When I was pregnant the first time, I was worried there was something “off” with me because I didn’t have a sense what my baby’s gender was. There were no innate clues I picked up on that informed me I was carrying a daughter. With my second pregnancy, I experienced the same kind of neutrality regarding gender, and it dawned on me: this was because, at my core, I knew I’d raise my children with the same values regardless of their gender. It’s a unique way being a feminist prepares you for raising a son… and a daughter.
I am a proud feminist mom and I work hard raising kids that cultivate identities that take more than their genitals into consideration. Feminism, to me, simply means equality. My daughter and my son should have the same age-appropriate opportunities and never based on their genders. Their dreams for the future can be bigger than those of any previous generations since we are working hard, as a society, to level the playing field for all. We are not there yet, but things are better than when I was a kid. Back in the '80s and '90s, girls were told we could be anything we want to be, but boys weren’t told they could let their partners take the lead with a career or that being a stay-at-home dad would be a rewarding experience. Now, and since more men becoming the primary caregivers and more women becoming the primary breadwinners, the next generation of kids will be able to really fulfill the “be anything you want to be” dream.
Still, as much as I try to fight the gender coding of my kids’ outward appearance, distinction by sex prevails in mainstream society. My kids’ school has each class line up with girls on one side, boys on the other, for example. So, I focus on the areas where I can have the most influence. Our home is a feminist home. My daughter dreams of being a spy and a pop star. My son has designs of being a pastry chef or a professional video game player. As a feminist, I am so excited that both my children see so many possibilities for themselves. Nothing was capable of completely preparing me for motherhood, but I credit feminism for guiding me in the parenting choices I make for my kids. So, with that in mind, here are a few reasons why being a feminist has been great preparation for me in raising my son:
You Emphasize Inclusivity
I interpret feminism as a practice that enforces equality no matter how a person defines him or herself. It’s a no-brainer, to me, that children need to feel they are on a level playing field; that no one is entitled to any specific kind of treatment — good or bad — because of their gender, race, faith, or feelings about sports. There is room for it all. My son observes how we try not to interrupt anyone, and my goal is that he learns to give people space and time to express themselves, and not assume (because he has the privilege of being a white male in America) he is owed a greater piece of societal real estate.
You Think Stereotypically Feminine Roles Can Be For Everyone
Caregiver. Teacher. PTA Secretary. We are so used to seeing women populate these roles, but gender parity goes both ways. Boys should feel like they can grow to be anything they want to be, including a stay-at-home dad or a neuroscientist. Just as we have been working to shatter the glass ceiling that is society’s perceptions of what girls are capable of, we need to be putting in the same effort to demonstrate that boys shouldn’t feel shame if they choose what has long been considered a typically female role.
You Don’t Perpetuate The "Boys Will Be Boys" Rhetoric
Too often I hear people excuse behavior as a typical trait of one’s gender identity. Nope. We need to have zero tolerance for violent behavior, derogatory speech, and a disrespectful attitude. I even crack down on bathroom behavior. As obsessed as my little boy is with his bodily functions, and their sounds and smells, I tell him that the bathroom is the only place where he could bask in all that. He can talk about it or emulate it or make jokes about it, as long as it’s in the bathroom. I like this rule because it allows him to get it out of his system, so to speak, but he does not subject anyone else to hearing about it. Am I being too rigid about this? I don’t think so, because as a feminist mom, I respect my kid’s weird sense of humor, but I am teaching him that he needs to respect others, too. His freedom of speech ends when others are offended by it.
Your Romantic Partnership Is Not Gender-Coded
Kids only know what they are exposed to and, as a feminist, it is important to me for my son to see both his parents take on household responsibilities. My husband does the bulk of the grocery shopping, meal prep, and cooking, as well as all the laundry. My son is being raised to see no gendered distinction in how the domestic duties are assigned in our house. As my kids get older, and more responsible, the household chores we give them will have nothing to do with their gender identities, but their ability to reach the drawer to put silverware away.
You Expose Him To Role Models And Heroes Of All Kinds
As huge Star Wars fans, we were so excited for Star Wars: The Force Awakens when it came out. As a result, my son was just as excited to receive a Rey doll for his birthday.
You Don’t Force Him To Eschew Typically Male-Centric Toys
My son has equal access to baby dolls and trains in our house. He rarely grabs the dolls. Instead of automatically assuming gender stereotypes are at play (and essentially "punish him" for taking those trains away out of fear) we remember that there multiple reasons why he leaves the dolls alone. He has an older sister who loves dolls, so maybe he is trying to distinguish himself from her. He loves making electronic and explosive sound effects, which are not characteristic of baby doll figures. I certainly didn’t steer him towards the typically male-centric toys because, in the end, he likes them. As long as we give our daughter and son equal opportunities to play with all kinds of toys (and the more we avoid labeling categories of toys in terms of gender), I do not consider his love of toy vehicles to be a threat to feminism.
You Know Boys Are Not Immune From Having Body Issues
Studies have pointed to a rise in eating disorders in males, proving guys are also prone to body image issues and those issues are not exclusively female problems. I mean, just look around at male figures in mainstream media. Superhero toys all have bulging biceps and ripped abs. How many guys IRL look like this? Just as it’s important to include a diverse array of images of women in the media (and we’re getting there, but there is still a long road ahead of us), we need to do the same for men. After all, our boys are watching, too.
You Don’t Value Any Ideal Female Form
As we’re helping our boys cultivate a healthy attitude towards their own bodies, we also need to instill in them the notion that there is no singular definition of beauty. Women who love their bodies love them for unique reasons. The language I use with my son about my own body focuses on strength and ability, and not how I look in my clothes. I show off my butterfly stroke or I attempt a cartwheel, for example. I am hellbent on teaching him that a woman’s body deserves to be celebrated for all the magnificent feats she uses it to achieve.
You Don’t Police His Wardrobe
Of course, I do the same with my daughter, too (because #equality). As long as his outfit is climate-appropriate, and doesn’t display offensive imagery or language, who am I to judge his style? And by “style,” I mean his tendency to wear shirts inside-out and backwards. He’s six, so I just go with it.
You Teach The Crucial Importance Of Consent
It's worthing mentioning that this is a lesson for everyone, regardless of gender. I don’t think it was too early to teach my son, as a toddler, to keep his hands to himself. We tell all children this, and should continue to drill it into their developing brains because nobody has the right to touch another person without their explicit permission. Yes, this includes hugs. Even though it’s out of love, my son’s hugs still fall under the category of touching another person. “Ask your friend if you can hug them first,” I tell him, and by the time he might be developing romantic feelings beyond friendship for someone, it will, hopefully, be second nature for him to ask consent for anything that involves touching. (Also, I can’t even think about him in that way so I need to stop writing about this immediately.)
You Know How You Want To Be Treated By Men
Raising a son gives us the unique opportunity to shape his values in ways that we think will serve him, and others, best. With feminism as a guiding principle in our parenting style, my husband and I will be demonstrating why equality makes us stronger and lifts us all up. I want to send my son out in the world, years from now, with the confidence that he will be forwarding the feminist movement, which, at its core, is a human rights movement. It isn’t enough to me for him to simply not be part of the problem; he needs to be part of the solution, but instilling the same feminist values that made him a good brother, son, and partner (if he wishes to be one), to the next generation of boys.