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."

by Ojus Patel, Writing Fellow

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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.

Ojus Patel

Ojus spent her childhood getting lost in literature, but always hated writing. That all changed when she read To Kill A Mockingbird and was struck by just how powerful words can be. Since then, she has spent a lot of time dissecting human behavior and emotion, collecting BAs in english and psychology and an MA in education through the process. Now, she continues the perpetual study of human behavior via writing and photography. She lives with her wonderful husband outside of Chicago, where she spends most of her time chasing their awesomely wild toddler. She’s also forever chasing the enigma of the perfectly crafted sentence.

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  • Roselyne

    In terms of raising feminist children, I have Thoughts.

    Not devaluing stuff as “things girls do”, and also modeling traditionally female tasks as a thing boys do too, seems central. In your case, you mentioned that your husband isn’t around much… but when he is, does he do childcare? Dishes? Laundry? Does your son see him clean the floor? Express emotion/discomfort? Hug? Cry? Seeing dad do those things is the best way to make it clear that those aren’t “for girls” (translated: weaker or less good – problematic statement). Like, I’m aware that as moms we can say that everyone does these things all we want, but if what they see is different, what we say isn’t gonna stick.

    Emphasizing respect for all bodies and the people who own them. This means no touching/tickling/whatever when told not to, but also no making snarky comments about clothing/fat bodies/disabled bodies/non-standard bodies/etc, and calling out those who do within earshot of the kid in question (or, y’know, in general).

    Be careful about the words used to describe other children. If boys are ‘strong’ and girls are ‘bossy’, that’s the lesson that sticks. Also if girls are always ‘pretty’ instead of the multiple other descriptions you can give to children… basically, push past the stereotypes. When they’re a bit older, talk straight-on about the strong/bossy divide. Raise them to both respect strong-willed people and to BE a strong-willed person.

    My brother is 11 years younger than me. One thing I thought was really key as he got older was clarifying the ‘natural’ parts of women’s bodies. Ex: he mocked me for waxing my legs once. Fine, kid, come here. Wax his legs ONCE, and emphasize the social expectations that lead to waxed everything… and all of a sudden you wind up with a 20-year-old who doesn’t care if women wax or not, is aware of the social standards, and calls his friends out on their BS when they mock a girl who doesn’t shave. Similarly, pads/tampons were never hidden (and he was probably the only 18-year-old who would go to the pharmacy to pick up his sister’s tampons without being embarassed… he actually took a picture of the packaging to “make sure he got the right ones, because that’s gotta be uncomfortable”). Basically: demystify the social BS around women’s bodies and you wind up with a guy who doesn’t think there’s anything shameful or mysterious or weird about them.

    • Lauren

      On the subject of shaving and men’s comments on it: props to your brother for being respectful. I chose to not shave for several years and got so. many. comments. on my (not particularly impressive) body hair from all sorts of men. A little seven year old boy once told me how “weird” he thought it was! I was amazed at, and disappointed by, how much people noticed and were alienated by half an inch of armpit hair. It still blows my mind that such a small, personal decision is so looked down on.

      • Lauren from NH

        Slightly off topic, but Buzzfeed had a list a one point of all the apocalyptic shows and movies where the female characters somehow still found time to shave their armpit hair. What’s worse than being eaten by zombies? Armpit hair!

        • Eenie

          TV shows and movies like that drive me crazy. How is he shaving? How is her hair pin straight? Where is her leg hair? How is his hair not longer than a month ago?

          • laddibugg

            How do people stay the exact same weight when stranded on a deserted island?

          • Amy March

            Haven’t you heard about coconut oil? Pretty sure a constant diet of just coconut maintains you at a movie star weight, keeps your hair glossy and conditioned, prevents scurvy, and keeps your body hair from unsightly growth.

          • Sarah E

            LOL

      • Sarah E

        I stopped shaving my legs a few years ago, and probably thanks to the circles I run in, I really get zero comments about it (aside from some solidarity fist-bumps from like-minded women).

        However, my 6-yr old neighbor boy came upstairs the other day, and looking at my legs (which are wild, yay tons of body hair), and told me I need to “cut the hair on my legs.” I asked why, and he said because women don’t have hair on their legs, and men do. I told him “Well, I’m a woman and I have hair on my legs, so I guess some women DO have hair on their legs.” He asked if that was okay, and I said “Yup, it’s okay for women and it’s okay for men not to have hair on their legs, you can do whatever you want.” This little boy’s parents are Iraqi immigrants, and he spends most of his time with his mom, whose English isn’t as skilled as his dad’s, so I think he’s growing up straddling two worlds. I didn’t delve into the esoteric part of my decision, I just wanted him to see there’s a lot of different ways to be in the world.

        • Ab

          Cultural elements can definitely make it more difficult, though it sounds like you handled this conversation deftly. I struggle with the same issue, but with my in-laws. It’s sometimes hard to balance teaching my kids to respect and learn their grandparents’ (and aunts’ and uncles’ and cousins’…) traditional culture, while at the same time speaking out against the more antiquated views (particularly regarding gender roles and homosexuality). My kids still aren’t great with nuance, so it can be confusing to them. It’s a tough thing to navigate, though I’m lucky that my husband and I are on the same page regarding what we want them to embrace and what we’d prefer died out with the new generation.

        • taygete05

          Kids can be amazing like that. At some ages they can be the “normative police”, and they can also be totally persuaded by an explanation composed of words they understand.

      • Roselyne

        Oh, man, seriously. It really shouldn’t be that big a deal.

        I mean. I shave in summer (for skirts; I’m more comfortable with that). In winter, I wax… when it gets annoying to me, which means maybe once a month or so. I asked my husband once if he cared (not that it would have changed my spending 10+ minutes every day dealing with this in winter, haha hells no), and he looked at me like I was missing the obvious and said “there are boobs in my face. Why would I care?”

        Fair point.

        • Alanna Cartier

          I think I’ve shaved my legs three times this year and then it was mostly because I thought it would be nice to have real smooth legs. That being said I have been truly blessed with the most truly innocuous leg hair the earth has ever seen. On the last occasion I shaved my legs, I had the bf rub them to appreciate the smoothness and he couldn’t even tell.

      • pajamafishadventures

        I stopped* shaving my legs about a year ago and still LOVE to wear dresses that you know, show legs. My SO doesn’t care, I haven’t had a friend say anything about it, but who does it bother? My mom who never shuts up about how I stopped shaving my legs (even if it’s a cold day and I’m wearing pants)

        *sometimes I am really, really bored or I have a giant paper to do or just want to take an extra long time in the shower I shave them. It’s never pretty.

    • Eenie

      I think in general we shelter male children/teenagers from the realities of a woman’s body. Girls are told about it in a hush hush way, and it’s communicated that they should be embarrassed when on their period. It doesn’t do either side any good.

      • Sosuli

        YES! Exactly! My FH has one brother and no sisters and it drives me insane that he’s been brought up as though periods don’t exist. Visiting his parents while I’m on mine is an adventure since there is no trash can in the bathroom. And towards the start of our relationship it was sooo difficult to get him to understand or even acknowledge what it’s like. Sometimes he still claims I’m “making excuses” when I tell him about my period pains, or exhaustion, or try and explain to him that I’m sad or grumpy because of that. So frustrating!

        • Eenie

          Yup, my fiance was woefully uneducated about how birth control affects a woman’s mood, body, etc. When I had a health scare that could impact my future fertility I had to explain the whys of everything and how it impacted us when I really wished he already understood and could be there as just a support. I felt like I had to educate and grieve at the same time when I just wanted to grieve with someone. I think it’s really important that everyone understands the basics of their own bodies and the opposite sex in a medically and age appropriate way.

        • anon

          no trash in the bathroom?! periods aside, WHAT?! but also, i’ve recently realized that my husband knows a lot less about periods than i thought he did. we’ve been together 8 years and i was on the pill for 7 of them but got the copper iud last winter, and now periods are, like, REALLY period-y and he is…struggling to deal…he cannot understand that I don’t know exactly when i’ll get it and exactly when it will be over (like i did on the pill), and i keep having to explain how periods work, which i totally thought he knew…?so he gets frustrated and whiny I’m like “oh, well I’m sorry this is hard for you, but I’m just about to throw up from cramp pain while also flying into a teary rage spiral so i’m not going to be able to manage your feelings right now.”

          • Sosuli

            OH CRAP. I’ve been on the pill for the entirety of our relationship. Thanks for the heads up, once I eventually get off it and go back to my insane non-stop periods I will have to remember not to be surprised if he is surprised about what it’s like…

          • Lizzie

            Same here. My husband’s gotten so spoiled by my pill routine that he checks the pill pack to find out when “lady time” is. He think’s THAT’S normal.

          • rg223

            Yep! Over 8 years of dating and marriage, I’ve had to teach my husband almost everything he knows about periods/fertility/female anatomy. High school health did NOT teach him enough! And even when I think I covered everything, there’s still things I forgot. I was talking to him about how I either want to switch to tampons with cardboard applicators, or use a Diva cup, because the tampons I use have plastic applicators and it just occurred to me that those are AWFUL for the environment. And he was like, “… I have no idea what you are talking about.” Describing it didn’t work, I had to take out a tampon and show him haha!

          • Eenie

            Plug for the diva cup. It’s freaking amazing. A little learning curve but so worth it. I don’t stress about periods at all anymore.

          • Jennie

            Yes, that was my thought on the no garbage can in the bathroom. Why would there be one? We don’t have one. OH RIGHT, Diva Cup, no need for a garbage in the bathroom! On the educating me about women’s bodies/cycles. Yes. We were talking about how many ‘holes’ there were in a doll. He was confused when he said I have three ‘holes’. Right, you don’t remember that my urethra and vagina are separate just because your urethra doubles as an ejaculation route. Anatomy!

          • Eenie

            I still have one for tissues, cotton swabs, panty liners, floss, shedded hair, etc.

          • Kelly

            Yeah, this no bathroom trash thing is blowing my mind…like, I have a diva cup, but a bathroom trash can is still 100% necessary for all of those little things. What are people doing with the hair ball from the shower drain? Is it getting carried all the way to the kitchen?

          • Sosuli

            I honestly don’t know. I wondered for years how my FMIL kept their family bathroom trash can free. It turns out she does have one, in their master bathroom that no one else really has access to. And I think for cleaning purposes, they carry a trash bag into the bathroom, do everything at once and then carry it to the outside trash can.

          • Sosuli

            Exactly. There are still so many reasons to have one. I have considered the Diva cup, but just haven’t managed to take the plunge yet, so to speak. But I’d still have a bathroom trash can for that stuff and out of courtesy to any guests of mine that might need it. It’s got a lid, I don’t see how that’s not neat.

          • Jenny

            Wait, what? Wow, I never even thought of life without a trashcan in the bathroom, it’s so convenient. Where do you put tissue and floss and empty toilet paper rolls and old toothpaste tubes?

          • Eenie

            My future in laws don’t believe in this “bathroom trashcan” so we always bring a grocery bag when we stay with them to use as a bathroom trash. Just not worth the fight lol.

          • Sarah E

            My mom used to do this when staying with her in-laws. They had a bathroom trashcan, but it was emptied immediately whenever anything went into it, keeping everything immaculately spotless. So mom’s strategy was “pack it in, pack it out,” like camping.

          • Granola

            Only drawback about the Diva cup is you can’t use it if you have an IUD, at least last time I checked :-(

          • Eenie

            Not according to my obgyn and the Internet. If your strings are that low in your vagina you have other issues. You just have to be careful to break the seal each time. Does is increase your risk of expelling it? Yeah, but not significantly in my mind. I have an iud. I’ve been using it with a diva cup for almost a year. It hasn’t fallen out.

          • Granola

            Really? That’s good to know. I think I just looked at the packaging at the CVS one day and it said not to so I abandoned the idea.

          • Eenie

            http://divacup.com/how-it-works/your-first-questions/#Sex
            “The DivaCup is worn low at the base of the vagina and away from the cervix. This means that it should not interfere with an internal birth control device. However, please use caution when using any internal feminine hygiene product with an IUD as there is the possibility that they can be dislodged. When using The DivaCup, it is important to carefully follow the directions in our User Guide, paying close attention to inserting The DivaCup low in the vaginal canal and breaking the seal (suction) before removal. Many of our customers use The DivaCup with an IUD or NuvaRing® simultaneously, but we recommend that you become familiar with your birth control device’s risks (such as the body expelling the IUD, etc.).”

          • I was happily using mine with my IUD until I expelled my IUD. I got another one put in and have been too nervous to use my diva cup again :(

            Not that my “it happened to me” story makes it any more likely for it to happen to someone else, just thought I’d share. :)

          • sarahrose

            There are also cotton tampons entirely without applicators as an in-between. :) o.b. is the brand I’ve always used

          • Roselyne

            Oh god, this.

            I’ve actually told my husband “it’s not my job to manage your feelings about my biology”. He was lucky, kinda – I had a Mirena when we started dating, and then 4.5 years later got it out (no periods the entire time). 2 periods, and then I got pregnant, and then breastfeeding… and now maybe 3 periods since then, since I take the pill for 3 months at a time. So: we’ve been together for 7 years and he’s had to deal with periods 5 times (ok, plus pregnancy and childbirth, but STILL). Also, you’re not the one who has to deal with the pain, the mess, the inconvenience, the bloating, and the general UGH. So don’t expect me to do all that AND manage your feelings about how you can’t have the exact kind of sex you want without mess right now. That’s YOURS to deal with. UGH. *frustraaaaation*

            (And to be fair, my stated position during pregnancy was “if I have to do this, you have to hear about it and be supportive”. Sore back? Hips hurting? Bleeding, bloating, swelling, pain, hemorhoids, leaking boobs? YOU GET TO HEAR ABOUT ALL OF IT, and provide sympathy and/or find solutions. Medication, backrubs, booking massage therapy appointments: his job.)

        • Saxyrunner

          Seriously! I’ve had so many conversations with male friends and coworkers where the information that cramps are indeed muscle cramps has blown their minds. My dad is one of the main offenders in my life. “It’s not that bad.” Except, yes, it is. He coached me through cross country and onto the state podium, so he knows that I have a high pain tolerance
          Yet somehow if its cramps I’m suddenly exaggerating it? It frustrates me to no end. My fiance used to get pouty if I was on my period and didn’t want to have messy sex. I said to him,”I’m having the same frustration, but I’m also sore and have a mess to deal with,” several times and now he’s stopped that. What’s funny is he’s totally fine with buying pads or whatever and understands it hurts sometimes, but the idea that I could be aroused but conflicted while on my period just hadn’t occurred to him. Now I have an IUD and no periods, so things are easier.

      • Kay

        Yes yes yes. My partner grew up with brothers in a house where biology and anatomy were not discussed, and Catholic school health education did not fill in the gaps for him. At 30 years old, periods were a mystery to him. I use reusable cloth pads during my period. One day we randomly stopped by my place and he saw the pads air-drying on a table. He stared at them, turned to me and asked, “Are those puppets?!?” Fortunately he has come around and learned a lot and doesn’t hesitate to run to the closet to get me a “crotch puppet” if I find myself needing one.

        • Mary Jo TC

          LOL crotch puppet!

          Speaking of reusable undergarments and periods, I’m intrigued by THINX. Anyone try them yet?

          • AP

            Not personally, but I think I read an essay by a Buzzfeed staffer who wore one?

            ETA: Here it is http://www.buzzfeed.com/sarahburton/i-reached-menstrual-zen

          • Eenie
          • Mary Jo TC

            I read it too, and I’m 95% sold. Are they on the market yet?

          • Amanda

            Yes. I have a pair of the hiphuggers and want to get a couple more pair soon. I like them a lot – comfy, not bulky, and super cute. I’ve worn them both by themselves on light days and as added protection on heavy days. After 3 periods, there’s no staining, no leaking, and no smell. Also, I wash them in a regular load in a mesh bag and then hang to dry.

          • Lizzie

            LOL crotch puppet = excellent band name, yes?

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      • dragonzflame

        Great point. When we did sex ed at high school, the boys were sent out of the room while the girls got the period talk, along with a demo on how to use tampons. I get why, because 13-year-old girls are uncomfortable enough with the topic without boys sniggering in the background, but it’s got to be a bit of a disservice to those boys’ future girlfriends and wives (not to mention mothers and sisters).

        • Eh

          I was talking to my husband about sex ed a few months back (the schools where we live are getting an updated curriculum this school year so it’s been in the news a lot). A coworker told me that they no longer seperate the girls and the boys (that was still under the old curriculum). I asked my husband what they learned when they were seperated from the girls during sex ed. He said they got to play sports and that they never had a similar seperate sex ed class. I am glad things have changed (at least where I live).

  • Peabody_Bites

    I have a 13 month old daughter and no sons (yet) but for me the key to raising feminist sons is to teach them to do chores – cook, clean, do laundry, tidy their rooms, wash the dishes. And not because they are “helping” but because everyone lives in this house together, everyone benefits from nice food, tidy rooms and clean bathrooms and everyone contributes to its smooth running.
    My husband and I have a substantially equal marriage and I attribute a great deal of that to the fat that he can grocery shop, cook and clean and takes equal, if not greater, responsibility for doing so. He learnt that from his parents and its something I hope to passon to our children.

    • Mrrpaderp

      One of the things that stuck out to me in the article was that Ojus’s son has a play kitchen. I thought to myself, my BF would LOVE playing with a child of either gender on an easy bake oven. It seems like it would be pretty hard to teach children that a household duty like cooking isn’t “women’s work” if only women ever cook. If your household duties are divided among gender lines (or if you’re two ladies), then it seems like equally divided chores among the children is where you make up the difference, as you suggest. Even small children can help with cooking!

      • raccooncity

        Back in the day I worked at Toys R’ Us, and I used to get SO angry about the gendered toy separation. Even dress up clothes were separated by gender – profession clothes in ‘boy’ and princess dresses in ‘girl’.

        One day I was damn tired of hearing my coworkers ask “boy or girl” first when asked for toy advice, as if that was the best way to know a child. An older woman came up to me and asked if we had any really good deals cause she wanted to get something for her grandkids. We had a really nice kitchen set for over 50% off, so I suggested that. She was like “oh, he’s a boy though…” And I snapped “MOST CHEFS ARE MEN!”

        • Jessica

          A million upvotes!

        • Sosuli

          This made me think of my nephew. For his birthday this year he chose a baby doll for his present, then in the car on the way home realised he’d made the wrong decision and really wanted a set of metal pots and pans he’d also seen in the shop. Apparently he spent the whole evening crying until my sister said they could go back and exchange the present in the morning if he didn’t open the doll’s box. Those pans are his absolute favourite toys and I’m so happy my sister and brother-in-law supported both his decisions even if though he didn’t want “boy” toys.

      • KC

        My son has an easy bake oven! He loves it. Though it is the official easy bake oven, it is blue and black and cost half as much as the pink one. (I would have purchased the pink one if it were half price)
        I got him a doll house, and he only uses it for climbing.

      • Mary Jo TC

        My 2-year-old son heads straight for the play kitchen at the YMCA babysitting room when we drop him off. I want to get him one for Christmas.

      • Meg Keene

        My son has a pink and purple play kitchen (his favorite colors, but I actually just found it cheap so, whatever!). It’s one of his favorite toys. Since he helps his dad in the kitchen all the time, he has at times kicked me out of there, because “It not mommy’s kitchen! It Daddy and me kitchen!”

        • We have 3 nephews, ages 6, 4, and 2, and I’m loving being their Auntie who lives in the same city as Spider Man. (“New City”, duh.)

          The oldest is really artistic, and he is always drawing or making crafts. About a year and a half ago, he got really good at making my mother in law purses out of paper and staples, and he begged for a sewing machine for Christmas. They got him one, and he loves it! It was pink because that was the only color they could find, and not once has he said it’s a girl’s color, or that sewing is a girl’s activity. He took some lessons from a relative, and he is ROCKING it. He makes needlepoint samplers. He makes himself sweaters. He made my mother in law a fabric purse. He is currently making himself a spiderman costume, because he wants a “better” one than the store bought costume from his mom. I can’t wait to one day explain to him that someone gets paid to make spider man’s costume as a real job.

          The second oldest loves to cook. He’s only 4, but he loves the toy kitchen, and he loves helping my father in law, who’s the real cook of the family.

          The 2 year old is still figuring out the basics, like walking and talking, but I’m so excited to find out what he likes. Based on his brothers’ experience, he should have a great support system no matter what.

          • JDrives

            “It was pink because that was the only color they could find” = why I whole-heartedly support gender-neutral toys/marketing. Super cool that your oldest nephew is like “Psh don’t care, this sewing kit is for ME” but this whole unnecessary color-coding (and gender-coding) of toys is getting old. Also your nephews in general sound super rad!

    • Katie

      I always say that my single dad taught me to be a feminist. He raised 4 children all on his own, so there were zero expectations of who did what around the house based on gender. We all had to pitch in for everything because we all lived in a house and were expected to contribute to keep things clean, put food on the table, and keep our household running. I don’t know if my dad considered himself a feminist at that time (I think he would say he is now), but it greatly impacted my ideas of gender equality. Conversely, my boyfriend’s parents are still married and are pretty traditional (I don’t even know if his dad has cooked for himself in the past 31 years), so I have to very gently remind him sometimes that he can’t default to me to do the cooking/cleaning/household chores and that we are a team of two equals when in comes to those things. He’s good about it most of the time, but old habits die hard.

    • Eh

      My husband grew up in a family where his parents followed very gendered roles. On the other hand I did not (my dad was our primary care giver, did most of the chores, cooking, etc). My husband did not know how to clean when we moved in together (his mother has jokingly apologized to me and my SIL for not teaching our husbands basic life skills). We just had a baby girl (4 weeks old today) and my husband will be taking 6 months of work to take care of her. We were visiting my family shortly after our daughter was born and my husband described his parental leave as ‘babysitting’. Before I could correct my husband my father jump in and said “you mean ‘parent’?” My husband knows he is not ‘babysitting’ when he takes care of our daughter. His brother and his cousin both took parental leave after their kids were born so he knows it’s not like when his dad ‘babysat’ him and his brother. He loves being involved in our daughters care. He is frustrated by how little he can do right now since I am breast feeding (he does most of the diaper changes when he is home and he tries to comfort her when she is crying).

  • Amy March

    I think the single best way to raise a son who grows up to be feminist, in the sense that he genuinely believes women are his equals and works to support that goal in his professional, political, and personal lives is for both parents to work outside the home. I see such a huge difference in the men I know who were raised in households where both parents worked versus those whose fathers worked outside the home and whose mothers stayed home. I don’t think there’s a better way to learn that men and women are equals than to see your father putting little girl tights on and packing lunches and buying birthday presents and to see your mother miss an activity of yours because her job is important (gendered pronouns intentional- I lack any experience with men raised by same sex couples). I know it’s not a choice for everyone for all kinds of reasons, but at the end of the day I don’t think it’s about buying blue or pink toys or making sure your son reads Little Women so much as it is about actually living the experience day in and day out, even when it’s hard.

    • Mary Jo TC

      I think this is true, and it makes me feel proud of myself as a working mom. (As long as I don’t think too hard about the differences between my paycheck and my husband’s, and the fact that I’m the one who does all childcare drop-off/pick-up and sick days because my schedule is easier and boss more accommodating…all of which is probably because sexism, since my profession is female-dominated.) I think you’re right that kids learn by the example of our lives more so than by the lessons we explicitly teach them.

      But I think we can all acknowledge that parents who stay at home often do so out of necessity as much as choice–because childcare costs more than their paycheck, because otherwise life at home is chaotic, because a child has special needs, because the spouse’s job requires travel, because she’s un(der)employed, for any number of reasons. And usually staying home is temporary. Lots of stay-at-home parents consider themselves feminists and want to raise their kids that way. So I guess I wonder, without trying to open up too big a can of worms, what stay-at-home moms can do to encourage feminism in their sons. Does it necessarily involve a lot of “do as I say, not as I do”?

      And I say this also as a woman whose mom stayed home with me and my siblings for the majority of my childhood. She now has a great career as a children’s librarian. I think the fact that she did go back to work as soon as she could, beginning part time when my youngest sister went to kindergarten, and then leaned in by getting her MLS at night so she could be first in line for promotion, was important, but I definitely think of her as a stay-at-home mom and of my childhood as facilitated by that. And among my siblings who are graduated and paired, my sister and I are working moms, one brother has a fiance with a great job I hope she’ll keep (until he got his current job, she majorly out-earned him), although she talks about having “a bunch of kids”, and the other brother has a wife who stays home with their daughter, but it may be more about unemployment than about choosing to stay at home in her case. So I guess I mean that even moms who stay home can end up teaching decent lessons in this regard, although maybe not perfectly.

      • lady brett

        this is something i worry about as someone who is actively working towards being a housewife in the near future.

        but i know that there are a few things that will be drastically different in our house than in the stereotype (for one, we’re queer, but that doesn’t alleviate as much as one might hope, as my honey is masculine/genderqueer and i am very femme.)

        the biggest thing for me is that i want my kids to always, always know that jobs and money are not where worth comes from. my spouse is not doing important things by going to work while i do unimportant things at home. we are a team that wouldn’t work without both parts. and our family functions because every person in it is important and interconnected.

        of course, the other aspect is that my personal example of femme housewife is always going to include building furniture, busting my ass doing something stupid on the playground, and repairing roofs as well as cooking, cleaning, and having a drink for my honey when they get home. and my honey is always going to be the nurturing parent. because that is who we are, no matter what we “do”.

        • Sarah E

          I think I’ve read about a study regarding how to predict children’s academic achievements, and they looked largely at how many books were in the house, how many times kids read from the books, parents’ academic achievement etc, and the studies found that kids’ success had less to do with what parents DID than with who parents ARE. That if parents’ attitudes and behavior showed school was important, etc, kids did better than if the opposite were true.

          So, I think you’ll be alright. Who you are shines above and beyond (like you say in your last paragraph) the tasks you accomplish.

        • RoseTyler

          I love this. As a hopeful future at-home parent, I want to raise my kids regardless of Gender to respect all women’s choices. it’s just a feminist to choose to stay at home as to choose to be in the outside workforce.

          • Amy March

            Is it though? Working outside the home helps give women the freedom to leave a bad relationship, the power to control family finances, the ability to support themselves and their families if they need to. I want my kids to respect other people’s choices, but I don’t think that respect requires pretending choices that are made in the context of centuries of patriarchy to give power to men are feminist. They may be great decisions and right for individual families but not, to me, feminist in the slightest.

          • RoseTyler

            I submit that whether I choose to work inside or outside the home, I’ll have equal power and contribution to my families finances and ability to support myself. The overhead costs of running my businesses from home are lower than were I to run them from elsewhere. The flexibility of a non-corporate job has given me more financial stability to develop multiple income streams. It doesn’t work for everyone, but I know for me, recovering the commute time, and wasted meeting time and water-cooler conversations time means greater financial independence not less.

          • Amy March

            I submit that announcing you plan to stay at home and then clarifying that despite the common usage of that term you actually mean you will continue working at a paid job that happens to physically be located in you home is willfully obtuse.

          • Saxyrunner

            By that standard, my dad “stayed home” and worked 60 hour weeks of land surveying on the side. That is definitely willfully obtuse.

          • Lawyerette510

            There is a huge difference between someone who makes an informed decision to stay home and someone who is forced/ pressured/ coerced to do so. For instance, my mom was 34 when she had me in the early 80s after over a decade of teaching special needs kids and knowing she would be trying for a second shortly after having me. At that time, my mom was making more than my dad, and she was the one who brought all the assets and stability to their relationship. She chose to stay home because she did not want to teach and raise her own kids and because financially she could. While staying home with me and my sister (2 years younger) she started a local baby-sitting co-op; she did a lot of community organizing related to environmental concerns, food safety, and the local schools; and she taught my dad to cook so that he could contribute more to the household, and managed her money so that she was always financially solvent and independent from my dad. To me, that’s an example of an informed choice to stay home. Compare that to women I know both of my mom’s generation and of mine who are raised not to question the model of a stay-at-home-mom and the dad as the head-of-the-family, who go to college, work a couple of years and get married, have a baby and immediately stop working because that’s what they are supposed to do as per their family, friends, and religion, without questioning if that’s what they want. Those two choices are not the same thing.

            I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge the inherent privilege my mom had based on her personal financial wealth to make her decision, as it certainly is not a decision that most women can make (myself included if I ever wanted to have kids).

          • Violet

            I totally see what you’re saying. I’m trying to reconcile it with my lived experience, in which my mom, who only ever wanted to be a homemaker, made a conscious decision to stay at home and not earn a paycheck. This REALLY came back to bite her when she wanted to divorce my dad. Economically, I don’t know how it was any less difficult for her, who had considered her choice, than I imagine it would be for someone who entered into it under the influence of family/friends/religion without questioning. I mean practically speaking, not earning money works as long as you’re a family unit and the members take care of each other. But if that units dissolves, I don’t know how the intentionality of the choice to not earn money helps in the day-to-day concerns.

          • Lawyerette510

            Absolutely, the spouse who stays home and for-gos a paycheck is more financially vulnerable than the spouse who is earning money in the short-term and in the long-term. And when you couple that with systemic issues related to women being valued less at work, having a hard time finding work after staying home, etc, there are many many reasons why it is especially risky for women to choose homemaking/ child-rearing and forgo earning an income.

            For my mom it was a little different in that she had money and assets that continued to earn while she was married to my dad and staying at home, and she kept all of that as separate property so it was always entirely hers. When my dad asked her for a divorce after 23 years of marriage, the only reason she wasn’t screwed was because of the assets she had prior to going into the marriage. Hence, why her choice was very different than most people, in that she would have had the financial ability to leave at any time had she wanted to. Her choice is not a choice I’ll ever have, although fundamentally I don’t think it’s one I would make even if I had it. That said, I think some of her choice to stay home was influenced by the fact that both of her parents had careers and her mom never stayed home with them, even if they were sick etc, it was always a baby-sitter/ nanny.

          • Violet

            Yeah, it seems like from the info you’ve given, your mom was in a better place because she had money going into the marriage, not because her choice was more intentional than my mom’s. So when you originally said “informed decision,” it’s making more sense to me as an “informed decision based on financial realities.” Because my mom made a conscious decision; she just didn’t have the cash to back it up should Plan A fail (as it did, spectacularly). Funnily enough, my mom’s mom was always the primary breadwinner, so it wasn’t for a lack of a model or assumptions about women that my mom chose as she did. Her temperament is just better suited to being a homemaker, something she still says (despite having now worked for quite some time to support herself).
            Consciousness is good, informed choice is good. But man, money money money is still REALLY important. I don’t think it’s a footnote as you wrote it, but the lynchpin that makes a decision like that play out to even some modicum of success.

          • Ceedee

            I left my ex husband when I was a stay at home mom. We went in together and we took care of each other afterwards too. He was very angry with me and I was very sick of him, but part of the reason it worked so well is we were equal partners before. We have a kid, I see him every week or more often during sports seasons. We have 50/50 custody, we help each other out for the sake of our kid without really keeping score and I think it works out in the end. We have things that we decided when I was pregnant were important to us, and we make those a priority still.

            We do have rough patches and disagreements and differences in parenting. But I think having an equal partnership before splitting eased our split, and made our relationship now better.

          • TeaforTwo

            In my marriage, the amount of income we contribute has never dictated how much financial say each of us gets. We have one bank account, and it’s all shared. I’ve been the one earning 100% of our income, and I’m now the one earning about 35% of our income, and it hasn’t changed our power dynamic. If I thought it would have, I wouldn’t have married him.

            In fact, in our marriage, I handle all of our finances. He just isn’t interested, and I’m good at it. He has a higher salary than I do, but I am the reason that we save as much of that as we do, and I am the reason that those savings are earning double-digit returns in tax-sheltered accounts instead of piling up in his chequing account, which was his old system. We each contribute different things to our family’s finances.

            Furthermore, I think that when you’ve made a lifelong commitment in a marriage, you HAVE to be able to take risks that you wouldn’t otherwise. Whether it’s leaving work to raise children, or write a novel, or pursue a career as a jazz pianist; or buying a house you wouldn’t be able to afford on your own…if you’ve figured out a way to make it work as a team, I don’t think you can be spending the whole time calculating “if we get divorced, what will happen?”

          • Eenie

            I don’t think you need to think about “if we get divorced, what will happen”, but what if your spouse becomes suddenly unemployed? what if your spouse dies (as main breadwinner)? Life insurance hopefully will provide a cushion but may not last the rest of your life. I think it’s important for parents who stay at home to remain active in some way professionally. Do SOMETHING that adds to your resume because it’s a great safety net if you need to re-enter the workforce for whatever reason (divorce included). This can be involvement at church (my aunt ran the church finances for a couple years while being stay at home parent) or other organizations. It doesn’t need to pay, but definitely pursue some passions that may down the line lead to a job.

          • Violet

            Upvoting wasn’t enough. Yeeeeeeeeees. I am all for interdependence. I am, truly. (It might not seem like it based on my comments this post, but I swear, I am!) But there are economic realities, and taking yourself completely out of the work force is a risky choice. Not saying it’s wrong, but there is risk there. The suggestions you point out about staying involved (or maintaining licenses, or part-time work, etc.) can at least mitigate it.

          • Eenie

            I read an article somewhere about a widow and her biggest regret was being a stay at home parent for 10 years because it made it THAT much harder when her husband passed away. She had to try and juggle grief and school and single parenthood at the same time. It really made me think that yes, staying home could make sense for a family, but that doesn’t mean giving up all potential work experience. Stay current and connected to keep as much earning power as you can and also for some personal satisfaction. There’s stuff I don’t do now (working full time) that I would pursue if I stayed home as a parent in the early years of their life. It’d be hard to prioritize it, but it’s important! For so many reasons besides in case of divorce.

          • TeaforTwo

            Well, that is fine, but I think it’s more about sound financial planning than feminism. If the only earner in a marriage loses his or her job, he or she can do exactly what single people do when they lose their jobs: find a new one. (With the added bonus backup of having a partner who may be able to reenter the workforce.)

            I do see what you mean, but I think that keeping a job you don’t want when you don’t need the money, and paying for childcare on top of that, seems like an overabundance of caution in many cases.

          • Violet

            I think the reason it’s feminism AND sound financial planning is that for the most part, you don’t see men contemplating taking themselves completely out of the work force for extended periods of time. The examples of risks people take that you gave of writing a novel or becoming a jazz pianist- those might still be expected to generate financial gains and would seem to be short term risks (i.e., if said person isn’t hacking it as a saxophonist, they’d have to stop and look for other employment). But it is thousands (if not millions?) of women who consider and then do forgo all forms of income for an extended period of time (often a decade or more). It’s that gender imbalance that makes me consider this a feminist issue. Once men start voluntarily pulling themselves, en masse, out of the workforce for decades at a time, then I’ll agree it’s only about financial planning.

          • TeaforTwo

            This is hairsplitting, but I think you would find that a surprising number of professional artists/writers/musicians are not, in fact, generating many financial gains, and that the risk isn’t short-term. In my family there are at least 4 people (2 male, 2 female) pursuing careers as visual artists and/or musicians, and for all of them their out of pocket costs on music coaches, studio space, travel to concerts, self-promotion, materials, putting out CDs etc. are equal to (or greater than) the income they earn, and it’s been that way for many, many years. They are all fortunate to have spouses who support them in their pursuing their passions, but that’s what makes it possible. (And some of these family members are considered fairly successful in their fields! Classical music is a hard, hard way to make a living.)

            I do see what you mean about the gender imbalance, and that is particularly true where child rearing is concerned. But I don’t think the answer is for everyone to need to be financially independent – it’s a different shift in attitudes that is needed.

          • Violet

            Right, I read Eenie’s suggestion of keeping a hand in something, even volunteering, as obviously not the same as making everyone completely financially independent. But it’s still a good strategy.

          • Eenie

            Yes. This, exactly this. Keep your hand in something, maybe even something you have a passion for that you could spin as experience. Doesn’t have to make money!

          • Eenie

            I didn’t / wouldn’t recommend anything in your second paragraph. I think sound financial planning is a huge part of feminism because it used to be a huge barrier for woman not being able to make a living without a husband. You say it’s just financial planning, I think it’s feminism.

          • BJ

            This is tough. As a part-time stay at home mom I bristle at the thought that my choice is not “feminist”. But at the same time I do feel that women choosing to take their husband’s last name is not a feminist choice, so perhaps I am the pot calling the kettle black.

            I am concerned about this topic though and in particular my choosing to not work 40 (50… 60…) hours per week. Before I went to 20 hours per week in my job I was earning more than my husband by 10 or so percent. Working half-time is a dream though and I’m not sure I would go back to working more than 30 hours per week unless there was a really compelling reason. I guess what I could be emphasizing to my 3 year old twin boys is that you don’t have to work yourself to death. You can have less money and more time to do other things in life, if you want. My working part-time lets me spend more time volunteering for my twins club, for example.

            Also though, I’ll make sure they know how much I enjoy my job. I enjoy it so much more than I did pre-kids because my maternity leave made me realize how awesome my job is. I know many people happily stay at home w/ their kids full-time, but by the time the kids were 10 months I was itching to spend at least some of my time talking to adults and solving challenges that affected people outside of my household.

            Anyways, I’m very interested in this topic and don’t want to feel that I’m dooming my children because I work less (and now earn less) than my husband.

            I am curious to hear more from women whose husbands are not 100% on board with this stuff. My husband is not a neanderthal and is really supportive of women in many ways, but in other ways he still seems guided by gendered expectations. Sometimes I just get tired of fighting with him about it. I think, though, the problem is partly how we approach this stuff. We get all bristly and defensive. :/

        • Meg Keene

          My feminist mom stayed home (noted elsewhere on the thread) and that didn’t really affect my feminism. But, she really did things outside the traditional gender binary. She did all the plumbing and repairs, and my dad did all the cooking. I think that helped, (along with a LOT of very overt conversation about feminism and what it meant, and why it was always important to challenge the status quo. Never underestimate the power of conversation). But it makes me… sort of glad that I work and am a serious breadwinner in our household in some ways… because at home I’m less outside the traditional gender binary. David cooks, but he does the stuff like repairs and I sew curtains and act as social secretary. That happens to be how our skills and interests break down, and that would feel VERY dangerous to me if I wasn’t busting open the traditional gender roles in other ways.

        • Lawyerette510

          Like Meg, my feminist mom stayed home with my sister and I, and my dad worked, but they did not follow many other gendered roles and my mom had a lot of passions that she pursued as well as modeling for my sister and I independence and discussing the value of all kinds of work. Additionally, my mom made sure we were informed about our bodies, knew to assert our autonomy and acted as someone who talked about feminist issues not just with us but with our friends (boys and girls) such as allowing/ encouraging boys to play dress up with us, bake with us, etc; calling all of us out as tweens about body-shaming, peer pressure etc; and as I found out more than a decade after-the-fact, helping some of my friends deal with drug abuse, being sexually assaulted, and unwanted pregnancies etc.

        • Granola

          Growing up in a family of two girls, I think a lot of gender equality has to do with what you teach kids how to do. My sister and I know how to cook, paint, use tools, clean, etc. I think the harder challenge is often with you have sons and/or children of both genders to make sure you go out of your way to teach the boys the same things the girls are expected to know. And to give the girls the same chores the boys get (setting the table vs. cutting the grass for example). Setting it up as “Necessary life skills include both feeding yourself appropriately and changing a tire.” (or whatever your stock gendered skills are) can do a lot.

      • Anon

        I’m glad you brought up the raising a child with special needs angle, you make a really good point. I babysat for a family with a son with multiple diagnoses, and the mom stayed home to take him to speech/physical therapy/occupational therapy/etc. She was also the main caregiver in a lot of ways for many years (I saw this balance out as the son got older. My interpretation of this is that the dad had trouble connecting to his son initially due to the multiple diagnoses, but as the son gained more typical skills, dad warmed up). From the outside, they looked very hetero-normative, but inside the home they had a lot of gender-neutral “policies” (for lack of a better word haha). The dad was the primary cook, they had lots of “girl” toys like a kitchen set, dolls, and a dollhouse, everyone cleaned from what I could tell (including the son with a toy broom which was adorable). Anyway I think about that family a lot as the most gender-neutral one I’ve worked with, despite how things look from the outside.

      • LTurtle

        Chiming in as a feminist housewife; I raise my son to be a feminist by reading him books about string girls and women, by keeping the toys and clothes for my kids as gender neutral as possible, by telling him that he is pretty and his sister is smart and strong (also the opposite), by validating his feelings and giving him the tools to manage and label them, by ensuring that everyone in our home does housework regardless of gender, and by making sure his father models feminist behavior. (Sometimes he needs reminding)

        I was largely raised by my dad and I am so thankful that he taught me to cook, to sew on a button, to clean house, to care for my body without shame – because I’m glad to have learned them, but also because learning them from HIM turned some of those stereotypes on their head. Incidentally, I think he grew up feminist because he was raised by a single mom and grew up with three sisters. All the evidence he needed that women are strong, capable and EQUAL.

      • Meg Keene

        Yeah, you know, in general I do agree. I think both parents working outside the home does wonders just by default (dad HAS to do as much as mom, in a mixed gender relationship household). But that said, my feminist mom stayed home with us till I was in Junior High, and it didn’t in any way affect my feminism. That said, my husband having a mom that worked outside the home AND out earned his dad is I think the most powerful force shaping him into being a feminist. So I think in many ways it was more important for him to grow up that way than for me to grow up that way. (Perhaps because I’m in charge of making my own choices, but it’s important that he’s seen co-parenting and co-household managing modeled over and over, because the pressure to not do that is probably stronger than the pressure on me to not work.)

        Related, I worry about my boy child and my girl child differently. I’m not sure how that will play out when they’re older, but I do PARTICULARLY want my boy child to see that I work outside the home, in a slightly different way and for slightly different reasons than I might want my girl child to see that. For her, I want her to know she’s got options. For him, I feel like I need to model over and over again that no matter what other messages he’s absorbing, women are strong and powerful and stereotype breaking. I don’t know, it’s COMPLICATED, and I’m new at having a kid of each sex.

        • TeaforTwo

          But…not necessarily. My parents both worked outside the home, and both worked at least 60 hours a week (although a lot of it at home in the evenings.) They both loved their careers, and loved having four kids.

          And I do not remember my dad making dinner once in the eighteen years I lived at home, and it was my mother who drove us to sports practice and took us to the dentist and cleaned the house, and cut the lawn and repaired the furnace. My dad was a very emotionally open, loving parent who we had a lot of fun with…but he didn’t braid my hair or make my lunches or do my laundry.

          I think it’s partly a generational thing, and after my mom died he had a big awakening about just how much she had done. But I don’t think that two working parents necessarily means that dad has to do as much as mom. Sometimes mom just gets screwed.

    • raccooncity

      YES. And: men taking part of the allotted parental leave, if it’s given per couple. Or if you’re a man who has access to parental leave that isn’t dependent on your partner, TAKE IT ALL.

      I’ve said that in another article’s discussion. But it’s so important.

      • Meg Keene

        SUPER IMPORTANT. David just went back to work (at 80% for awhile, because he had that option) yesterday, with an 8 week old. Till now we’ve been off together, and both times that was a game changer. He took all of his leave, and we took a bit of a financial hit to make that happen (he stopped working when I was 39.5 weeks, and I didn’t give birth till 41.5, so it was 10 weeks total). SO WORTH IT. So glad we could make it happen.

      • Alanna Cartier

        Also- in general, if men start taking parental leave, those jerks that keep blaming the wage gap on “maternity leave” will have to STFU.

    • Marie

      This great paper documents the impact of working mothers on sons’ attitudes and gender equality in labor markets.

      https://scholar.google.com/citations?view_op=view_citation&hl=en&user=fTWwTJ0AAAAJ&citation_for_view=fTWwTJ0AAAAJ:u5HHmVD_uO8C

      Abstract: This paper argues that the growing presence of a new type of man—one brought up in a family in which the mother worked—has been a significant factor in the increase in female labor force participation over time. We present cross-sectional evidence showing that the wives of men whose mothers worked are themselves significantly more likely to work. We use variation in the importance of World War II as a shock to women’s labor force participation—as proxied by variation in the male draft rate across U. S. states—to provide evidence in support of the intergenerational consequences of our propagation mechanism.

    • Gina

      In our family, my husband stays home with our three-month-old daughter and I work. This will be the norm for her. But I was raised by a stay-at-home-mom and a working dad, and I never thought women stayed home–I just thought MY mom did. As long as you’re consistent with the narrative you’re telling your children, and as long as both parents are equal co-parents and housekeepers when they’re both home, I don’t think that’s an issue. Lady Brett brings up a good point about making sure the narrative ascribes equal weight to the “importance” of the contribution of both parents.

      That said, I absolutely gag when people in online mom groups talk about their husbands that won’t lift a finger to change a diaper or wash a dish. Ummmm, what?

      • Eenie

        I read somewhere about the division of labor for one set of parents regarding their newborn was that one was responsible for what went in and one was responsible for what went out. I thought that was ingenious (although not at all practical for everyone).

      • Amy March

        I think the issue is that in reality both parents are not equal caregivers and housekeepers when they are home if mom stays home and dad works. That’s just by and large not what happens. One parent is getting a ton more parenting practice. One is around more. One is responsible for the home sphere.

        I don’t mean to suggest it’s not possible for a stay at home mom to raise feminist boys- of course it is- but I think there’s a lot more to it than a consistent narrative. And while I’d love my children to learn that we are worth more than our jobs, I don’t want them to learn, male or female, that it’s ok to give up your economic power in a relationship or pretend that everything is equal when only daddy is making money. That might be a partnership model that works really well for lots of reasons, but I don’t think it’s egalitarian or feminist at all.

        • lady brett

          it is a matter of values. for me, creating intentional community and people’s intrinsic worth far outweigh that of economic self-sufficiency as values i want to teach my children. and that is, perhaps, unrelated to feminism – but there are plenty of other avenues to teach that.

          and no, everything is not equal with only one earner, but everything wasn’t equal when we made the exact same salaries, either. and it is going to be unequal in a different way when my spouse is our sole earner than it is now, while i am our sole earner. we are fundamentally different people with fundamentally different skills, abilities and needs, and that is never going to level out perfectly. and i think acknowledging all contributions made in the household/community is pretty egalitarian and feminist – in a substantially different way than modeling it through career choices, which is also valid and important.

          • Violet

            Everything you’re saying about values, I agree with. Once you take values out of the lot and for a test drive, some practical considerations do come into play. My dad certainly acknowledged and valued my mom’s contributions to our household community as a housewife. That didn’t make it any easier when she wanted to divorce him and she needed his money to pay for her attorney, his money to move out of the house, and his money in the form of alimony while she worked in retail and got her master’s in the evenings so she could get a teaching job to support herself. Self-sufficiency might not be the only value, but damn is it a good one when the going gets tough.

          • Amy March

            This is completely where I’m coming from. Winding up divorced at 50 and not having worked in 25 years is a reality I’ve witnessed, and it’s not a risk I want for myself or that I’d encourage future children to take.

          • Caitlin

            This is definitely a values thing and I don’t think it’s particularly helpful to label values as The Right Way to do things. Saying, “I don’t want them to learn, male or female, that it’s ok to give up your economic power in a relationship” reveals a very different value structure than the one I (and it seems you) subscribe to. My family, male and female, including parents, grandparents, siblings, and significant others believe that supporting each other as a family involves economic support as well. Economic self sufficiency is a nice thing to have, but it’s definitely not the most important and I think a lot of people in my community would view this as an unsupportive structure (it actually sounds a little antagonistic to me). Feminism is a wide umbrella movement and I don’t think economic self sufficiency is a necessary component of it. I do think it can go a long way to providing a more egalitarian partnership by default, but I don’t think the two are mutually inclusive.

    • Violet

      I totally agree that for hetero couples, both parents working outside the home and inside can be a game changer. Especially when it’s a conscious choice. It does gets complicated quickly. When my partner was a small child, his dad ditched the family, so his mother began working outside the home to bring in money. She didn’t have a career nor did she ever want one. She viewed working as a necessity, and she associated it with her ex leaving. By his recollection, she griped about work and worried about money all the time. My partner grew up with a role model of a woman working who just wanted to be at home which frankly, might have done more to turn him off to the importance of women’s careers than a happy SAHM would have. It’s been an interesting transition to watch over the past decade as his view on my career changed from something I could do to something I actually want to do. He had a lot of experiences to un-learn.

  • savannnah

    I think this issue is really important and I’ve been thinking about it a lot as I see my 2 year old nephew praised for being a big boy and how he can eat a whole steak. I tend to think comments about a 2 year old girl who looked like him would be quite different. I think the key to this issue is the framing around it, its not really teaching girls to be more like men when they grow up or teaching boys to be more like women when they grow up, it is about abandoning the binary gender roles altogether, and teaching our children that they have a wide spectrum of choices and responsibilities in front of them. It is important to talk about biological differences and how those affect women and men differently but gender expressions and experiences should not be presented as limitations or advantages. I think I lot of the push back women get from men about feminism is because as women’s gender space has expanded greatly in the past 100 years, men’s has, in general, not. There has been a little progress but what it means to be a man today really is very similar to what it meant 50-60 years ago. A clear cut example of this is while women can wear pants and dresses, men can only wear pants. Men have yet to have their feminist movement really take off. By removing the binary expectations, there might be less push back on getting a girls superhero book for a boy and it might feel a lot less like them vs us.

    • AP

      Yep. I see this in my niece and nephews, too. They constantly hear the message that girls can do anything boys can do, but last Christmas morning when I offered to paint the nails of my curious five-year-old nephew (with blue polish!) my FMIL swooped in quickly to say, “that’s for girls!” I told him I’d still paint his nails if he wanted me to, but he had already “changed his mind.” It made me sad, and since they’re my in-laws’ kids I don’t really feel like it’s my place to speak up yet. But I do know this- when it’s my kids we’re talking about, it will be a whole different ball game.

      • Jessica

        My MIL does the most gender-policing too of our nieces and nephews. The other day my husband was asking our 4 year old niece “can girls be handsome? can boys be handsome? can girls be pretty? can boys be pretty?” and MIL tried to get in and say “boys aren’t pretty!” but all her children kind of shut her down.
        We’re trying to counterbalance that policing every time we see our niece. She currently loves her doll and monster trucks, and we want to make sure she is free to express whatever she likes, however she likes it.

        • rg223

          I find this viewpoint interesting. I know this is only one example and I’m sure your MIL polices in other ways too, but this particular one wouldn’t bother me so much. I wouldn’t worry about calling boys handsome and girls pretty, as long as that compliment was doled out in equal measure (which would be not that often, in my ideal world). If this was a one-off thing, I would think that MIL was just trying to teach what she felt was the proper terms to describe masculine or feminine beauty. In this case, I’d be more worried about how and when the terms is applied than what term is being used.

          • Jessica

            This is just one example. She balks whenever people go against the gender norms. Her daughter loves to mess with her and one year got all her brothers pink shirts for Christmas, just to annoy MIL because “pink is for girls!!” She was bothered at first about the monster truck thing, because that’s for boys. My SIL just had a boy and it brings thoughts like this article to my head.

            I can’t control how my in-laws want to raise their kids, but I know that I don’t want my MIL saying things like “yucky boy toys” to my daughter or “that’s for little girls hon” to my son in a few years [we don’t currently have children]. It’s the little things that can stick the longest to children’s brains.

            A completely different example of the little things sticking is our neighbors. Our neighbors have a 7 and 9 year old boy and girl, respectively. They are the most egalitarian family I’ve ever seen, and work hard to teach their kids equality and respect for all. The dad ends up doing most of the cooking, but when we were talking about chicken pot pie the kids said they never had it before “because mommy never made it for us!” I had to ask why it was mommy who never made it and not daddy, since daddy does most of the cooking. From outside influence, it stuck in their head that mom makes the food, regardless of reality.

          • rg223

            Ooooh that story about your neighbors is so interesting! It just shows how culturally ingrained so much of this stuff is.

            And I love the story about your MIL’s daughter messing with her with the pink shirts! It makes sense that your husband and the other siblings would have the handsome/pretty conversation when your MIL is pushing the gender stereotypes so much in a lot of other contexts.

          • Sosuli

            It’s just impossible to protect kids completely from those outside influences and it seems like often you just have to challenge them when they do come up. My 4 year old niece apparently declared recently that her dad isn’t allowed to wear make-up, make-up isn’t for men and if he did wear it the police would come and arrest him. To her credit, my sister dug out an old picture of my brother-in-law wearing a full face of make-up and explained to her that anyone can wear make-up if they want to.

          • Jessica

            That’s awesome! 4 is around when rules start becoming a real thing for kids (the other day with my niece it was “we don’t do things that way! that’s not how it’s done!” when it was just how we made eggs for her mom). Being able to give a concrete example of someone the kid knows breaking the “rules” is fantastic

          • AP

            Yes, the little things stick in our brains, way on up through adulthood. When fiancé and I were shopping for wedding bands, he was trying on bands of varying widths to see what suited his hands better. The saleslady said something along the lines of “you don’t want to go any narrower than 4mm because then it starts looking too feminine.” I immediately said to him, “don’t worry about that, get what you like and what suits your hands best” but guess what? From there on out he’d only try on bands that were 5-6mm width.

          • Eh

            I have an aversion to pink and I just had a daughter. At my baby shower on my husband’s side one of his relatives made a comment about something on my registry being gender neutral (when possible things were neutral or purple – and at a last resort I would pick pink). She said she was surprised that it wasn’t pink and girly. I laughed and said I hate pink (at this point I had a stack of pink clothes in front of me).

          • KH_Tas

            We have a set of friends who begged not to be given pink stuff at their baby shower because they didn’t like it. This message went out repeatedly. I chose purple and green, but one long-time ‘friend’ gave them pink on pink in pink wrapping paper and spent the whole time making super-gendered-statements and I was livid by the end. I corrected him any time he made any in my direction, but otherwise left it to the parents to lead the way.

          • Eh

            The shower on my side had a lot less pink (a couple of people didn’t know we knew that we were having a girl so bought totally gender neutral stuff). My friend that helped plan the baby shower on my husband’s side knows that I hate pink and so does my MIL (the other hostess – though she will buy pink stuff since she likes girls in pink though she has bought a couple non-pink things too). We never told people (specifically my husband’s extended family) about my dislike of pink so I did not get upset about all the pink clothes since I expected that people would buy pink. I can’t wait until my daughter outgrows her newborn clothes and I have more clothes that aren’t pink (right now I have two sleepers and a couple onesies).

          • Jessica

            I’m not a huge pink fan either. Luckily enough of my husband’s siblings are having kids before us that we’ll have a ton of hand-me-downs to pick and choose from.

          • Eh

            We got lots of hand-me-downs also. I picked through the bags and high-graded the non-pink stuff. I did take the pink stuff that was in really good condition (I.e., it didn’t look like it had been worn).

      • Eh

        I was painting my nails at my dad’s house and my nephew saw me and asked if I would paint his (I think it was purple). He said yes and was pretty excited. My step sister (his mom) saw what was going on when I was almost done and said that his dad would not be happy. My nephew didn’t seem to care and it’s not like it’s permanent (it was a family reunion weekend so he was going to be around family for the whole weekend).

      • C_Gold

        My step-daughter painted her brother’s nails a couple weeks ago, at his request (we were both doing our own nails at the time, I think). He’s nine. She did several colors, like red and black and silver and gray and blue.

        Then his friends teased him about it when they were playing outside later, and after that he acted like “oh, my sister made me do this.” I lightly mentioned that when I was a teenager I dated a guy (who was cool and in a punk band, I pointed out) who painted his nails. That then seemed to make it okay again. :)

        But really I was just happy that at nine years old he still felt comfortable doing it to begin with. I’d worried he might be too old/socialized by now.

  • Ana

    Stop reading my mind APW! My son is still an infant, but I’ve been obsessing over ways to bring this up with moms of older boys. People look at me funny when I muse aloud that I hope to raise a man who will wear a condom and not give his partner(s) a hard time about it. Our situation is further complicated in that we are a two-mom family and we don’t have feminist men in our house to be role models.

    • Amy March

      I’d look at you funny if you mused aloud about your infant son and condoms! Maybe respecting little girls on the playground as an initial step :)

    • Sarah E

      This reminds me about this article on sexuality education in Scandinavia. I’m pretty sure it was linked in a Happy Hour a while ago: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/spring-fever/

      Particularly, the themes that you can discuss high-minded things with small kids to set them up for success, while breaking down those huge concepts into smaller bites. So condoms may be a bit much, but not hugging/tickling/touching unless the other person is okay with it as a first step to consent. And how it feels to have a crush on someone.

      • sarahrose

        That was in the Netherlands ;) But Scandinavia tends to have extremely feminist and body positive health education too and starting from an early age. Sweden has had a feminist movement that has really caught on in recent years to add a cutesy kid word to the language for vagina, analogous to an already existing word for penis that’s like weenie (otherwise the only options for vagina were the medical term or derogatory words).

        Then the main Swedish children’s channel made this delightful song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Wp9iNINHMc

    • CMT

      I just want to say I would not look at you funny for that musing. It’s a legitimate concern! (And obviously, I wouldn’t expect that you would be focused on that topic *right now*.)

  • ZRT

    Yes! This is something I think about a lot with my 3 month old son. I feel very conscious about ways in which my husband and I have the stereotypical breakdown of some chores, although not all (we both cook and share caretaking responsibilities but he likes to putter and fix things, I do more cleaning, or at least think of it first). My son doesn’t notice these things now, of course, but I am wary about when he does. I find myself pausing more before taking handmedowns from my sister (who has two girls) if they are pink or sparkly. I also was reluctant to buy lots of blue clothing even though I like the color since it’s now seen as so ‘boy’. Anyway, I don’t have a real answer, but I think about it a lot since gender stereotypes box everyone in, but it feels different now to be approaching it from the ‘other’ side.

    • RoseTyler

      Non-parent opinion here – but dress your boy in Blue if you want. When I have kids, i’m sure they will wear blue – regardless of their gender. its my favorite color. My house is decorated in blue, my Christmas tree – blue, my front door – blue. My female chihuahua’s clothes – blue. So boy or girl … chances are they’ll wear blue in my family!

      • Amy March

        I think this is the kind of thing that’s easy to say until you’re facing down a solid wall of pink girl baby clothes in every single store and all of a sudden just putting your boys in blue because you genuinely like the color becomes a lot more fraught. And it’s something I really hadn’t understood until my friends started having babies constantly and I started buying teeny tiny adorable things.

        • RoseTyler

          I understand – and may very well change my mind on principle one day. I strive these days to make decisions independent of other people’s views though. That’s usually easy for me to do when it mean’s going against someone’s wishes but more difficult when it means doing what say my own mother would suggest. I’m usually tempted to do the opposite out of spite or pride. I try (and sometimes fail) to be rational and figure out the motives behind my decisions even if it means allowing the appearance that she wins.

  • anon

    Well, my husband grew up to be an awesome feminist man, despite his pretty misogynistic father. Somewhere along the way he learned to be open and empathetic to the experiences of others and to be a good listener. I think those were some key components.

  • rg223

    My son is going to be born any day now (!) but something that happens in my marriage that I hope will help him be a feminist is that my husband and I call each other out if either of us says something too gender-stereotypical. It doesn’t happen too often so I’m having trouble coming up with a specific example, but there have been instances when my husband reminds me that men cry too (or whatever).

    There’s two ways this is positive: one is that we are saying what we believe and hopefully imparting those values, and two is that it acknowledges that biases exist in the world, and you can have them despite your best efforts and despite being mostly free of bias, but you can also work on not having them anymore. This is really key in my opinion. To bring race into this briefly, one of the criticisms I see a lot of post-Civil rights era adults (young parents and young people) is that because they were taught “Everyone is equal” they don’t acknowledge their privilege/feel comfortable talking about race/etc. (And my husband and I check each other on racial/ethnic comments quite a bit too – this happens more than gendered comments actually). I’m hoping that I can teach my son to look out for biases/stereotypes that he and others have, and challenge them, rather than just believing “everyone is equal” and not moving beyond that.

    • AR

      Very good point about all kinds of bias. Everyone has them, and awareness is a great first step towards trying to minimize their impact. If anyone wants to test themselves for bias (in many different forms), here’s a link to a site that a group at Harvard set up: https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/index.jsp

      • rg223

        OKAY that is SO WEIRD because I JUST found that bias quiz last night! I want to space out taking them because I am guessing they are similar and I don’t want to “improve” at them as it’ll mess up my score, but I did take the disability one. Maybe I should have guessed this because my sister has a hearing loss and I’ve worked with many specials needs kids, but the results came back as slightly biased towards disabled over abled. I was really surprised though because obviously society is biased in the other way.

  • Ashlah

    I’ve thought about this a lot, even though we don’t have children yet. Along with everything else suggested in the comments, I also plan to make a concentrated effort to expose my son to female-driven stories. Books about girls, movies about women, bands with female lead singers. As little girls, we’re taught (/forced) to relate to stories told from the perspective of boys and men, but anything by or about girls and women is just “for girls.” And we wonder why men can’t relate to our struggles or see things from our perspectives? They just aren’t expected to care or understand the lives of women at all.

    • Mary Jo TC

      I love this, and as an avid reader who dearly wants my son to share my bookworm nature, plan to do the same thing. I want to expose him to interesting female characters. And I think that the way books get you inside the head of a character who’s different from you has the potential to teach empathy, which I think is one of the foundations of male feminism. This is one of the reasons I was so happy to hear about Inside Out and other female-driven animated movies.

      One cute example of a chapter book I’m going to enjoy reading aloud with him someday is The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. (Isn’t that the most bad ass title? And it’s a series.) Anyone have other ideas to share?

      Right now my little boy is into Dr Suess, which feels mostly pretty gender neutral to me. (He can recite whole pages of The Cat in the Hat. At two. Genius, right?)

      • AP

        The Ramona Quimby books are my favorite for early chapter books featuring a spunky, fun, interesting female main character. Also the Little House books, A Wrinkle in Time (and others by L’Engle)…also this Fight Fun with Fun list curated by Peggy Orenstein is great: http://peggyorenstein.com/resources.html

        • Alanna Cartier

          I love the Wildwood trilogy. Girl MC, and written by the lead singer of the Decemberists. All good things.

          • Eenie

            HOW DID I NOT KNOW HE WROTE A BOOK? Day made. Thank you. I needed it today after layoff announcements at work.

          • Alanna Cartier

            I recommend a big glass of red wine, book one and the Crane wife playing in the background. That is what you need. Also a big hug. Sorry about the crap day.

      • Ashlah

        I loved that about Inside Out too! It does seem like animated movies are making more of an effort to make female-driven stories that aren’t marketed solely to girls. It’s great.

        Since parenting is a ways off for me, I don’t have any book suggestions for you, but I might need to start a list for the future based on that title alone!

      • Eenie

        Harry potter. Although the main character is male, I really like how female characters are portrayed. I remember liking A Series of Unfortunate events since Violet acted as head of the family and is an inventor. Matilda. Madeleine.

        • Eenie

          Ella enchanted! Forgot how much I loved that book.

          • Granola

            that book is one of my all-time favorites.

      • rg223

        Trying to add some that aren’t on AP’s linked list… the Amber Brown book series. So You Want to be a Wizard (boy and girl main characters, I can’t remember who’s the lead). Harriet the Spy – can’t imagine anyone not liking that. Coraline! And the entire His Dark Materials series (though those are for teens).

      • Jessica

        The “Talking to Dragons” series by Patricia Wrede. The neighbor kids are borrowing my copies now and both the boy and girl LOVE the main character, Cimorene.

        • Christina McPants

          CIMORENE IS MY LIIIIIIFE.

      • emmeline

        Dr Seuss is great, but not quite gender neutral. The main character is always a boy, and when there is a girl involved she is his sister, who is always a secondary character and mostly defined in relation to him. A product of its time, but still.

      • CommaChick

        I recommend A Mighty Girl’s book list [http://www.amightygirl.com/books]. I follow A Mighty Girl on facebook, and I think it’s fantastic.

      • Rebecca

        Some suggestions for YA fiction with strong female characters:
        Anything by Tamora Pearce – there is some gender stereotyping but they all have really strong female characters going on adventures and being highly independent.
        For anyone living in Australia, the Tomorrow series by John Marsden (first is Tomorrow When The War Began). It’s about a group of kids who are camping when Australia is invaded and who become guerrillas. I say Australia-specific because the scenery is so evocative of Australia (and visualising it would be difficult if you’re not from here), and because it has a lot of slang in it.
        Also Hazel Green (by Odo Hirsch) and His Dark Materials trilogy (Philip Pullman).

        • Jess

          I read Tomorrow When the War Began (and the series) in jr high! I pictured the scenery a little wrong (having now gone to Australia), but for the most part, the stories still hold if you imagine the American West as well.

          Plus, now you can look up images of Australia and figure it out.

          It was AMAZING and I’ve never been able to find the series since. I’m so glad I didn’t actually make it up.

        • Alanna Cartier

          Tamora Pearce was my favourite growing up, perhaps because one of her heroines was named after me. A little love triangely- but the women do kick ass.

        • Christina McPants

          TAMORA PIERCE OMG. For tweens, the Circle books (at least the first set) are great.

        • KH_Tas

          I read two of the Marsden books and found them wildly unrealistic for the Australia I knew (and also was fairly unimpressed by how obvious it was which of our neighbours were the invaders) (I don’t mean to insult any fans, each to their own). On the other hand, I would caution against suggesting they are only for Aussies for the scenery/slang, after all, a huge chunk of the books we get are set in England/USA and we cope pretty well.

      • Amber

        This is something that I’ve just started to notice and drives me crazy about my fiance. When picking a movie for movie night he will never pick or agree to the female driven movies. I don’t think he does it consciously, but anytime I pick something with a strong leading lady (hello Sandra Bullock or Jennifer Lawrence) it gets vetoed. Definitely something to be conscious of when we are raising our future children. And the period thing. He’s usually supportive of me when I’m in physical pain, but anytime I’m a bit grouchy its attributed to my hormones, and the mere mention of period blood gets a “Ugh, gross” reaction. SO frustrating.

    • Alanna Cartier

      I’d recommend, for bands- not to focus on just female lead singers, but women in any role. A lot of time the music industry likes to shove the woman out front, for sex appeal, and because it impacts records sales. Women can be in a band and not have to be the lead singer. Women can be bitching drummers or bass guitarists, too.

      • Ashlah

        Great point! I think I just defaulted to lead singer because it would be the most conspicuous position (a literal female voice!), and I was only thinking about little kids just listening to the music, not older kids watching videos/reading about bands/going to concerts. You’re absolutely right! Not to mention, regardless of gender, they should learn to appreciate all musical talents, not just vocalists.

        • Alanna Cartier

          It’s funny, because I had never thought of it myself, and I was reading an article (man, I wish I could remember the band) from a female band member who was fighting against her record company trying to push her to the front. I’d never realized how much I prioritized female fronted bands, when I really should have been recognizing that it’s way better when women are included as equals.

      • Riot

        Yeah… like when they shoved Karen Carpenter out from behind her drums.

  • kcaudad

    my brother used to say that one of his son’s was an ‘equal opportunity toy player’ meaning that her would play with ‘boy’ toys or ‘girl’ toys equally… dolls or trucks, he didn’t care, just wanted to play with the toys and makeup fun games.

  • Eve Sturges

    a few thoughts that may or may not connect together but came to mind:
    1. The book Rad Feminists from A-Z; it should be in the must-have-classics with Corduroy and GoodNight Moon
    2. There wasn’t explicit talk in my family growing up about feminism, but both my parents worked their butts off and made sure it was clear that women could do anything/everything men could do. We were super hands-on. and I was passionate about equality at a very young age. My husband’s family is extremely liberal and more “traditionally/politically” feminist but my husband doesn’t know how to change a tire or oil (I do), use tools to build stuff (I do, and he’s learning), or manage money (I know how but am not very good at it either so we’re working on it together.)
    3. I was so excited to raise a super power feminist daughter, and then she systematically shut down all my superficial offerings; she wanted pink and dolls and makeup and ballet. However, I know that she believes in and wants equality as strongly as any feminist. “looking” feminist doesn’t make a person a feminist. Im due to have a boy in 5 weeks and I have no idea how it will go… but I’m confident that the message is clear in our house nonetheless.

    • Another Meg

      Rad Feminists from A-Z is the best! Love that book.

      To your third point, this is, to me, the most awesome/terrifying thing about parents (which I’m not sure if I’m looking forward to)- your kids become who they’re going to become, no matter what you want them to be. My mom told me that once, and you could tell it still shocked the hell out of her how different we 6 are from her and my dad. But it sounds like your daughter is going to be a Gilmore Girl- extremely girly but super feminist and smart as hell. :)

  • Katriel

    We feel really lucky to have pretty non-traditional gender roles at home. I am a scientist, husband is a high school teacher. I do martial arts, husband collects antique books.During the summer, he’s a stay at home dad. I handle the schedule and the money, husband does after school duty and makes dinner. We have some more traditional roles – I clean, because I’m a neatnik. He mows the lawn, not really sure why… We both make an effort to show our son that toys, tasks and careers are for PEOPLE not for boys or for girls. For example, ever since the day when my son said that grocery shopping was for girls, my husband has done all the shopping AND taken our son with him.

    We make an effort to find media that portrays both male and female protagonists, and we don’t allow certain games/songs/books that we feel glorify violence against women. We also try to talk about media with him – he’s surprisingly insightful. A few weeks ago, while discussing what the word “sexist” means, he said, “Like in Sonic cartoons, how the boys have cool names that tell about their powers, but the girls just have girl names.” I hadn’t even noticed that myself!

    • Ashlah

      I love that he picked up on the Sonic names himself! Goes to show he’s really absorbing and thinking about what you’ve been teaching him.

  • april

    Sort of off-topic, but why is “My First Book of Superpowers” only about male super heroes to begin with? I feel like society just sets us up for this sh*t. If they’d just put both boys and girls in the “Superpowers” book to begin with, you’d never be in the somewhat awkward position of having to buy your son something with the word “Girlpower” in the title!

  • Heather

    This piece was really insightful. Thank you for writing it Ojus
    and raising this important question. It made me think back to my own childhood.
    I think that leading by example and having open honest conversations with your
    kids about the way things are in society and the way they SHOULD be are very
    important… My mom had a very strong voice and she would be damned if any man
    tried to stifle that voice. She passed away when I was in undergrad but now
    that I am in my 30s and building my career and preparing to be married I wish I
    could just have a few minutes to thank her for how she raised my brother and I.
    My family is Jamaican and culturally you often (not always, but often) see
    women doing the majority of housework, cooking, and child-rearing but in our
    household that was not the case. I definitely had to learn to cook, clean, sew
    but so did my brother. (He sews better than I do). She raised us from the
    perspective: I am teaching you both how to do this so you can be
    self-sustaining individuals and not depend on a man or woman to care for you.
    She repeated this to BOTH my brother and I OFTEN. My mom also took subtle steps
    to make me strong. I owned my first suit when I was twelve lol. I thought
    marriage was two individuals who had successful careers, owned their own homes
    and came together for insightful conversations, sex, fun vacations, and then
    went back to their individual lives when they needed some space… (still
    figuring out how to reconcile that perspective, with the semi traditional
    married life I am entering) My dad taught us both to change a tire and change
    the oil. To this day, if I ever call my brother and tell him I am intimidated
    to try something new, such as kickboxing or weight lifting, he tells me: you
    need to take a deep breath and just try it. If any men try to intimidate you
    while you are trying said new thing, look them square in the eye and don’t
    break the gaze. They will move out of your way eventually… My brother helped to
    raise his girlfriend’s kids for a number of years and he did the majority of
    cooking, cleaning, child rearing and he LOVED it. He taught the kids to be self-sufficient
    and maintain a household regardless of gender. He taught them to support each
    other and their goals…

    I will say that my mom had such a strong voice, she often
    drowned out my dad’s voice. (they divorced when I was in middle school) My
    brother and I talk about how we struggle as adults to understand and respect a
    man’s role in a relationship. I am constantly setting boundaries for myself in my
    relationship so that I don’t drown out my fiancé’s voice with my STRONG
    opinions.

  • TeaforTwo

    I have been thinking about this while we are trying to have kids.

    Our plan has always been for me to stay home with our kids, because I don’t particularly like my job, we can afford for me to stay home, and…I want to. We’ve spent about 9 months total in our relationship with my husband being the one who was not employed and not in school, and it was AWESOME. We are much happier as a one-income household with less money, but more time to spend together and less stress over taking care of chores and errands in the evenings and on weekends.

    When I think about raising sons more like daughters, I think about how I want to raise boys with emotional literacy. My dad and three brothers are all wonderful men, and as I have gotten older I’ve really come to appreciate that they are men who hug each other, and who can talk candidly about how much they love their wives, their kids, and each other. When I asked them to be my in my wedding party as my bridesmen, all of them were delighted, and one of them even teared up. My husband’s family is much more emotionally reserved, particularly the men, but I want my (hypothetical future) sons to value gentleness and empathy, and to be able to talk about their feelings and express emotion well.

  • emilyg25

    My sociologist friend and I are both raising feminist sons and we were talking about this the other day. We’ve got the basics down—great feminist male role models in our partners, diversity of toys and stories, openness to whatever our sons turn out to be, etc. But we’ve found ourselves making subtle assumptions and saying things like, “You’re such a strong boy!” or “Oh, you like cars and trucks, what a little boy!” I think the key to success it is just awareness and balance.

  • Glen

    The one thing I am trying to remember to do with my two-year old daughter is not to default to male pronouns, like when pointing out something an animal or character is doing. I know it’s grammatically correct, but why should the pig always be a “he”? Sometimes I mix up the gender-conforming stuff too (like referring to a character dressed like a “boy” as “she” or vice-versa). And sometimes I use “they” as a singular pronoun, although that goes against all of my grammar snobbishness. As someone who is often assumed to be male because I have a “masculine” name and work in a male-dominated field, I firmly believe that these little things count.
    Where I really struggle is with my nephews — my BIL shames them when they play with their sisters’ toys. I never quite know how to step in, especially since I’m already the “liberal wacko” SIL but also because I know how well it would go over if the tables were turned. I try to subtly undermine (buy books with female leads and gender-neutral toys for all) and play with them no matter what they’re playing with (my husband does this too).

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  • Clare Caulfield

    On pondering this, I thought that if many people here would say they have feminist (male) partners, then ask your parents/mother in law how they did it?
    But thinking further, I think my partner developed his equality values more at university than at home, so is considering the environments you expose your child to (the values of the kinders and schools they attend for example) an important factor?

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  • Punt

    A feminist mother is the worst possible parent for a male child. They will purposly raise thier sons to be weak feeble with subltle and not so subtle messages that they are monstors simply because they will grow to be a man. Only a fool of a man would marry a feminist with they want to have a family. She will be a constant cancer.