I was raised by women. My mom was a single parent to three girls; my mother’s sister was a single parent to two girls and my grandmother raised my mom and her sister for the better part of their adolescence. Being surrounded by women was a blessing but I don’t think it has prepared me for raising my son.
Or has it?
When I was a kid, boys were somewhat alien to me, but because I wasn’t a girly girl I found myself drawn to their style of play anyway. I was the girl who found bliss in the backyard, catching grasshoppers with my bare hands, riding bikes with no hands and climbing trees until the sun went down. But even though I had felt a kinship to boys, we didn’t talk about stuff that mattered. The boys I knew then probably wouldn’t have known where to start. I saved my deepest darkest secrets and fears for my female friends.
As I neared puberty, my experience with those boys changed. It’s only now that I realize that their incessant teasing may have been a twisted way to show affection. The message that liking someone was akin to being mistreated stayed with me for years.
If you like someone, why not just say it? But it’s not that simple. Many boys learn it’s a sign of weakness to show their feelings. It’s a sign of weakness to show compassion and therefore a sign of weakness to support feminism.
It’s because of them and the lack of a healthy male role model in my life that I normalized their behaviour. I accepted being treated badly and as a result gravitated towards relationships with men that were abusive.
In order for my son to be raised differently from the boys of my childhood, he needs to learn that no matter what, every person regardless of gender deserves respect and dignity. So I don’t blame or hate those boys that treated my poorly. In fact, I should thank them.
When my son is old enough I will share some of what I experienced if only to help him understand how painful it was for me. But it is also because of them that I now have the tools to teach my son how important it is to respect women.
Do I think my son should be a feminist? Yes and no. As I write this, I am becoming more uncomfortable with the term feminist to describe the gender gap and the oversimplification of what it means.
According to dictionary.com, feminism is defined as: “the doctrine advocating social, political, and all other rights of women equal to those of men.”
This definition in itself isn’t the problem. But, lately it seems that in order to be a feminist you must disregard what is inherently feminine about being a woman, asexualize yourself and get on the man-hating bus, destination unknown.
I suppose in order for get back to the real roots of feminism, the scales had to tip far to one side in order to see that a re-balancing is desperately needed. It’s the all or nothing attitude of sorts that really doesn’t make much sense. If feminism is about equality, then equality is about balance. And balance is inclusive, not exclusive.
In order for women to become equal in every sense of the word we must include boys and men in the conversation. If we want progress to be made in 2014 we must find the way to find balance. And that means getting the boys and men back on our side, so to speak.
Unfortunately, the men of my generation are at a disadvantage when it comes to understanding what this means. They stand outside themselves looking in, having lost touch with what is really important. They have been told to “be a man,” to not show their feelings, to be strong. Have things really changed then from when I was a kid? Well, those men are the boys of my childhood so no, not really.
So what can we do?
While it may be true that not all men and boys think that being strong means hiding from their feelings, I do think that it is an attitude that has been handed down through the generations that many men are not aware of. And there are some men that are aware and they are amazing. The rest need our help.
As women and mothers and grandmothers we must enlist our boys and men. We must show them the way to their feelings and help them learn to trust them. And we must take care of ourselves too because, of course, we tend to forget about us, don’t we? And they must see us doing that so they can do the same.
To treat all people as equal is really that simple. With that in mind, please read the five lessons from feminism I will teach my son. Although they may seem simple, sometimes those simple lessons are the ones we forget.
1. Get comfortable your feelings
All people, regardless of gender, have the same feelings. Learn to be curious about them, and your own as they are your guide. Don’t listen to those who say that boys don’t cry. Your strength as a human and not just because you are a boy comes from understanding and connecting to your feelings.
If you don’t know what to do, take a minute to breathe and listen to your heart. You will soon know the answer. If you still don’t know, ask.
2. Take responsibility for what you say
We all say things we don’t mean sometimes. When you take responsibility for what you say, you become the kind of person others want to be with.
Say sorry when you have wronged someone and know that you can never unsay it.
3. Take responsibility for your actions
Think before you act. How will your actions impact the other person? If you’re not sure, put yourself in their shoes. If you still don’t know, ask.
4. Love, respect and grace
Focus on loving yourself first, then your family and friends and those who matter most to you. Be respectful and kind to others and be grateful for those you love, the people who love you and for your circumstances.
5. Treat people equally, regardless of gender
Use your own judgment about how you treat people regardless of what other people say. If you get off track, remember 1, 2, & 3 and 4. If you still don’t know, ask.
The task of raising a boy is the biggest challenge of my life to this point and, obviously, alien territory. But I also know that I’ve been given an enormous gift. I’ve been given the opportunity to shape the mind of a boy who will understand that feminism means more than just equal rights for women. He needs to be on the side of women to be on the side of men. He will learn that “being a man” actually means respecting the feelings of others and being intimately connected to his own.
(This post originally ran on Mom Paradigm.)
About the author: Lee-Anne Ekland is a 40-plus stay at home mom of a toddler and the blogger behind Mom Paradigm. You can also find her on: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Pinterest | Google+ | StumbleUpon