feminist placard

Raising Feminist Boys and Breaking Gender Stereotypes

‘Boys don’t cry!’, ‘Scared, what are you a girl?’, ‘Pink is for girls!’

We have been hearing these statements since always. Have you ever wondered why and how statements like these have stood the test of time? The rooms, clothes, and stationery for girls is all pink and glittery and for boys it’s blue. Who decided that? And when?

I call myself a feminist, yet I never questioned the derogatory tone in ‘are you a girl??’ 

Why despite being raised by feminist parents have I never felt the need to question these notions?

I do feel the need now. Now that I am raising a boy and people question him on playing with a pink kitchen set, I feel the need to call an end to this discriminatory attitude and belief before it kills my son’s sensitivity to these critical matters.

boy ironing clothes
Raising Feminist Boys: My son pretending to iron his shirt with a pink iron.

As much as we are now raising our daughters to be strong, independent, and fierce, are we raising our boys in a world where this is possible? Where women are equal beings and don’t have to ‘fight’ for their rights? Are we raising them to be good friends, partners, and companions for women of equal strength?

Feminism is defined as the advocacy of the rights of women on the basis of gender equality. To understand what it means and to support it we first need to close the gender gap and bring an end to stereotypes.

Here are a few things we can do to help our little heroes navigate through the clutter passed down in the name of culture. 

  1. Talk to Your Kids

As much as we want to keep our kids in a perfect world, it’s good to give them an idea and a correct one of the world outside. Explain to them the concept and the divide, and encourage them to notice the divide, and stand up against it. 

This applies to children of all ages. Younger kids might not talk about it directly, but they are seeing everything and they notice! Sensitize them to the topic when you feel it’s appropriate. For example, when they say things like moms work in the kitchen, I am going to work in an office like dad.

  1. Break Gender Stereotypes

Change begins at home! Discourage gender disparity. Only when you stop assigning tasks/ behaviors to a particular gender, you will be able to give equal opportunities. Involve your sons in housework and ensure equal division of work between siblings.  Also, statements like ‘BOYS DON’T CRY’, and ‘LIKE A GIRL’ only add further to the gender divide. This also means letting them express themselves how they wish and exploring their own identity, regardless of gender.

My four-year-old loves pink kitchen sets and sometimes wants to put on a hairband or paint his nails. Rather than telling him, it’s a girl thing, I let him do it. He will grow out of it, what he won’t grow out of is the thought I plant in his mind.

  1. Teach Life Skills and How to Take Care of Themselves

As women join the workforce outside the house, the load inside the house must be shared by men. The notion that a woman will make your house a home is still deeply embedded in our society. No, a home is built by all the people living in it. 

One Sunday when my husband asked me to make him breakfast, my son wanted to snuggle more and told baba to make his own breakfast. My husband said ‘I don’t know how to make roti, I can’t cook’. My son’s instant response was why don’t you know how to cook? The question that followed was: Do boys not cook? We took the opportunity to close the gender gap and the boys made the breakfast. How and what they made is a story for another time :p

  1. Give Them Female Role Models and Heroes
mom and son pouting
Raising Feminist Boys: With my son at my clinic

Read stories to them and sing to them songs that cherish women. Encourage stories about girls as heroes, so they know it’s not only the ‘supermen’, ‘batmen’, and ‘ironmen’ saving the world. Tell them about women in politics, law, business, construction, aviation, anything, and everything. Explain to them how work that women do is important, so mothers, sisters, and later their wives can pursue their passions. Be a role model for them! Maintain a balance in your own life so the kids know that you have an identity of your own and a life outside of them.

My son sometimes refuses to accept I am a doctor, he says I am only his Mumma. He even went on to say that I am not a real doctor. On enquiring why, he said because you don’t stay in the hospital, real doctors live in hospitals. I went silent and didn’t know how to respond as I had recently reduced my working hours to give more time to my family. But what my kid saw was something else. He saw what I had modeled. I had given up my truth, the identity that mattered to me.

This is what we women have been doing for ages. Continuing to do so for our sons will only show them this is okay, and they will continue to expect this of women. If we want them to put women first we must stop putting ourselves last.

  1. Teach Your Children to Be Kind and Respect Consent

Teach them about boundaries, teach them no is no. Teach them about their own bodies and how that’s their personal space. This means stop tickling them if they say no (yes stop that family member who doesn’t listen despite the kid saying no). 

Only children who are raised with respect, consent, and kindness will develop these characteristics themselves.

  1. Speaking Up Against Inequality and Standing Up for Equal Opportunities

This is the most important aspect and the core of feminism. Speaking up, questioning the wrong, and standing for equal rights to transcend the message down to the masses to bring about a movement. 

One feminist boy raised in each household today will tomorrow be an army of men for women, men, all humans.

Mehak Qazi
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