We can't think of a better time than Women's History Month to focus on raising kids that are critical thinkers, advocates for equality, and respect people regardless of gender.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's book "Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions" offers a guide for raising our girls to be feminists. It's a slim but powerful read, and I gained insight from the book and will likely read it many times throughout my life. While Adichie's advice can work to help moms raise their daughters and sons as feminist, it's equally important for dads to be partners in raising feminist sons. Setting an example is powerful, and the best place to start.
These are the six moves my partner has made to help steer our son in that direction. They are simple but have a major impact on a boy's view of women and the world.
My husband stood carrying one of our identical twins in a Moby wrap, patting her bottom and bouncing her to sleep. The people around us swooned, showering him with praise for his hands-on parenting and his willingness to get out of his seat and comfort his child. I stood less than five feet from him carrying our other twin in a Moby, except I was discreetly breastfeeding at the same time. Not one word of praise found me. Apparently that's because I'm the mom, and our boys live in a world where moms are expected to cook meals, change diapers, and calm babies. Dads are bona fide heroes if they join in to help.
My husband could have basked in these kind words and acknowledged all the work he was doing to be super dad. He didn't. He never does, and he is quick to explain to our son that dads shouldn't receive praise for doing what moms do every day. Dads need to explain to boys, and the adults offering these accolades for a man doing "women's work", that parenting is parenting. Cooking is cooking. Cleaning is cleaning. None of it is gender specific, and men should not expect or receive special rewards for doing it.
DC hero Wonder Woman, "The Force Awakens'" heroine Rey, and resistance fighter Jyn Urso from "Rogue One" are among those leading the pack when it comes to strong females on screen. While these characters are beloved examples of empowered women, some male fans complained via social media when writers and directors chose to continue to make movies with female leads, implying that they couldn't be as rich or engaging as males. Product vendors were even told not to focus on Rey toys because boys wouldn't want a girl action figure.
To counterattack these hugely ignorant, damaging beliefs, dads should put girl action figures in boys' hands. Teach them when they are partaking in imaginative play that it is fine for a boy to play a girl's part. We don't panic when our girls pretend to be Luke Skywalker or Han Solo, good guys with admirable skills. Why should we panic when our boys express a desire to use a light saber like Rey or lead the resistance like Jyn? Grab autobiographies of women and share them with boys. Read through A Mighty Girl with them and teach them about girls and women who are making a difference in the world.
Letting the aisles at a store dictate a child's interest is a mistake. Manufacturers seem to believe boys can't play with dolls and girls never want to build anything but their wardrobes. Dads need to present all options to boys when it comes to hobbies, and not let the default response be that girls' hobbies are different and therefore lesser. Boys can be in ballet. Boys can design clothes. Boys can collect cars and play with blocks. So can girls.
The conversation about how women should dress and act has been around for years. Preventing men from sexually harassing or ogling a woman's body is often cited as the major reason women should embrace modesty. Though obviously unfair, both men and women parrot this belief, passing on to boys that a woman can be blamed for a man's thoughts or actions. Teach boys to deal with their own feelings and actions, and never use a woman's attire to justify their thoughts or behavior. Teach older boys to scrutinize their own impulse to treat a woman like an object, rather than assume she wants to be stared at or subjected to cat calls just because she is wearing a pair of shorts or a bikini. Why are they looking for an excuse to view her as less than a person? Why are they demoting her to eye candy?
It's great for kids to have friends who are the same gender, but it's equally important for them to have friends who are the opposite sex. Boys learn from friendships with girls that females aren't the weaker sex and have great ideas of their own. They may also be less likely to tolerate other males labeling girls as dreaded, different, or cootie carriers. Dads should also talk about their female friends, female bosses, and important females in their lives. Boys need to understand that reaching out beyond the boys' club is much better than drawing boundaries and keeping women out.
People who fear feminism often don't fully understand the term. They believe it is women desiring a world without men, and using their voices only to tear down males. Not one male or female feminist I know actually feels this way. Feminism is just the belief that a woman is equal to a man and that she deserves the same rights. It's simple.
In our house full of feminists, we don't male bash. When my oldest daughter was gifted a shirt that read "girls rule, boys drool" it immediately found its way to the trash. Boys don't have to drool for girls to rule, or vice versa. We can coexist, equally empowered. Dads need to teach boys that men and women should be on the same side, and men should be vocal advocates for women to have the same privileges they do. Feminism is not a threat to men, but boys who are scared of empowered women are a threat to us all.
It takes a village!
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