Ground Control Parenting – Carol Sutton Lewis

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How to Talk to Our Sons about Gender Equality

Although more and more of the recent GCP posts have been gender neutral, today’s post takes us back to our roots with a focus on our boys. So here’s a timely question: Are we doing all we can to raise our boys to respect girls and women, fight gender stereotypes, and understand the importance of gender equality? Probably not, and frankly for many of us focused on raising strong and confident young black men this hasn’t been the highest on our list of parenting priorities.

But clearly TIME’S UP on this way of thinking. The more we hear about instances of powerful men being abusive and insensitive, or just plain stupid and wrong in their interactions with women, the clearer it becomes that we’ve got to make sure we are teaching our boys from day one about the importance of treating women and girls with kindness, dignity and respect, and as fully equal citizens of the world.

In a recent NY Times article, found here, Claire Cain Miller asks the question “How To Raise A Feminist Son”, defining feminist as someone who believes in the full equality of men and women. Highlighted below are a few of the suggestions which are particularly thoughtful and useful:

Give him Role Models: Research indicates that boys respond positively to spending time with role models, even more strongly than girls do. Watching men take on life’s responsibilities is instructive and inspirational. They need strong female role models too.

Let Him Be Himself: Don’t be in such a rush to steer your son to what are commonly thought to be “boy” toys or colors. Preferences for kinds of toys are likely to appear over time, but if your son wants to explore toys not thought of as traditional boy toys, encourage this. Studies suggest that “toy segregation” can contribute to gender gaps in academics, spatial skills and social skills.

Teach Him to Take Care of Himself and Others: Make sure your sons are doing chores and learning how to clean up after themselves and others. Have them help make a meal for a sick relative and come with you to deliver it. Encourage them to babysit, coach or tutor. Not only will this help them focus on the need to balance work and family responsibilities as they get older,(and teach them very useful life skills) it will also help them develop empathy, which is such an important trait.

Encourage Friendships with Girls: This is especially important if there are only boys at home. Children who are encouraged to play with friends of the opposite sex learn better problem solving and communication, and can better resist gender stereotyping.

Read a lot, including about girls and women: GCP has always been focused on reading to boys and encouraging them to read. Make sure there are lots of good books featuring interesting girls and women in the mix. When you encounter stereotypes in books you are reading together, talk about them. Teach them to be critical readers.

Celebrate Boyhood: The goal is not to erase gender differences entirely. If your boys want to play fight, have burping contests and climb trees, and only their male friends are interested in joining them, then by all means let them have at it. Don’t over think all of this.

There are many more suggestions in the article, so be sure to read it. Parents, we’ve got work to do!

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