I have always raised my sons to understand how privileged they are. I have found that examples have always been much easier for children to understand rather than long arduous lectures (although I have been known to give a good one every now and then). In fact, when I realised how challenged my eldest son was with poor eye sight at the age of 7, our conversation went a little like this...
Darling, it would be downright unfair if you were born handsome, tall, blonde, male, green eyed, academic, socially comfortable, sporty, and come from a relatively affluent family and not have some deficit, nature just doesn’t work that way, that would just be mean for everyone else”. His reply was “yeh”
I had no intention of discounting the challenge he faced with poor eye site, it’s been tough, but simply to give him perspective so that he understood how privileged he truly was, 95% of the time and to have an understanding of how it felt to be unequal and empathetic to others. To add to this, fotunately his challenge is solvable.... with glasses, now contacts and eventually a relatively safe operation. Many are not so lucky.
When my boys were born (4 years apart) I realised that my job was to produce good men. I believed everything happens for a reason and I had been given two boys, rather than a girl, to ensure that my focus was clear... to produce two good men as my and their contribution to a more harmonious co-existant society. Ultimately releasing two relatively balanced men who one day will have incredible power and live and support their community and family as an equal. For "Power", is only good if used for the good of society and all its people. And so, began our dialogue about the status of women in the world.
I have two sons, ages 10 and 14. By virtue of being born male, my sons are statistically more likely to have a higher income than their female partners and cousins, and are less likely to be discriminated against on the basis of their gender.
Feminism is many things to many people. But put simply, it’s about advocating for a society in which women enjoy the same rights and privileges as men at any age. Since men have overwhelming power and privilege, they are in a unique position to hasten change for women. That means that we should be raising our sons to be aware of gender inequality, and shocked at discrimination. As it stands they just simply can’t understand why one person would be paid differently when doing the same job as efficiently as each other! “That’s crazy mum!!”
Here are the ways I'm approaching this as a parent:
1. I talk openly about people’s rights, the right of a person (male and female as a collective).
I share with my sons some home truths about women’s struggle for equality and balance it with some challenges that they will face too... collective rather than “he versus she”.
2. I role model how to speak about women respectfully and try to have everyone in our household aware of its importance. Valuing and making it an important topic for all, makes all the difference and ensures we’re all on the same page.
There are subtleties in how we talk about women that boys pick up on, and adopt unconsciously. Associating morality with the way a woman dresses or pointing out her worth in terms of her appearance, has implications for how boys perceive the value of women. This is no different to little girls being influenced.
Further, I try to demonstrate respect to the older women in our family on the principle that women have value in their wisdom — and not just in the flush of youth or their looks.
3. I try to encourage and show that all women have the ability to achieve success in their pursuits — whatever their choices.
As a woman, their mother and an influencer, it is important for me to share my experience, my successes and challenges, my goals and aspirations with my children. I tell them that I believe I can achieve whatever I aspire to if it is right for me, with enough focus and work. The fact that I am a mother, or even a woman, is beside the point.
As a mother, I role model self-belief in my own abilities. Whether or not we work outside the home, our sons benefit enormously from our attitude toward how women manifest their choices.
4. I encourage our son's emotions. Generations of boys have been raised to 'do' rather than to feel. Too often, boys are praised for their accomplishments and not for how they treat their friends — they should do both! Compliment them in their strength, looks, empathy and achievements.
To bring this back into balance, it’s important to nurture our son's ability to express and introspect. For example, I make a point to ask my sons about what’s going on with their friendships and how they're feeling about things. Even if they do not answer, by asking, I believe we are encouraging them to believe that they can feel and reflect.
5. I desperately try not to serve my sons. (Even though it’s really hard for me not too) Unfortunately, it's still common for mothers to serve their sons everything from food to domestic cleanliness and dismiss their lack of input into helping cooking and cleaning. I’m sure this has everything to do with the statistics showing that women still do significantly more housework than their male partners.
Domesticated boys turn into domestic men who share the burden of housework. So, I make sure that everyone's chores include cleaning as well as cooking and I try to appreciate their work, because reward is important for anyone and any age.
6. Champion fatherhood.
As much as possible, my partner (the boys dad) is involved in the day-to-day work of parenting, conveying to our boys that dads matter. Thier dad is a boys first mentor, and they watch him to understand what it is to be a man, so it has to come from him too!
Just as it’s important to get boys involved in domestic chores, it’s important to emphasise how much men need to contribute in this area, too. I’m lucky. My children's father is an awesome dad, and they see his contribution and know that his role is as meaningful to me as it is to them.
7. Let feminism open the discussion to other inequalities. Emphasising feminist ideals inevitably shines a light on the unequal distribution of power throughout society in general. Male privilege, in fact, is mostly white — and that's worth exploring, too. Let your discussions wander. Talk about other demographics, the disabled, and racial profiling.
I was fortunate to understand real disability as a child because my eldest sibling was born severely handicap. It was tough, however i have been left with a profound insight and empathy towards others as a result.
Overall, emphasise this truth: Those who have more power have more responsibility to make the changes that can create a fair and equitable society.