Recently, I did a blog about teaching our girls to be feminists. I also think boys should be taught what it is to be a feminist. A couple of years ago, I recall a conversation I had with my then thirteen year old nephew who is quite intelligent and a bit beyond his years. He was saying that he and his friends (boy) had had a discussion about who had it easier, men or women. They decided that women did for various reasons. A huge conversation ensued, as you can imagine, with my nephew, his mother, his grandmother and grandfather, and me. I think decidedly, by the end of the talk, we might have changed his mind! But it was a great moment to have an intelligent discussion about gender and what it means to be male or female in today's world.
There seems to be a lot more research being done lately about boys and gender stereotyping. Undoubtedly, we need boys who will grow up understanding and appreciating what it means to be female in our society as well as the world-at-large. Because they too will benefit from that awareness and so will everyone else.
There are plenty of men out there who support women's rights and work equally as hard to continue to make sure that girls and minorities are at the forefront of the discourse about equal rights. The question is, are we raising boys who are sensitive to inequity, critical thinkers, and culturally aware?
It's also interesting to note that there are several terms used for the male version of feminist: feminist, pro-feminist, and meninist with arguments for and against each. I think we need to get beyond the labels and potentially negative meanings for each in order to reach an understanding of the main concepts.
In light of that, here are some things we can do to educate our boys about feminism and being a feminist:
As a young boy:
- Teach them it's okay to be emotional and that holding feelings in is not what being a man is about.
- Become media literate so that they can become aware of how gender is portrayed in terms of what they are seeing and hearing. When a boy sees an ad or a tv show in which stereotypes are present, make sure you point it out.
- Teach them that there is more to a girl than what she looks like. Discuss famous women who have done and are doing important things.
- Make play dates in which there are boys and girls to play with. Making friends with girls can be an important part of how they will perceive women.
- Introduce them to female characters through books, movies, etc. Research shows that a majority of these characters are male, so it will be up to you to provide a variety.
As a young man:
- Teach them that "feminism" means promoting women's rights and interests.
- Discuss how being a feminist does not mean women hate men or that women think men are the enemy.
- Teach them that by taking a role in feminism they will be helping everyone not just women.
- Teach them that because they are at the top of society's hierarchy, they have a responsibility and an ability to be part of social change and justice for everyone.
- Simply talk to them and use probing questions when teachable moments arise. Allow them to reach their own conclusions.
Some additional resources:
*Dr. Robyn Silverman discusses how the cultural messages that boys receive about gender can be harmful: http://www.drrobynsilverman.com/body-image/dumbification-dramatization-sexualization-what-message-are-we-sending-to-boys-when-we-downgrade-our-girls/
*Ileana Jimenez is the Feminist Teacher and has a whole segment about teaching boys to be feminists: http://feministteacher.com/2011/03/29/teaching-boys-feminism/
*The Achilles Effect is a great website and resource to help guide your research: http://www.achilleseffect.com/
*The Good Men Project is an online publication that discusses men and issues that dig deeper into issues relating to men: http://goodmenproject.com/