Quick Hit: On raising feminist sons

I really like this piece by Shannon Brugh over at Rattle & Pen on the challenges of raising sons in a culture that forces kids into gender boxes and, though it claims to be equal, is still decidedly not.

Raising boys in a society that claims to be equal is not easy. It’s supposed to be equal, but of course, it’s not. As much as many of us would like to believe that it is, it’s not even close. James Brown was right. It is a man’s world. So, how do I keep my boys from perpetuating this problem?

This is where I have to get creative. Parenting requires a certain amount of creativity as it is. But teaching boys who already live in a world that applauds them simply for having a penis, to know, to believe, that girls and women are equal to them is tricky.

So how do we do it? First, I think we have to actively teach it. Confront it head on. We have to talk to our boys about respect and equity. We have to tell them that people should be treated equally regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, creed, or preference in condiments. It does not matter. People are people. Respect them and treat them as such. Then, we need to model it. We need to show our boys (and our girls, for that matter) that there is no way they have to be. They have to be respectful and kind, certainly, but they don’t have to vie for power. They don’t have to love blue or football. They don’t have to subjugate. They don’t have to marry a woman—or marry at all. It’s okay if they like pink. It’s okay if their ultimate goal is to be a daddy. It’s okay if they cry.

It’s a complicated world for our children, and our boys, like our girls, encounter contradicting role models and moral compasses every day. They’re told it’s okay to have feelings, but are then made fun of if they cry. They’re told to treat women as equals, but then encounter contradictory images by the truckload in every aspect of the media. Television, movies, video games, music videos, commercials—every aspect of media shows us that women have their place and men have theirs—and never should they overlap.

Brugh also discusses her struggles with being in the traditional feminine role in the family–staying home with the kids, doing most of the housework. She wonders how to teach her sons that this caretaking role–so undervalued and minimized because it’s been coded as feminine–is important, while simultaneously showing that there’s more to her than that. She asks, “How do I show them that women and men can be strong and powerful both in an office and in the home?”

Read the rest here.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • http://feministing.com/members/lixday/ Lix Day

    “But teaching boys who already live in a world that applauds them simply for having a penis”

    FFS. Can “feminists” please stop equating having a penis with being a boy? Why is this so difficult?

    You can’t be trans-supportive only when taking about trans-specific issues and then trans-erasing the rest of the time. This is the equivalent of telling black jokes, but only when none of your black friends are present.

    Trans women and girls are not applauded for their (current or former) anatomy. Intersex persons with penises are not applauded for their anatomy. They are shamed and all to often face violence because of it.

    We do not live in a society where people constantly walk around naked showing off and being judged by their genitalia. Male privilege is not derived from genitalia or chromosomes, it’s derived from presenting to the world as male. When you equate having a penis with being a boy (and vice versa), you’re not being clever, you’re being cissexist and you need to fucking stop.

    • http://feministing.com/members/cadedebois/ Cade DeBois

      I understand your objections, but it might be more constructive to make an objection to such language in general here, and then follow the link provided in Maya’s text the original article and confront the original author about the problems with *her* language, rather than projecting this onto “feminists” everywhere.

      As a disabled/autistic feminist I get that many people are not aware of how they use language can marginlaize and diminish others. I can’t tell you how many feminist-penned articles I’ve read that pretty much treat disabled/autistic people like a sideshow or a cause-of-the-day and not as people they regard as part of their feminist world. And there are times to get really angry about it, but my advice is to be sure you aim at a specific, deserving target–address to specific person and the specific incident of excluding language or treatment–and avoid what borders on personal attacks and overgeneralizing “you people” accusations. If you still have anger and frustration left over, find an outlet for that but perferably not by spraying virtual napalm on anyone within range.