contributions of wimmin to the world and their strong presence in historical and spiritualistic contexts. Furthermore, allow individualistic gender expression; letting boys play the way they want to, with the toys they want to, embodying characters they want to embody.
3. Teach Your Child That No Means No
It is important for your child to learn that ‘no’ holds weight. Teach your boys that all humans have agency and consent over their bodies. No means no, silence is also a no and only a yes is a yes. To instil respect for bodily autonomy, it is imperative to define boundaries when it comes to touch and play; this can be practically done by listening to your child when he says no to be hugged, kissed and tickled.
4. Value Yourself As A Womyn*
If you are the primary caregiver for your child, how you treat yourself will impact how your child perceives other wimmin. Valuing and honouring yourself is the first step to have your son believe in gender equality. If you are co-parenting, how your partner treats you, values you and listens to you can influence your sons lens of gender equality. Ask yourself: is there a hierarchy in decision making at your home? You can lead by example. Furthermore, teaching your son body positivity will allow him to grow up confident in his own body and also respect other wimmin’s bodies whilst questioning patriarchal beauty standards.
5. Be Conscious Of The Language You Use
Children not only pick up on words but also the subtext and context of the words. We’ve all heard ‘Don’t cry like a girl’ – such phrases, along with inherent subconscious biases and gendered language, such as mankind, postman and manmade, can impact how your son will perceive and interact with women in his life. To counter this, watch gender balanced media and encourage reading books written by womyn. Talk to your son about the misrepresentation and objectification of wimmin, gender stereotypes and violence depicted and glorified in movies, pop culture and pornography.
6. Teach Him To Speak Up When Others Are Intolerant
No matter how insignificant our actions may seem, they do matter. Remember this and teach it to your son as well. Teach him that when others don’t stand up for equality, he should. If he sees someone around him harassing wimmin or teasing them, he should put a stop to it and educate the other on why their action is wrong. Boys will be boys should not be an excuse to let go of bad behaviour. Instilling qualities like empathy, kindness and courage in him will make him, and those around him, grateful to you.
We need to raise our daughters and our sons to be feminists, not out of chivalry but from the lens of humanity. Encourage your son to speak up against misogyny, sexism, harassment and homophobia, nurture political awareness and social justice engagement, be nonjudgmental of friendships with the opposite sex and be assured that sun shines equally on all genders.
*Womyn and Wimmin are spellings of ‘women’ adopted by feminists to avoid the ‘-men’ at the end.