So from my generation or even before, a number of parents started raising their daughters to be more like boys. To study as much as they wished for, to pursue a career and to earn their own money. All things that mostly boys are raised to do. Yet, when they are married, suddenly they have to manage a house, keep it clean, keep the people well fed and work professionally. Do you realize that boys are still not raised to help out at home? Some of the men chip in with chores and child rearing, but it still categorises as ‘helping’ with the bulk of household work being the responsibility of a woman, working or otherwise. Even those men who cook and do household chores don’t think of it as their responsibility but purely their goodness of heart that they help. You know why? Because we don’t raise our boys to be feminist. To believe in equity at home. As a matter of fact, I know of mothers-in-law who reprimand their daughters-in-law for making their sons work at home even if that includes just putting their own plates in the sink!
As Gloria Steinem has 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.”
I have watched this inequity around me for a while now. My husband’s generation is a transition generation which is doing much more than their dads did. Though it may not be as much as their wives expect. So the onus is on mothers like me to raise boys who are even more just and equitable in their approach.
Here is what I am doing to raise feminist sons:
Teach him to feel deeply
Most people are uncomfortable around emotions including yours truly. When my mum would start having one of her crying episodes, I didn’t know what to do. I have nothing against crying or tears, but I wasn’t a person who cried very often. Yet, I feel deeply. Pain, fear, apprehension, love, jealousy—the entire wide gamut of them. Most times when I cry, it is due to frustration or a sense of deep hurt or loss. I try to tell my boys that it is okay to cry. It is okay to feel deeply. It’s actually a wonderful quality to experience emotions and not suppress them. When my younger son felt angry, I told him to take it out on the pillow. I don’t belittle their rages or tears. When we raise our sons to feel deeply, they will be more empathetic. There is no shame in showing emotion.
Good role model–both male and female
We all know that showing goes a longer way than preaching. Have a few good male role models in the life of your boys. My husband who is hands-on with chores, works in the kitchen and does household chores niftily is a great influence on the kids. He can sew way better than me, a thing that was traditionally a forte of women. I make sure that my sons do basic household chores and cooking. It is important that they grow up to share the load that they start doing that at home from a young age. Also it is important to be surrounded by strong women role models. Mums who work professionally and at home. Those who take independent decisions are always a good influence on their kids—boys or girls.
Share the chores
This is not easy. We prefer our kids to relax when they are back from school. This applies to daughters as well. How many of us actually groom our sons to do small chores around the home? Cut salad, set the table, water the plants, keep their things in place, make their bed, fold their own clothes, clean their room and wardrobes? I am training both my sons to do their chores, to do them because it is important that they take responsibility in the home they inhabit. It should not happen that when they grow up, they consider their home’s upkeep to be their partner’s responsibility. And that they grunt and groan to move a finger. It starts at home, whether you raise daughters or sons, make them work at home.
Let him have friends with opposite gender
Encourage your sons to have friendship with girls. Girls bring to the table great qualities, and it is only when they actively engage with them that they will understand some of their expectations. This is one of the best ways to avoid gender segregation that leads to gender stereotypes and biases that we are looking to quash.
Teach him the importance of consent
While our movies and media does a poor job of talking about consent to our sons, we need to actively have conversations around the same. It can be a bit confusing, the many dimensions but the importance of ‘No means No’ must be emphasized from a young age. ‘Boys must be boys’ is never an excuse to ride roughshod over basic decency.
Let him explore all his interests and passions
When my boys were younger, I was very miffed with gender stereotyped toys. Every single birthday, they were gifted ‘boy-appropriate’ toys like cars, guns etc. It is as if they are being groomed to behave in a certain manner. My older boy loved playing with a kitchen set. He used to play in a neighbour’s home whose daughter had a very elaborate set. Once she saw my son playing with it and actually reprimanded him. The 4 year old was very confused. I went ahead and bought him a pretty set. If he wanted to play with a kitchen set, why couldn’t he? Who said that it was for girls. I even got them dolls that they liked when very young. The thing is that instead of pushing our sons to satisfy our expectations, let them explore all facets of their personality. If we push them to behave like ‘men’ suppressing their sensitive, creative sides, how can we expect them to function as sensitive men?
Do not use the term girl as an insult
I fight this a lot. Some people call me humourless because I can’t see how calling someone a sissy or girl is funny or true or how sexist jokes are fun. Women are not weak. We are very strong. ‘Don’t cry like a girl’ is thrown very often at a boy who cries. This does two-way harm. Not only are they shown that exhibiting their emotions in public is bad and that they should suppress them but also that somehow that makes them like a girl (which is something bad)! If we wish to shatter stereotypes and make our boys think of girls as equals, we have to stop pulling the girls down.
Fight societal expectations and messaging
Now your home is not a cocoon. Children are influenced by what happens around them, their peers, their relatives, their friends’ parents, their teachers and so on. And while we can’t control what other people say or expect, we can certainly have conversations around them. I remember reaching out to my younger son’s Class teacher when she had commented on a child’s tiffin, saying rough words about his ‘lazy’ mother. No matter what we say, there are a lot of women who pull other women down. We can’t do much about it.
Also have you seen textbooks and stories. Most of them have women depicted and mentioned as homemakers while dads earn a living. Most women even now, even those who professionally work are responsible for household chores and for packing the child’s lunchboxes and cooking. So the child is bombarded with messages from an early age that there are gender specific chores. That may make the boy think that it is not his job to work around the home. And also if he does he is actually doing something special or exceptional. We must try to fight these messages by having enough examples around the home that break these stereotypes. Also engaging in conversations with your sons may help them see another point of view.
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These inputs will help you raise feminist sons. Raising children or running a family is challenging at the best of times. Changing mindsets while doing so is an even bigger ask. So as a mother of sons, please do your best to raise sons who will have a more open mind, will be sensitive and less prejudiced by society’s traditional stereotypes. At the same time, don’t get too judgmental or humourless otherwise all you will do is keep ticking off a list of dos and don’ts while life passes you by. Maintain a balance and do your best as a parent.
Please share in your comments how are you helping the men around you become more feminist.