My mother wanted me to be a doctor. To be fair, I thought it was what I wanted too. Every book I owned as a child had Doctor Lydia scrawled over it. When I realized I was more passionate about arts and switched courses, my mother mourned that loss for long.
In reflection on how to raise a feminist son, I am humbled by the truth that the outcome of children is often disparate from the desires of their parents.
In recent years, we have had more women identify visibly as feminists and become louder in their desire for a more egalitarian society. There have also been a lot of organisations creating safe spaces for women across industries like Technology, Finance, and more.
However, although there are indisputably various ways patriarchy affects women, it equally affects men. Therefore, while we work hard towards creating an empowering world for girls, we must also raise men to see why equality for all is an honourable vision.
According to a World Economic Forum report, it’s going to take 217 years before equality can be achieved. Currently, men still dominate systems that have decision making power. It makes it all the more vital that we do not just have male allies now, but raise the next generation to see that feminist values are ideal.
Seven practical ways to raise a feminist son
Before I identified as a feminist, different people had referred to me as one because of my opinions. These opinions or perspectives were a result of my upbringing. I grew up in a home where we had more women, both in my nuclear and extended family. There were things that happened in my own home that colored my perspective. Also, I considered them the norm until I had to face the real world.
In this list, I will share short anecdotes of my own experiences and how these molded my perspective before I got to know the word “feminist” or its meaning.
- Model equality for your son
You are your son’s first teacher. Naturally, they would observe what their parents do. The dynamics of your home would show him what should be the norm and what is unacceptable. Boys, who grow up in homes where equal partnerships are practiced, will more likely replicate this in their future relationships and homes.
- Be mindful of what he is watching
There are too many harmful stereotypes being portrayed in the media these days. Nollywood, for example, keeps pushing harmful stereotypes of women in the movies they churn out. Be mindful of what your son is watching. You can make available movies that portray women in a good light and as people with agency. In addition, you could watch the terrible ones and discuss with them why things should not be that way anymore.
- Give him role models of both gender
The title “Odogwu” (mighty man) in Igbo land is mainly for men. But, an elder cousin of mine gave her father a gift that was usually expected from sons. In that time, the family titled her “Odogwu”; it made it become possible to me that I could also achieve this feat. I also had male relatives I looked up to, who actively took part in what is considered feminine roles like cooking and babysitting. Seeing them do these things blurred the stereotype of gender roles for me. When they see women actively achieving great things in different fields would encourage them to respect women.
- Give him books to read
Stories have a way of humanizing abstract issues. It would also open their eyes to a world larger than their immediate surroundings. To understand the struggles and how far women have come, read books with them that narrate the plights of women in our society. The book “Joys of motherhood” by Buchi Emechata had a visceral effect on me. I was 10 when I first read it, and for years after I couldn’t go back to it. Buchi Emechata described the subjugation and oppression of women in our society in a simple and haunting way. Sadly, we haven’t completely done away with these harmful beliefs in our society. We appear to have only evolved in our modes of oppressions and of course, new forms of resistance have been created too.
- Teach him to take care of himself
I had a girlfriend who hated holidays and loved boarding school. This was strange, considering that it is usually the other way. As the only girl in her family, she was expected to do all house chores, her brother’s laundry and cook whatever they wanted and whenever they wanted. Instead of the holidays being a time to spend with family and rest, for her it was a drudgery of chores. Boys who are trained this way eventually grow up to become men who are inept at taking care of themselves. Or expect women to handle the majority of tasks at home.
- Avoid harmful gender stereotypes of masculinity.
Toxic masculinity is birthed by harmful stereotypes of what boys and men must be − active, aggressive, tough, daring, and dominant. Not all expressions of masculinity are harmful, but some of the stereotypes like “boys don’t cry” will only create emotionally stunted individuals. Some of the skills which women have had to master like negotiation and empathy have also become highly sought after to succeed in a world that is becoming more technology-driven. As parents, we should encourage the sensitive side of boys. This is also why it is easy to overlook cases of sexual abuse on boys; because they are often expected to be tough. Support them and encourage their interests. Seriously, they won’t all love sports.
- Teach him consent, no is no.
There are staggering statistics of sexual abuse and harassment perpetrated by men. When boys are raised to believe themselves as superior over women, it is not surprising that they would also feel that they have rights to a woman’s body. Teach them to ask for permission and that the words “no” and “stop” should be taken seriously. In addition, practicing it and respecting their wishes as a parent will actively reinforce learning.
Why is it important to raise a feminist son?
There are many men who identify as feminists but are blinded to their prejudice. While many would say that they believe men and women are equal, they do not know how to practice equality in their daily lives. Through the power of nurturing, you can start at the early stages to open their eyes to the privileges granted because of their gender and how patriarchy also harms them.
We have so many African feminist women who I believe would love to raise a feminist son. This would happen by teaching boys about tolerance, empathy and equality. For instance, feminism as a word has become a more recognised word in Nigeria, even if unpopular. But, it is being heard and awareness is the first step to creating a solution.
There is only so much we can do as humans to engineer the path of another’s life. However, it is more commendable that we make an effort instead of leaving it to fate. In the advocacy for equality, it is a great disservice to ignore the role of the male gender towards achieving the goal of equality for all.
This article was first published on AfricaParent.com
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