Ewwww…pink bikes are for only girls!

You’d better get a haircut or you’ll look like a girl like Johnny does with his long hair.

Girls are not strong enough to be firefighters.

These and so many other gender-based stereotypes that are the beginnings of inequality and misogyny are what boys and girls start hearing at a preciously young age. When my 11-year-old daughter or 8-year-old son hears them and if my husband or I am also within hearing range, we immediately address what they hear. We teach them to question what they hear and if it has any merit, such as

Why are colors designated to boys or to girls only, and what do you think about that?

How come long hair is reserved for only girls and why are boys made fun of when they wear their hair long like girls?

We would also google images of female firefighters and pointing them out when we pass by our city’s firehouse and seeing them hosing down the trucks.

Female empowerment ads, spokespeople, and movements are more prominent than ever. More women-led companies are thriving than just ten years ago. Feminist conferences, talks and social media are more widely heard. In many ways, this is now a fertile ground to be a feminist and neither women nor men need to be embarrassed by such a label.

But is it as easy raising feminist sons? Do talks around this subject need to be different or more pronounced with boys than with girls? How do we raise boys to be as gender-equality conscious when they might hear from their peers – or some other parents – the things exemplified from the start of this article…and how do we help them overcome the upstream stereotypes? Outspoken activist in feminism and reproductive health policy and a badass change-maker, Dr Melissa Bird shares her views on these in her guest post below.

5 Lessons from Raising a Feminist Son by Melissa Bird

When I started writing this blog post I was going to tell you all of the genius things I have learned being a feminist mom. I was going to tell you the “Top 5 Ways to Raise a Feminist Son” based on my own experiences, and then something crazy happened. I talked to my children about what they have learned being raised as feminists and their answers weren’t what I would have told you at all.

I have been a feminist since I discovered it was a thing. I was in high school. I was discovering my sexuality at the same time I discovered Ms. Magazine. Gloria Steinem became an icon when I was on the brink of my womanhood. I have embraced this identity ever since, there was never a question in my mind that I would raise children to celebrate, honor, and learn from women.

Flash forward to today. I am a woman in my early 40’s raising three amazing children, two girls and a boy. Our boy is our youngest. He is 8 years old. He is a Lego building karate champion. He is a feminist.

I could lie to you and say that we raise our girls the same as we raise our son but that would be deceptive. We don’t raise our children equally. They each have their own personalities, their own distinct needs, they don’t mess around with their autonomy and it would be a great disservice to their originality to treat them all exactly the same.

Our son is a deeply sensitive, empathic soul. He loves Jesus and has a deep and abiding faith in his spirituality. His kindness is a trait that I gravitate towards even when I am at my worst. I deeply love and adore his generosity in thinking and how he bursts into hysterical tears anytime he sees an animal or human being hurt. Y’all, picture an Irish wake with wailing and the whole nine yards; that is Sean when he feels an injustice has taken place.

I asked Sean if he would tell me what he has learned about being a feminist. Here are four lessons Sean has learned being raised this way:

  1. To not hurt girls or say anything rude to them.” When I asked Sean why this was important he said, “Because you shouldn’t hurt people.” A simple feminist notion, hurting others because of their gender is wrong.
  2. To share equality because we should all be friends.” When I asked Sean why this was important he said, “Because everyone gets treated the same.” A simple feminist notion, we are all on the same playing field.
  3. To care for everyone.” When I asked Sean why this was important he said, “Because if you don’t they won’t learn to care for others.” A simple feminist notion, and ironically similar to the golden rule, treat others as you want to be treated and they in turn will be kind to other people too!
  4. To say what you think is right.” When I asked Sean why this was important he said, “Because if you stay quiet you won’t be able to fix what you think is wrong.” A simple feminist notion, it is important to improve our communities so that everyone is protected, honored, and empowered.

Sean froze at 4 lessons, his 8 year old brain literally exploded. So, since I love odd numbers I thought I would ask our 10 year old what she thought was important about being raised as a feminist.

Here is one lesson that Gwen has learned about how to be a feminist:

  1. “You just need to be confident, you don’t need to be brave.” When I asked Gwen why this was important she said, “Because if you are brave all the time you won’t be able to feel your other emotions.” A simple feminist notion, relating to other people is strength not a weakness; if you are stuck in brave you don’t feel empathy. According to Gwen, confidence is more important than bravery.

Gwen is on to something. My father is always telling me to act brave even if I don’t feel it. That has never resonated with me and has always rubbed me wrong. What if as parents we encouraged confidence first? What if we stoked the flames of poise and self-assurance from the very beginning? That is a feminist principle that I think we all can live with.

When I talk to my kids about why it is important to raise feminist boys all of them said the exact same thing, “Because they will grow up to be nice to girls.” Gwen’s comment reminded me of the word bravado, which is something I think men get sucked into a lot. I see it in my husband and I see it in Sean. Maybe that is where the complication comes in. We know for sure that women are constantly attacked and harassed online and in real life. I have spent many a day asking men and boys if they talk to their own mothers, sisters, grandmothers the way they dare talk to me and other women online or in person. Maybe they do, but more likely they wouldn’t dare speak to those women like that.

If we allow ourselves to discover how feminism has improved all of our lives, if we stop looking at it as a dirty word, we can raise our sons AND daughters to build a solid foundation of equality for all. Perhaps if we raise boys AND girls to be confident from the very beginning we won’t have to teach them to puff up and fake it until they make it.

Dr Melissa Bird believes in brand advocacy where strength and passion are used to make changes throughout the country, beginning right in our own communities. Her upcoming event is Fanning the Flames Superwoman Society in Seattle on Sept 20, 2018. Find her at www.BirdGirlIndustries.com and her Facebook page Dr Melissa Bird .

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