Before becoming a mother, I thought my toughest parenting challenge would be raising a daughter. I feared for what she might encounter in the world and how I would have to explain injustices like the pay gap to her. So, when I gave birth to a boy, I let out a sigh of relief. But, having a son actually comes with just as many social responsibilities. I often feel ill-equipped and search for things like "how to talk to your son about white feminism." If I'm being completely honest, I have no clue how to relate topics like gender, race, and privilege to my son.
Not only do I need to teach him about the struggles of women and the wide spectrum of gender and sex, but I have to make sure he was aware of the position he had in society. Being a white, cis-gender, heterosexual female, I can't always offer him pieces of wisdom gained from experience. This means I have to push beyond my comfort zone and talk about my own privilege, benefiting from a system which oppresses people of color, before I cam address him. So, if you're anything like me, or you simply want to broaden your horizons, then check out these helpful ways to talk to your son about white feminism.
1. Talk About Race
Before you can address issues of white feminism, you first have to be able to have an honest discussion with your son about race. If you think kids are too young to understand, you'd be wrong. Dr. Erin Winkler, an Africology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM), wrote in a study that, "children pick up on the ways in which whiteness is normalized and privileged in U.S. society." It may not be the easiest thing to do, but it's necessary if you want your son to understand the complexity of this issue.
2. Address Gender Stereotypes
In addition to talking about race, confronting the outdated gender stereotypes head on is also necessary. As Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani told The Huffington Post, "I will teach him that it’s normal for a boy to dress up as Elsa for Halloween or for a girl to play with superhero action figures." Understanding that activities, emotions, and objects are not inherently gendered is invaluable in talking with your son about gender.
3. Examine Layers
Once you've addressed what white feminism is, this paves the way for discussing what should happen instead. According to USA Today, "intersectional feminism is the understanding of how women's overlapping identities — including race, class, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation — impact the way they experience oppression and discrimination." Of course you can use simpler language based on your son's age, but helping him see the many layers of feminism is eye-opening.
4. Be Ready To Feel Uncomfortable
You've probably seen memes about white fragility and white people tears. Though it may be something you initially brush off, there's a deeper truth to these viral hashtags. As a white woman, I must acknowledge that even though my gender could lead to disadvantages, my race generally does not. All the Black Lives Matter signs, stickers, and shirts I have mean nothing if I'm not willing to be honest with my son about the way feminism has historically marginalized women of color. My biggest lesson is getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.
5. Learn The Numbers
In the age of alternative facts, post-truth, and fake news, it's essential to find legitimate data. Based on your son's level of comprehension, you can break white feminism down by the numbers for a more visual approach. For instance, though white women make less than white men, black and Hispanic women still make less than white women, according to statistics from the Pew Research Center. These cold-hard facts are upsetting, but demonstrate that racial disadvantages exist amongst women.
6. Get On Their Level
Recently, my son and I talked about white feminism using stuffed animals. They were having a picnic (because apparently that's what bears and dolphins do). Simply through play, we pretended that the dolphin got the most food, the white bear got slightly less, then the brown bear had the least of all. Was it fair that the white bear had less than the dolphin? No. But should the white bear ignore the brown bear's needs when they're asking for more food? Again, no.
7. Give A History Lesson
Perhaps the most important thing I can teach my son about white feminism is what I've called "the three Ls" — listen, learn, lean back. The best way to understand both gender and racial issues is by stepping back, hearing it straight from the people who live through it, and honoring that space. Teaching your son about the history of feminism and the struggles of black women within the movement, like the list from For Harriet, is vital.