As the mother of a young son, I know that I have many enjoyable moments and complex conversations ahead of me. As a feminist mom who is excited about having those conversations, I am acutely aware that along with those complex heart-to-hearts, comes an obligation to be open and honest and inclusive. I won't shy away from the "tough stuff" or, in other words, the discussions that used to strike fear in the hearts of parents everywhere.
For example, I’m already beginning to speak to my child about consent, though for now it’s on a very basic level. However, I know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As a feminist parent, there’s an almost overwhelming slew of things I’ll have to sit down and explain to my son (probably more than once), things that I know to never say to my son (because I don’t want him repeating them or absorbing the negative messages), and things that I’ll have to continuously teach him through my own actions and attitudes. While I know that our patriarchal society isn't particularly kind to men either (i.e. telling them they can't own or expression their emotions), it definitely isn't kind to women, and because I have a son, I feel an intense sense of obligation to make sure that my son doesn't add to that unkindness but, instead, works along side and with women to eradicate it.
In other words, it’s never too early to start preparing yourself to have these 11 important conversations with your son.
As a young teen, I was the victim of those jerks otherwise known as bullies. The hurtful words I so often heard hurled at me did more damage in those days than I think my mother ever realized. I’d like to sit my son down, before he begins school, and let him know that even though it’s not always the case, words can hurt and cause a lot of damage. I want him to realize the weight of his words, and to be proud of the things he says, rather than regretful. This is the type of conversation I may need to have repeatedly should I suspect that my child is a bully.
Additionally, I want him to understand that if someone should ever attempt to bully him, that he can always talk to me about it and we’ll figure out a solution together. The last thing I would ever want, is for my kid to suffer in silence. I want him to know that the people who say mean things often do so because they’ve seen those behaviors in their own homes, that it’s often a sign of their own insecurities, and that they are often unaware of how hurtful they can be (though it certainly doesn’t excuse the behavior).
Like I said before, I’m already starting to have mini-conversations with my son about consent, such as repeating that he must respect people and stop a behavior when asked, and that we respect his body and wishes (within reason, I mean, he is a toddler at the moment and would happily jump down the top of the stairs without any boundaries or worry about his own personal safety). I also know that we’ll have to have more conversations about consent in the future, like when he starts school, when he goes over to a friend’s house, before his first sleepover, and before he goes on a first date. We’ll talk about the different types of consent, and how important it is to get enthusiastic consent in certain situations, and how vital it is to stop any behavior if consent is ever withdrawn.
On Gender and Pronouns
While my son and I haven’t discussed gender and pronouns much, I know that we will soon, especially since most preschools won’t attempt to use inclusive language. I’m already trying to explain that girls and boys don’t all look a certain way, and that having certain body parts doesn’t mean that you are a certain gender. Eventually, I’ll want to discuss this further, explaining that it’s okay to realize later that you aren’t the gender you were assigned, and that many people don’t feel that they are any of the two most commonly discussed genders (man or woman), and that we should always respect people by using the pronouns that are right for them.
On Body Parts
Because I'm a feminist mom, I’m already starting these conversations with my son simply by going over his body parts and using the proper names for them. One of the reasons I’ve done this is because it’s been shown to empower children against abuse. Our conversations about bodies will include discussion on how our bodies work, and to explain to him what is proper and improper touching (especially at a young age). Having these kind of conversations may help him to not feel the kind of shame I know I felt about my own body when I was growing up.
On Sex And Sexuality
A later extension of the body parts conversations will go on to include talks about sex and sexuality. My hope is to raise a son that is sex-positive, that doesn’t slut-shame (and doesn’t allow others to slut-shame him), and who knows how to stay safe. I want to be the one (or one of the ones) to explain sex to him as well as reproduction (and to explain that most sex isn’t for reproduction, but rather for pleasure and/or to feel connected). I want to give him all the tools he’ll need to know how to have safe sex to avoid STDs or unwanted pregnancy and I know these conversations will aid him in all of the above. I will also sit down with him, at least a few times I'm sure, to discuss sexuality: how we are all different and feel different forms of attraction and how none of them are wrong so long as they hurt no one, and that he can always open up to me should he realize he is gay or bisexual or pansexual or any other kind of sexual he could possibly imagine.
On Feminism And Equality
I want my son to know (from the very beginning) that all people are equal, regardless of gender, sex, race, age, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or anything else that is used to divide people up. I plan to discuss equality with him and to explain that although we should be treated as equals, we very often are not, and that we really haven't been throughout history. I also want to discuss with him that this is exactly what feminism is and that if he truly believes in equality, he shouldn’t be afraid to call himself a feminist. I’ll give him books to read (or, in this day and age, maybe some links and YouTube videos might be a good start) so that he understands that while many of us are often marginalized and that's considered the "norm", we must always strive for equal treatment.
On Social Justice
Although I would never demand it of him, I hope to have conversations with my son about the importance of social justice movements and activism (in the past and the present and, inevitably, the future). I want to talk to him about the people whose sacrifices and hard work allowed minorities to gain the right to vote, to work, to get married, etc. I’d also like to discuss with him the ways in which he can contribute to the betterment of society.
On Toxic Masculinity
Toxic masculinity (the idea the boys learn from a young age to “be a man” by withholding emotions and acting out) is a serious problem that I don’t want burdening or negatively affecting my son. While messages like that are not being relayed to him by me or his father, it’s guaranteed that friends, pop culture, and other adults in his life might end up influencing him in a negative and hurtful way. That’s why I plan to have conversations about the things we see and hear (especially when the messages of toxic masculinity are present) and explain why that’s damaging and unnecessary and just the most false.
On Respecting Choice
I take frequent walks with my son during which I listen to podcasts that often discuss abortion. I started this right around the time of my own abortion and feel like it’s important that he realizes it’s a completely normal thing. I plan to wait for my son to ask me more about this in the future, and will sit down with him and explain why choice matters and answer any questions he may have about the procedure so that should he ever end up in an unwanted pregnancy scenario, he can come to me for advice and help.
Although you might not think about death being a feminist issue, in reality, it’s an issue for everyone, as it’s the only thing that’s guaranteed in life. While I don’t want to scare my young son about the inevitability of our own mortality, I also don’t want him to read some book that tells him if he doesn’t go to the right church, he’s going to burn in some fiery pit. Instead, when the time comes to discuss, I want to explain it in terms he’ll understand: that we simply don’t know what happens, only that we simply cease to be. I’ll let him know what others believe, and give him access to whatever materials he might need to read more about the subject. Most importantly, though, I’ll explain to him how much more important it is to focus on how we live while we're alive.
More than anything, I want my son to have a kind heart. I want him to have compassion for his fellow living beings. I want him to be a good friend, and a good student, and a good neighbor, and eventually possibly a good partner. I want him to feel that genuine nice feeling you get when you do something kind for someone else. We’ll have lots of discussions on how he can be kind to others, how he can do something nice for a friend, be there for someone in need, give back to his community, and think of others rather than solely think of himself. There’s really nothing more feminist, in my book, than simply being kind.