Raising sons that respect women
"As parents, we need to actively cultivate the next frontier of feminism: boys." Photo: Getty images
Like many mothers with daughters, I’ve done much hand wringing about how to raise a strong and secure woman amidst the minefield of gender stereotypes, objectification, regressive parenting manuals, and Young Liberals auctioning off chaff bags.
But no matter how many times we edit out the ugly step sisters from Cinderella and have Cinders lose her slipper while dancing in the mosh pit, only to have it returned by a thoughtful young man, our girls won’t achieve equality without the participation of men.
The disappointing progress for pay equality, female representation in leadership, childcare, domestic violence (need I go on?) tells us that men are unlikely to change their behaviours and attitudes simply because we ask nicely, or even if we’re not nice about it.
Men will stop obstructing the path to equality when they understand that it is in their best interest to do so. As parents, we need to actively cultivate the next frontier of feminism: boys.
Here’s a six-step guide to raising a feminist son and why your son will thank you for it.
1. Watching www.sexy-sluts-horny-pussy-make-me-your-whore-bitch.com is not sex education
Over 90 per cent of teenage boys report having accessed internet porn. For many boys, watching sex scenes that are violent, degrading to women, and solely focused on male pleasure, is their first introduction to sex. Not surprisingly, some boys are surprised to learn that flopping their dick out and saying something like, ‘suck my cock, bitch’ doesn’t constitute foreplay.
Parenting tip #1: Sex talks with boys need to go beyond how not to get a girl pregnant and include discussions about respectful relationships. Boys shouldn’t have to find out the hard way that coming in a girl’s face is not the foundation of a meaningful relationship.
2. How to use a vacuum cleaner 101
Australian Census data released earlier this year shows what most women already know: that when it comes to the inequality of domestic work, not much has changed in the last 50 years.
Perpetuating the gender inequality of domestic work in our children is bad for everybody. Studies show that men who do more housework get more sex. As most women know, there is no greater mood killer than being pissed off at your partner for not picking up his socks or bathing the kids.
But aside from this, if we don’t expect our boys to pull their domestic weight, then they are missing out on valuable life skills like cooking, cleaning and looking after themselves and others.
Parenting tip #2: Raising a son who needs a woman to look after him is creating a rod for another woman’s back in about 25 years time. He’s also on the fast track to becoming a sad git who will never move out of home and, if he does finally move out, returns every week with a basket of laundry.
3. You are not what you eat (or your thigh or stomach circumference either)
Every time mummy makes a derogatory comment about her thighs or the piece of cake she shouldn’t have eaten, junior learns that a woman’s value is defined by a number on the scales — so much so that women must deprive themselves to achieve it.
Similarly, when daddy makes comments about the newsreader or flight attendant being hot or not — or about the size of the Prime Minister’s arse — junior learns that it’s appropriate for men to judge women this way.
Internalising the idea that women’s beauty matters most makes it impossible for men to have satisfying long-term relationships because when it comes to the current cultural ideal of beauty, it’s all down hill after thirty.
Experiences in early adolescents are highly influential in determining what people find sexually attractive later in life. A woman, who I’ll call Sarah, recently told me her partner can’t get an erection unless he’s looking at fake boobs and airbrushed perfection. She has reluctantly agreed to play porn in the background when they’re having sex, but unsurprisingly, it’s taking a toll on the relationship.
Parenting tip #3: Ban any fat chat or discussions that reduces a woman’s worth to her beauty or physical appearance.
4. Girl isn’t a dirty word
At a café recently, the owner offered a young boy a marshmallow. The boy went to take a pink one and his mother said ‘You don’t want pink; pink is for giiiiirrls [insert derogatory tone here]. Young boys are still being told by their parents to ‘man-up’ and stop being a ‘sissy’ or to ‘stop acting like a girl’.
In addition to parents using ‘being a girl’ as an insult or reprimand, children’s stories and films are full of reasons why boys wouldn’t want to be girls. Girls are killjoys, whinny, moralising, manipulative, helpless, or just passively waiting for a man to come along and save them.
Even though the none-too-subtle message is that it’s better to be a bloke, this gender stereotyping enslaves boys just as much a girls. It creates narrow boundaries on how ‘real men’ behave and punishes those who deviate from their prescribed gender role.
Parenting tip #4: Seek out opportunities in media and day-to-day life to challenge the gender stereotypes for both boys and girls.
5. Real men do cry
Our culture is so bad at allowing men to identify and express their feelings that we need official public campaigns — with sponsors, merchandise (seriously) and official ambassadors like Hugh Jackman — such as ‘RUOK? Day’ to give the green light to men to admit they have feelings.
If boys were taught the benefits of a good old D ‘n M and a cry we may have less violence and less suicide.
Parenting tip #5: Encourage boys to express their feelings and challenge the notion that real men don’t cry.
6. Fathers have a role to play
Hearing all these good things from mum is all well and good, but really, isn’t it about time that the task of developing boys into fully rounded social beings became a shared responsibility? Boys need to hear these messages from fathers and other men in their lives.
Parenting tip #6: Provide models of masculinity where displaying emotions is okay, housework is just what you do and relationships with everyone — including women — are based on respect.
Kasey Edwards is the best-selling author of 4 books 30-Something and Over It, 30-Something and The Clock is Ticking, OMG! That's Not My Husband, and OMG! That's Not My Child.