3 Feminist Values I Want My Son to Know
Raising a son in 2017 is pretty scary. As allegation after allegation drops against powerful men, it’s becoming clearer every day that we have a problem with the men in this country. These are the lessons I hope to teach my little guy.
My son is four right now, and I’m a firm believer that it’s never too early to start teaching feminist values to kids. Of course, I’m not talking to my preschooler about rape and rape culture, but I can absolutely teach him these three important lessons about respect and consent.
1. Everyone’s body belongs to them.
This phrase is helpful in so many situations, and it underscores the importance of consent. The most common situation where this comes up is when my son doesn’t want to hug a relative.
When a child shies away from a hug, it’s tempting to smooth over the interaction by pressuring your kid to just give the three second hug and move on. It seems so innocuous, but it actually sends some very confusing messages to your kid. If you can make him hug Aunt Bertha, then can he make others hug him, if they clearly don’t want to?
Instead of forcing a hug, we do “hug or high five.” If a distant aunt wants a hug and my kid isn’t feeling it, he offers a five. A four-year-old high fiving is so cute, that it’s usually enough to diffuse the situation on its own, but sometimes I do have to intervene and explain that we do not make him hug anyone, if he’s not into it.
We use the same phrase when our child is doing something unwelcome to us or someone else, like hitting or pushing. His body belongs to him, and everyone else’s bodies belong to them alone. It’s a good way to teach a child that no means no in a way that feels fair. Kids love fairness.
2. It’s okay to feel your feelings.
Have you ever seen a little boy shamed for playing with a doll or for crying because of hurt feelings? This attitude that boys need to suck it up and squelch their emotions is incredibly harmful. That boy with a doll is learning to love and nurture. A crying child needs comfort, not harsh words, so he can learn to deal with his own emotions and connect with others.
So many men that I know grew up around the idea that it’s not okay for them to act vulnerable. This idea that men can’t emote is harming their health. The Good Men Project has a great article about why it’s so important to encourage boys to express their feelings.
Not only is holding onto emotions just bad for your health, macho male culture is also causing an epidemic of male loneliness. When we teach boys that it’s not okay to be emotionally vulnerable, they don’t learn how to form lasting friendships. Men tend to be less likely to form deep friendships, and as they grow older, that loneliness can become crushing.
I want my son to know that just as his body is his, so are his feelings.
3. There is no such thing as boy clothes and girl clothes.
…or toys, or games, or anything else.
Gender doesn’t determine what you can do or your worth, but so often we teach boys (and girls) that it does. When we tell a child that he “throws like a girl,” what we are saying is that having traditionally female traits is a bad thing. When we teach boys that “girl” is an insult, we are also teaching them that women do not deserve respect.
Assigning gender roles to so many aspects of our kids lives—from toys to clothes to activities—is actually doing them harm. In one study, when a group of older kids began bucking traditional gender roles, the children reported feeling freer and happier.
As he gets older, we will have the tougher conversations about consent, feminism and rape culture. But for now, I just hope that my son is absorbing these three important ideas.
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