by Amy de Putron
The one thing I hope for most as a parent is that my kids will grow up to be decent human beings. I try to teach my son and daughter to be respectful to others, but I wonder sometimes if this is enough, especially when it comes to gender. How will I teach my son to respect women?
It’s obvious that Australia has a problem with violence against women. We know the frightening statistics, and it seems the situation is getting worse, not better.
This makes me want to say to my 9-year-old son, “You must be nice to girls, it’s so important.” But I wonder if this would sound sexist to him? Why wouldn’t he be nice to everyone?
I’ve spent some time explaining to him that sadly, women are too often mistreated, and we need to make sure we contribute to changing attitudes in our community.
I have helped him understand that gender norms are ideas about how men and women should act and behave. I’ve told him that some people believe men should be strong, powerful and not show emotion. I’ve tried to explain that this can cause boys to grow up feeling pressure to be dominant and controlling.
“Feminism is a movement that seeks to empower men to be something other than the reductive stereotypes so heavily ascribed to them.” Clementine Ford
Men’s violence against women is a result of disrespect born out of gender inequality. Pervasive disrespect leads to violence and harm.
We can all play a part in breaking down these stereotypes.
This is what I am doing, to teach my son to respect women
(My daughter will be learning this too!)
Ensure he understands empathy
My kids know what it’s like to feel hurt, left out and ridiculed. I teach them to be aware of others who might be struggling. We talk about ideas on how to include people and make them feel like they are part of the group. My kids make an effort to listen to others and value everyone’s ideas. I’ve made sure they are able to spot when someone is not being heard because they are different or outnumbered.
Make sure he feels comfortable expressing his feelings
When boys keep their feelings to themselves, bottle things up and try not to cry, emotions can end up being expressed in negative ways. I invite him to let tears flow and give him a quiet space to do so if needed. I help him try and find the words to describe how he is feeling. I don’t dismiss the emotion but try and give it a name and help him work through it. I teach him that it is ok to talk to others about how you are feeling and thoughtful to ask friends how they are coping as well.
Point out stereotypes when I see them
Gender stereotypes are all around us. Kids live in a digital age full of negative messages around gender norms. When I see someone being treated badly, we talk about it and I use it to illustrate what’s wrong in the world and what needs to change. If I hear someone making sexist jokes and comments, I speak up or I try to address it with my kids later.
As they grow up, and different activities become available to them, they will inevitably be exposed to gender stereotypes along the way. I encourage my kids to challenge these ideas – to do something that’s not “normally” associated with their gender. It’s been awesome to see my sporty boy enjoying drama and music.
Surround yourself with nice people
My husband and I are doing our best to set an example and try to always show kindness, respect and thoughtfulness around our kids. We are fortunate to have friends who are also focussed on raising respectful children. We are grateful our kids can spend time with these families who are great role models.
For example, we know boys who will always ensure my young daughter is feeling included and having fun, and who will clear up after themselves, always say thank you and ask if they can help. These are also kids who are comfortable in their own skin, worry little about what other people think about them, but who also understand the importance of being respectful and doing the right thing.
Involve them in the arts
I am so glad that my kids have access to drama – my son has delighted in putting on a dress in class and in playing a range of characters. It’s an environment where this kind of activity is both fun and funny, and where empathy, feelings, respect, compassion & listening are all encouraged. The drama classroom is a safe place for kids to express themselves and their true qualities, regardless of what society’s gender norms and expectations are. I think drama has protected him from falling into gender stereotypes. He’s still a kid who I think sees everyone as equal. My job is to make sure he holds onto this attitude as he matures.
And then, after writing this blog, and spending extra time chatting to my kids about these issues over a few weeks, my son impresses me with this… As we are relaxing on the couch together watching Alice Through the Looking Glass, the Doctor is treating Alice for her case of “female hysteria”, and I groan. “What?”, my daughter says, and my son quickly replies, “He’s being sexist.”
There are some more great examples for teaching children of different ages to respect women on Justin Coulsen’s website, https://www.justincoulson.com/respectwomen/
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