We hear a lot these days about raising strong, empowered daughters with a healthy self-esteem. Our girls should be kind and strong. They should feel beautiful on the inside and out. They should be leaders without being mean. They should be smart, funny, and unapologetic about being their true selves. What a truly fantastic time it is to be a girl.
What we don’t hear enough about, in this mom’s opinion, is raising boys in the same manner. I too want my boys to be kind and strong, with a healthy self-esteem. I want them to feel handsome on the inside and out. I want them to be leaders without being obnoxious. I want them to be smart, funny, and unapologetic about being their true selves. Additionally, I want to raise boys who don’t live by antiquated stereotypes; who know with certainty that girls and women are their equals.
Have you seen the new Star Wars yet? Rey is absolutely fierce, and Leia is still a leader like no other. While I was thrilled to finally see a strong female lead who wasn’t dressed in a form-fitting costume and four inch heels; to my boys there was nothing all that unique about it.
Raising boys is not an easy task today, given that the mainstream media is still so incredibly far behind in their portrayal of genders. We have come a long way, but not nearly far enough. Sometimes what my boys are seeing in their seemingly innocent made-for-tweens shows makes me cringe.
Yet the media will never take the place of the lessons learned at home. Since it is so incredibly important to me to raise boys who know with certainty that girls and women are their equals, I want to share with you what is working so far in our household.
Raising Boys to Respect Girls and Women:
Seek female coaches and female role models. My boys are soccer players, so we watch a lot of U.S. Women’s Soccer in our house. My younger son asked for an Abby Wambach jersey for the holidays, and is writing a report for school on Mia Hamm as a person he admires.
When we were looking for a running coach for my kids, we wanted the best person for the job. That person happens to be a woman. Not only do they admire her skill, they have learned a great deal from her expertise. They do not think of her as a female coach; to them she is just Coach Natalie.
Participate. Remember the old saying, “Anything you can do I can do better. Anything I can do better than you.” Join your kids in what they do. Soccer happens to be the sport I played growing up. When I school them on the field, or teach them a new trick, it only reinforces that girls can be just as good if not better than boys at sports (and anything else). If your kids are into something a little trickier for participation, such as gymnastics, fencing or hockey – participate with your knowledge of the activity, its rules and its history.
Point out inequalities when you see them. When I note the absolute ridiculousness of some stereotypes in the media, it opens my boys’ eyes to it as well, and it begins to bother them too. It is important to note the inequalities as they relate to girls as well as to boys. The “airhead cheerleader” stereotype is just as offensive as the “dumb jock” and the “gamer nerd” stereotypes.
Don’t have separate rules for your sons and daughters. Doing so may inevitably reinforce gender inequality, so keep rules the same for everyone.
If they don’t believe you, make them learn for themselves. If your son thinks that more stereotypically female activities are not as difficult as stereotypically male activities, enroll him in a class and let him try it for himself. That’ll teach him to buy into stereotypes! He may even pick up a new interest in the process.
Lead by example. Don’t stand for chauvinist behavior from your partner, either. Enroll his butt in a class too! Kids model their behavior from what they see and hear at home, so make certain to present a united front, equal roles, and respect for one another.
Ignore those antiquated gender-biased household responsibilities. Throw that nonsense away and make your own rules. In our house my husband cooks dinner just as often as I take out the garbage. He does the dishes just as often as I do the bills. Our sons get to see an equal partnership, and they are learning that what works in one household will vary from what works in another household.
When you have “the talk,” remember the single most important part of the conversation. No always means no. Maybe means no. Hesitation always means no. Anything other than consent means no.
Dr. Deb Gilboa’s gives additional and poignant rules for her sons in this piece from the Huffington Post. She also says that, “Our boys should understand their obligation to see people first as people and do their best to recognize what they think ‘girl’ or ‘woman’ means is probably NOT how that person would define themselves. Each person gets to decide what their gender does and doesn’t mean about them.”
Have any other tips to add for raising boys who respect girls and women? In what ways are you teaching equality in your household?
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