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How Do You Raise Your Son to Be a Feminist?

"Though we have had the courage to raise our daughters more like our sons, we've rarely had the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters."

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Recently, my husband SD and I got into a discussion over my choice of books for our now-two-year-old son. An Amazon package had arrived in the mail that day containing a few superhero books. The titles were: Even Super Heroes Sleep, My First Book of Superpowers, and My First Book of Girlpower. SD was less than thrilled with the last choice: if we were buying a book on girlpower, why not one on boypower, as well? While his argument held a bit of validity, in my head, I likened this argument to that of Ross’s in Friends when Susan confronts him with, “Well, there’s Mother’s Day and Father’s Day… there’s no Lesbian Lover Day!” and Ross shouts back, “EVERYDAY IS LESBIAN LOVER DAY!”  

I think it’s fair to say nearly every superhero book is about boypower.

I am one of my father’s two daughters, both of whom he raised to be independent, self-sufficient, and, generally, fierce. “You don’t ever want to be in the position to need to depend on someone else,” was always his underlying lesson—whether the task was balancing a checkbook or changing the car’s oil. We were always told we could be anything and anyone, and that we deserved just as much as a man might deserve; there were no limits put on us for being female. I always knew I would raise my daughters the same way.

Then, I grew up… and had a son. For a while, the parenting-with-gender-neutrality waters stayed calm. But, now he’s two and things are getting complicated.

In my short stint as a parent, I’ve found that we often spend a lot of time empowering young girls (rightfully so), but don’t really focus on making young boys feminist. There are great children’s books, awesomely progressive campaigns and amazing websites dedicated to raising strong, self-sufficient girls. The information and resources available for raising boys in the same way seems lacking. As Gloria Steinem says, “Though we have had the courage to raise our daughters more like our sons, we’ve rarely had the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”

This is further complicated because of SD’s job situation. My son’s father, his hands-on, ultra considerate and equality-supporting dad, is not around a lot. During football season, we both are fortunate to catch glimpses of dad here and there. As much as I believe in being the strong woman I want my son to appreciate, I also know that if I want him to grow to be a man that empowers women, his best role model is his dad. Without having an immediate feminist male role model always present, I need help in raising my son to be a confident, compassionate, equality-supporting man.

It seems as though the concept of raising feminist sons is not yet the status quo. Though this strikes me as problematic, it’s very easy to understand this shortcoming. Feminism, in our society, is very misinterpreted. Feminists are often (incorrectly) likened to man-hating, crass extremists. However, at its core, being a feminist means supporting a woman’s right to equality. Its biggest battles have been for women’s suffrage, education, and social welfare. Feminists are currently fighting for appropriate child care and maternity leave, equal pay, safer streets, reform in laws, and crisis centers for those who need it. These are not just women’s battles; these are battles for the betterment of all mankind. So yes, our young girls should be raised feminist. But, our young boys should be, too. After all, young boys soon grow up to be men, and without the support of men, the battle for equality will be a fight with no end.

At my son’s age, I find the best way to instill pro-gender equality values is through play and modeling. We’ve always been particular about selecting toys—his room is filled with trucks and trains, a play kitchen, dolls, horse stables, and blocks. But without dad around, how can we provide the model he needs at this age? What’s the best way to approach this going forward?

In short, how do I raise a feminist son? I’m not sure what the answer is. But while I’m figuring it out, My First Book of Girlpower remains on kiddo’s shelf, and dad reads it willingly every time it is picked for bedtime.

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