Scrolling through Twitter this morning, I couldn’t help but notice one hashtag in particular that kept trending — one that seemed to be calling out to parents everywhere: #HowToRaiseAFeministSon.
Some further investigation revealed that it was all thanks to a popular New York Times article by the same name. It had only been published a few hours prior, but already, it had swept the Internet. I decided to click through, and immediately ate up every word.
“We’re now more likely to tell our daughters they can be anything they want to be — an astronaut and a mother, a tomboy and a girlie girl,” writes author Claire Miller. “But we don’t do the same for our sons.”
Right away, my interest was piqued.
“Even as we’ve given girls more choices for the roles they play,” Miller continues, “boys’ worlds are still confined, social scientists say. They’re discouraged from having interests that are considered feminine. They’re told to be tough at all costs, or else to tamp down their so-called boy energy.”
By its end, I found the article to be incredibly insightful for a lot of reasons, but especially for this one: It so deftly dissects the ways in which we have come so far as a culture in empowering our girls, but at the same time, in ways we almost never see, we are failing our boys.
We tell them to be kind, but not be wimps. We tell them to be tough, to never let anyone see you cry, to play with trucks and LEGOs and not like “girly” things. And above all, to never get too “emotional” — that’s girl stuff.
But all that forced repression is clearly taking a toll, in more ways than one.
“Men are falling behind in school and work because we are not raising boys to succeed in the new, pink economy,” writes Miller, who notes that crucial “skills like cooperation, empathy and diligence — often considered to be feminine — are increasingly valued in modern-day work and school, and jobs that require these skills are the fastest-growing.”
As I read along, I found myself nodding, thinking of my own two sons.
Miller offers a list of actions parents can take, such as allowing boys to be express their emotions, teaching them to be helpful to others, encouraging their friendships with girls, and celebrating their boyhood tendencies, whatever they may be. This, she argues, is how to raise a feminist son. One who embraces all parts of himself, and doesn’t force himself to fit a mold of what a man “should be.”
Nothing about the article was what I’d consider to be particularly controversial or even remotely political. And yet, the outrage that was unleashed across the Internet left me flabbergasted.
On Twitter alone, countless users sounded off, angrily. One wrote that teaching your son to be a feminist is to “teach him to be a victim who hates his own gender.” Another said it’s to “emasculate him and take away his rights for the sake of liberal media.”
Sadly enough, as common as the outrage over the word feminist tends to be, I still felt bewildered by it all. Had these people even READ the article? I thought to myself. How does advocating for boys to maintain vulnerability and emotional intelligence equate to eviscerating their future manhood?
But now that I’ve taken a few deep breaths, let me just start with this: Clearly we can all agree that boys, just as girls, should be loved and nurtured so that they grow up to become respectable men, right? Maybe we can stretch this a bit further and say that we also all want our boys to grow up with their mental facilities intact, with low chances of body image issues or violent outbursts when things go wrong, yeah?
Now what about their relationship to girls and, one day, sex? Anyone here want to raise a pervert or rapist or a porn-addict or a wife-beater, or some variation of a philanderer? No? Me neither! (See, and you thought we were so different.)
So here’s my next question: Why is it that whenever anyone starts using a certain f-word (ahem, feminist) in relation to child-rearing, half of us start to lose our damn minds?
If you ask me, the word is woefully misunderstood — and has been for some time. Despite Women’s Lib being some 40+ years in the rearview, there’s still an antiquated misperception of what a feminist truly is, no matter how many attempts are made to dispel it.
Of course, there’s always an adjustment period that needs to happen, whenever trying to change the meaning behind a word or symbol (I’m looking at you, Confederate flag). But surely by now, in 2017, we can finally work this thing out together.
Despite what you may have heard, feminists aren’t man-haters looking to emasculate anyone, or even erase the immeasurable gender differences that exist. Men and women are different; no one’s denying that. But we still deserve to be equal.
So if you believe that men and women deserve equal rights … then guess what? You’re a feminist. And yes, that extends to the ways in which we view and teach gender roles — whether consciously or subconsciously — to our kids.
Raising a feminist son means encouraging him to show his emotions. It means teaching him about consent and showing him what a healthy relationship looks like. It means never telling him to “toughen up” or “just be a man” and letting him play with dolls if he wants to.
It’s nothing to be afraid of, I promise you. So if you’re one of the many (many) people of the Twitterverse who was fired up over Miller’s article, please — go back and re-read it. Sit with it for a bit and try to separate your actual opinions from any knee-jerk reactions or pre-conceived notions you may have.
If you do all that, and decide that nope, you still hate the article because you just don’t want to raise a boy who stands up for others or reads books with girl protagonists, then fine. You’re entitled to your opinions, and to raise your children how you want to. (But only after you’ve watched (and re-watched) this magnificent speech by Emma Watson about what being a feminist means — because if I haven’t given you another perspective, surely she will.)