Parents are encouraged to empower young little girls, but let's not forget is also our responsibility to make sure our sons help empower their sisters as well. We need to teach them how to treat women and recognize that women are not the weaker gender, but they are equally strong and capable of doing where they set their hearts.
Melinda Gates, in an article she wrote for Motto, shared how proud she is to have raised her son Rory as a feminist (she is the wife of Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates). "Bill and I had always known that, like our own parents, we would raise our children to believe they could do anything without their gender limiting their options," she wrote.
Being a feminist means you believe in the full equality of men and women. So boys should know their gender can be a feminist. As Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says, "Men and women should not be afraid of the word feminist. Men and women should use it to describe themselves."
So how can we ensure that our boys grow up recognizing girls are their equals? According to Claire Ann Miller of the New York Times, it's the same as "raising children who are kind, confident, and free to pursue their dreams." Here are some ways you can:
1. Be open to discussing gender equality at home. "For the sake of our son as well as our daughters, we were going to be a family that readily talks about gender equality at the dinner table," Melinda wrote. The first step is to acknowledge the issue and be prepared to talk about it with your kids. Don't make the gender equality a taboo topic at home.
2. Avoid assigning chores or duties according to gender. Be conscious when assigning chores to your kids. Break the mentality of having daughters wash the dishes, while boys take out the trash. By this action alone, we're giving our kids the idea that there are certain roles for boys and girls. They are both capable of doing any age-appropriate chores. They need skills (like cooking!) to be independent later on.
3. Let them play non-gender conforming toys or wear clothes in any color. We've become accustomed to buying kitchen sets for girl or blaster for boys. Stop yourself from limiting how they play and what toys they play with, suggested Vidula Chopra Rastogi of Deccan Herald. It's the same for picking out the color of clothes and the like. In fact, encourage your kids to play with both boys and girls alike.
4. Demand equal standards in cleanliness, education, and other work. Stop thinking girls generally do better in school and keep tidier rooms. Don't let statistics influence your goals for your kids. You may encourage girls to do better so she can stand out, sure, but your standards should not only apply to your daughters but also for your sons.
5. Let your children express themselves and show emotions. Tony Porter, co-founder of education and advocacy group A Call to Men, suggested teaching your son that he is capable of feeling a lot of emotions. Tell kids it's okay to say, 'I’m not angry; I’m scared, or my feelings are hurt, or I need help,'" he said in a TEDtalk he delivered in 2010. Let boys cry and help him process instead of telling him to stop.
6. Expose your kids to strong role models, both male and female. Let your children meet women you know and read books or talk about famous women who excel in their chosen fields, whether that be sports, politics, or media. It's also important to expose him to good role models (ahem, dads!) who treat women with respect and see them as equals.
In many ways, shaping our kids' way of thinking when it comes to gender should start early at home. It may be an uphill climb because even as society celebrates films like Wonder Woman, it has not fully embraced gender equality. It's not enough if we still can't raise our sons more like our daughters.
The only way to change the norm is to break the mold and teach our kids, girls and boys alike, that they are not defined by their gender or sex. It also doesn’t stop at their formative years; conversations about gender equality evolve as they grow.