As the daughter of feminist parents I knew that my children, whatever gender, would be raised as feminists by myself and my husband.
I hoped they would believe in, practise and advocate for equality for both sexes, and with our guidance, feel free to play, be and behave in a way that supported and empowered others, and women, in particular, who are living in an otherwise limiting and biased patriarchal society.
As a mother of two boys, Oliver, 9, and Alexander, 7, I hoped my sons would speak up when it would be easier to stay quiet, not feel confined to an Alpha male notion of being a man, and grow up content, confident and resilient.
It’s an ongoing challenge to raise feminist sons, particularly when your boy’s fellow classmates chastise him for liking non-traditional colours and not liking football. I’ve had to navigate some tricky waters. My eldest didn’t want girls to attend his birthday party yet when they arrived, everyone thrived on one another’s company. For me, it’s about making mindful choices and exposing my kids to children and experiences that will be eye-opening for them.
I’ve mentioned raising feminist sons before on here and below I share my top 5 tips for raising feminist sons in case you need some advice.
Don’t be swayed by gender specific everything. Just because you have a boy or girl, doesn’t mean anything/everything has to be blue/pink respectively – there are some beautifully vibrant non-gender specific clothes available. Try and opt for gender-free toys/books where possible and ones with strong female characters. As they get older, films like Horrible Histories the Movie, Moana and Brave teach children that they can do and be whoever they want and gender doesn’t pose limitations on ambition and strength.
Don’t Wrap Them in Cotton Wool
It’s hard not to mollycoddle your kids. The world can sometimes be scary but I refuse to raise children who are fearful of life. I want them to take calculated risks. Cheryl Giovannoni, Chief Executive of the Girls’ Day Trust (GDST) said in 2017: “Girls are not victims and are stronger and more feisty than they are often given credit for.” No doubt preventing girls from being as adventurous as boys leads to fewer risk-takers and ultimately leaders. Equally, don’t pressurise boys to seek out adventure and take on riskier tasks or pursuits purely because of their gender.
Watch your Language
Be careful that you don’t use archaic labels such as ‘boys don’t cry’ or ‘boys will be boys’ to stop boys from showing emotion or to condone irresponsible behaviour. Question your own belief system and inherited, biased views.
Don’t Underestimate your Children
You and your partner have a huge impact on the way your children perceive the world and who they will become. They will mimic you and your values so be mindful of what you say and do.
Share the load at home and explain to children about the different jobs and roles you perform. If you work, explain what that actually means. Early on, I explained that when I’m writing on my laptop, I’m usually earning money so we can buy food. Then, at the supermarket, I would reiterate that the reason we can pay for food is thanks to the money I made writing. If you’re a Stay at Home Mum, explain that you look after your children so that your partner can work but your job is just as important. Depending on your children’s age, explain that some people choose to stay at home, others have the choice taken from them, as they are not supported by the workplace once they have children. Raising empathetic and informed children help the cause for equality. Don’t underestimate your kids.
Arrange Mixed Gender Parties
Make a conscious effort from an early age to arrange mixed-gender play-dates (even if your children insist on all-boy or all-girl parties). Boys and girls understand and learn about each other from playing together. My children know that I have a female best friend and a male one. Normalise mixed-gender friendships.
Having children offers us the opportunity to re-evaluate our own inherited values and preconceived ideas so we can do and be better ourselves.
You can find this in the print edition of Families Magazine.