Will we ever successfully create a society that’s gender neutral?
Even though we’ve come quite far, at least in some parts of the world, we still have a long way to go. A key aspect of reaching gender equality is how we raise our boys. We need to become aware of how our attitude and actions shape our boys.
“I have a son, who is my heart. A wonderful young man, daring and loving and strong and kind.”
The male role has undergone some significant changes during the last decades. As more women started to work instead of being housewives, it forced a transformation also on the men. No longer could men only work and not take part in household chores and their children’s upbringing. Today, a man has to be able to juggle both a career and being an engaged father, as well as taking responsibility for things around the house.
A man is expected to be in touch with his emotions. A caring, loving father that takes an active part in the children’s daily activities. The days of working late and then reading the newspaper and smoking a pipe when you get home are long gone.
At the same time, a man is still supposed to be strong and brave. Overcoming every obstacle in his way. In most homes, the man is still the main provider for the family and even though the woman might work, she usually does so part time. On the other hand, women still perform most of the household chores. Women’s stress levels go up as they leave their job, knowing that their work is not yet done for the day. It’s the opposite for men. Levels go down since he’s on his way home to enjoy the evening.
So how does one raise a boy in this changing world?
The ideal would be to raise them the same as girls. Or the other way around, to raise girls the same way as boys. To raise them the same way regardless of their gender. Maybe someday this will be the norm, but we’re not yet there. The reality is that boys and girls are treated differently all the time.
The traditional male role is broadcasted from all of the society. Be strong. Take action. Become successful. There are no limits as to what a man can do. However, we also need to make sure that we’re raising emphatic, humble and caring boys. Boys that know what their values are and are not afraid to speak up.
We have to teach our boys to say no. No to peer pressure. That’s crucial. We need boys that show compassion and consideration. Boys that can stand up for themselves and for others.
We need boys who respect opinions different from theirs, yet they hold firm to what they believe in. We need to teach our boys that the way to get ahead is by helping others. Not by crushing them.
Humble boys eventually grow up to become humble men. This world needs more humble men.
How do you caution your child?
Never accept that your son uses a demeaning word to describe a girl. You know what words I’m talking about. There are different ways of saying it, but their single purpose is to degrade women. Never accept that.
For boys, we sometimes use their sex as an excuse. If a girl complains that she’s been chased around the schoolyard by some boy throughout lunch break, a typical adult response is: “He’s just trying to show you that he likes you.” That’s not okay. We need to teach boys how to adequately show and talk about their emotions.
When conflicts occur, you need to ask your son not only what happened, but also how he felt. What was he thinking? What went through his mind?
Also, how do you comfort your son? Do you tell him to toughen up and that crying is for girls? Or do you simply hold him and let him know that it’s okay to be scared?
What clothes do you buy?
Try to buy clothes that are not all black and gray. Buy clothes of all colors. There are stores with children’s clothes that are more gender equal. Support them if you can, they’re trying to make a change.
Some boys have a phase when they want to wear dresses or skirts. If your son wants to put on a dress, let him. He’s just a child! It will not turn him into a girl or make him gay.
What toys do you buy?
There’s a reason for why there are age limits on computer games. If you let your son play games even though he’s not of age, make sure you know what you’re getting him into. Play the game yourself to experience what you’ll be exposing him to.
Also, discuss the focus of different games. A lot of games are simply running around trying to kill one another. Or to rape and assault. Even though he might be of age, some games are still questionable. Try to introduce your son to games where you have to construct things, such as Minecraft or Civilisation.
How do you praise your child?
All children need to hear that they’re good enough. You need to praise your son for what he accomplishes and not compare him to other children. Teach him to only compare to himself. That’s the best way to measure progress.
Physical contact is super important. Remember to hug your son often. Don’t just give him a slap on the back or punch him in the arm. Continue to give him hugs even when he’s a lanky teenager, but maybe you don’t have to do it in front of his friends.
How about activities?
Boys tend to be more involved in competitive sports. Unfortunately, at a very young age, sports become too competitive and boys that don’t cut it find themselves sitting on the bench a lot. If you realize that your sports club is practicing this, talk to them about it. If they won’t listen, enlist your son in another club.
It’s not acceptable for a soccer team with 10-year olds to only let the best kids play. Everyone should be allowed to play. They’re kids and it’s just a game! Unfortunately, some parents take sports way too seriously. Don’t be one of those parents. Sports are meant to be fun and recreational.
Enroll your son in non-competitive activities, such as arts and music. Your son will benefit from not having to compete with others all the time, instead simply being good enough as he is.
How about role models?
Fathers play a big role here. You have to show your son how to be all those things that you want him to be. And the only way to do so is by trying to be all those things yourself. You’ll not succeed all the time. Nobody’s perfect. And that’s not the point. Your son needs to see that too. Not all boys are lucky enough to have a father present, but there’s usually some other man around, such as an uncle or a coach, that can have a similar function.
“Let’s be very clear: Strong men – men who are truly role models – don’t need to put down women to make themselves feel powerful. People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together. “
As a mother, you have to show your son that women are indeed strong and courageous. That men and women are equally capable and important.
Expose your son to strong women throughout history. Discuss the history classes given in school from a woman’s point of view. You’ll be amazed how many times important women are overlooked in history books.
Discuss why there are so few women winning the Nobel Prize. Why the US has never had a woman for president. In order to make a change, we must first understand the current state of things and why they have come to be.
How about chores?
Women tend to do more of the household chores compared to men. If we’re ever going to change that we need to start with the children. Make sure you’re asking your son to help out at home as much as you ask your daughter.
Don’t put different values on chores. Don’t label them as typically male or female. Just do them. Through your actions, you’ll show your son that it doesn’t matter who cleans the living room and who paints the house. As long as it gets done.
How about your own actions?
Recently, a friend of mine had his third child. His two oldest are girls, and the newly born was a boy. My friend was amazed about some of the comments he got from acquaintances when they learned that he had a son. They expressed that he was fortunate to finally have someone to spend time with in the garage. Someone to help work on the boat. Implying that there’s really no way you can do those things with a daughter, it has to be a son.
Never make comments as to that something is typical for a man or a woman. There are no such things. It’s only how we choose to label them. And we really need to stop labeling them that way.
We need to get rid of the notion that humble boys equal sissies. That is so far from the truth. Humble boys will become strong, independent men who can think for themselves and do what is right. These are the men that we need as leaders. The ones that haven’t reached the top by stepping on others, but through helping their peers without expecting anything in return.
“My father never was and isn’t a mean man. You know, he never was ruthless. And he succeeded in life without sticking it to anybody. And that’s a great example for a man, a strong man, a man’s man, to give to his children. You can succeed, you can be successful, without walking over somebody.”
Take a hard look at your own upbringing. How were you raised? How did your father treat you? What about your mother? How did they interact with one another? What kind of male and female perceptions did they transmit to you?
Be critical of your childhood and think about what you want to pass on to your children and what stops with you. Try to create something new for your children, don’t repeat old patterns.
See your kids for the unique individuals that they are. Help them become the best they can be, regardless of whether they’re boys or girls. Hug them every day. Let them know you love them no matter what. That’s the most important thing of all.