Let me start by stating that I am the lucky father of two wonderful girls, and unless the missus and I experience a prophylactic mishap, that’s it for us.
In our case “bachey do hi achay” (we’re good with just two kids) so I’m most probably never going to raise a boy. Whatever opinions I express, or advice I dispense in here, let it be known that I am speaking as the father of those girls who will grow up with your sons, and not as a father having to raise the kind of men I would like my daughters to meet in the future.
Over time, I have had the privilege of becoming a noticeable male voice speaking out for the equality and humanity of our mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters. The demographic of cishet male feminist allies in which I now find myself, is sadly still quite sparse. The men of my generation and those preceding it were raised in a time where male superiority was a given fact, and the gender roles imposed upon both men and women were seen as simply natural. So, it is a rare sight to find men of my age or older who view gender, and gender roles any differently. Yet in my years as a social media activist (please don’t call me an influencer – I have never thought of myself as one nor do I wish to), I have had the immense pleasure of seeing more and more young boys and men choosing to break the patriarchal norms of the past and stand shoulder to shoulder with their female contemporaries to support them in the righteous fight for their humanity. And while there is still a long way to go, it is extremely heartening to see their number grow every day.
The question I have pondered is why are their numbers growing? Why do young men, born and raised in a patriarchal society, support an effort that effectively robs them of the many privileges the preceding generations of men have enjoyed at the cost of women? A part of the answer undoubtedly lies in the manner women’s voices for justice have been amplified through the internet and social media. While my generation never really had to face any narrative to oppose the patriarchal norms we were raised in, young boys and men today have access to not only a wealth of knowledge about gender issues but also to the individual stories of women who suffer under patriarchal oppression. Women, in whom these young men see their mothers, sisters, and future daughters.
But as we can see, the amplified women’s voices have spawned an equally loud opposing narrative, that condemns and disparages the effort of women demanding equality. Young men (under the tutelage of unrepentant misogynist elders) are fighting back against the voices of women, seeking to deny their claims, shut down their movement and perpetuate the gender inequality that currently marks out society. It is therefore evident that in addition to the amplification of women’s voices, it is also essential to work on making adolescent boys and young men receptive to those voices. The Aurat March for instance is an essential manifestation of unified and amplified women’s voices, but despite the movement’s incredible growth, their righteous calls for justice still fall on far too many deaf ears. In order to ensure justice for women, it is imperative that attention also be given to unclogging the patriarchy-stuffed eyes, ears, and hearts of the next generation of brothers, husbands, and fathers.
And this is where great parenting comes in.
I believe that a big reason more and more adolescent boys and young men are increasingly receptive to the notion of women’s equality, is because they come from homes where their family values and practices align with the principle of human equality. Unless parents make a concerted effort to raise their daughters to be confident of their voice, and boys to be confident and compassionate enough to hear them, we will be doing the next generation of both genders a great disservice. So, here are my tips on how you can raise your boys to be the compassionate, kind, and supportive men that I hope my daughters will meet in the future.
Break The Stereotypes About Boys!
Growing up, boys are all too often met with gendered expectations of them. Expectations that make them believe that boys don’t do housework. That boys don’t cry. That boys are inherently better and stronger than girls and therefore deserving of leadership in the home and in society. That boys are solely responsible for the maintenance of the women in their lives. That any deviation from these norms is an indication that they are not really boys at all. If you are hammered with these messages your entire childhood, it is little wonder that you end up being the kind of man that supports and enables a system that oppresses the women in your life.
Break the stereotype about gender-based roles
It is essential that the boys of the next generation grow up without the false idea that cooking or cleaning at home is emasculating. So, when you teach your daughter to cook or train her to clean up the home, be sure that your son is expected to participate equally in domestic duties also. And when you teach your son to change a tire or drive a car, be sure to teach your daughter too. There is no reason for the gendered division of labor in our homes except for adherence to a system that actively oppresses women. Be sure to crack down hard if your son ever says “that’s a girl’s job”. Explain that there is no such thing as a girl’s job or a boy’s job. There is work that needs doing, and everyone is expected to participate equally. There can of course be a division of labor but be aware that you do not divide the labor based exclusively on gender. Boys and girls live in the same home and as such domestic responsibilities fall upon both.
Break the stereotype that boys don’t cry
Too many men in our society are woefully unable to manage their emotions because emotional awareness is seen as a woman’s job. But we men must be responsible for our own emotions and their expression. It is fundamentally unfair to expect the labor of emotional awareness to rest squarely on women’s shoulders. Boys who grow up with a healthy understanding of their emotions and an expectation that they alone are responsible for managing them have greater empathy, patience, and understanding as well as the ability to express their emotions in ways that do not harm the people around them. Not to mention that they do not have the excuse of saying “I couldn’t control myself”, an excuse so often used to explain away any manner of verbal, physical, and sexual violence.
Teaching boys to be self-reflective, honest about their feelings (especially to themselves), and emotionally aware, allows them to be in control of their emotional state and their behavior. And with this level of control comes a sense of empowerment which too many generations of men in our society have been deprived of. Imagine how many homes and families would be happy and harmonious if only the men in that family had the ability to reflect over their feelings and handle them in a constructive manner rather than exploding in a cloud of misplaced rage and frustration. Imagine how many future families will benefit if your sons are empowered in this manner. Help your boys gain this level of personal empowerment and expect them to act accordingly.
Break the stereotype that men alone are the breadwinners
Reject the stereotype that men alone must carry the burden of providing for their families. The world today allows for women to be just as capable breadwinners as men. There is no reason to assume that a wife cannot be an equal or even primary earner in a household. There is no reason to think that a daughter cannot be responsible for her parents in their old age. Help your boys by opening their eyes to the freedom that comes with equal partnership so that they do not grow resentful of the unfair burden they must carry in order to be considered a “man”. Resentment that so very often causes men to mistreat their families as they buckle under the pressure of carrying this burden alone. Teach your boys that there is nothing unmanly about sharing the burden with their sisters, wives, and daughters. Let them understand that “real men” have the guts to share the burden and are not threatened by women proving themselves capable of carrying the burden alongside them.
Break the stereotype that men are more capable of leadership
Discard the archaic (and factually incorrect) idea that men are inherently more capable and deserving of leadership based on the content of their pants. Boys who are incapable of accepting female leadership will struggle in the future where they meet female managers, CEOs, political leaders, and yes, female heads of a household. Let them know that following a woman’s lead, or deferring to a woman’s higher placement in a given hierarchy is NOT equivalent to their own emasculation. Raise them to believe that it takes a strong, confident, and wise man to accept that leaders are judged by their leadership regardless of gender. And that women are no less capable of leadership than men.
Empowerment of Men
In breaking these stereotypes, it is important to understand that in every case we are talking about the empowerment of men. We empower them by teaching them to participate in domestic labor, so they are not dependent on women to take care of themselves. We empower them by assuring them that they are fully capable of understanding, processing, and managing their emotions so they are not reduced to enraged and sexually aggressive beasts at the slightest excuse. We empower them by teaching them that a man is no less a man for sharing the burden of being a provider with the women in their lives. And we empower them by showing that leadership is not gender-dependent and that their masculinity is not threatened by following a leader of the opposite sex.
Lastly, there is little doubt that children are far more prone to do as their elders do, rather than as their elders say. So, it falls upon us as parents to not only tell them what to do, but to model the behavior and mentality we wish to see in them. Children must see their parents treating each other as equals and partners, sharing the burdens of domestic duties and providing for their home alike, and discarding the errant notions that one gender is inherently superior to the other. Don’t just TELL them. SHOW them.