This morning, I drove my children to their bus stop wearing my Wonder Woman headband. I also wear it around the house, doing dishes and at my computer. My daughter wears it sometimes.
Oh, and my son dons the band, even my husband tried it on. Because a strong female superhero is for our whole family to respect.
My husband cooks and I have a career outside the home. We don’t ever do gendered activities (no Daddy Daughter dates in our family!), but enjoy time with one another depending on each of our interests.
Little by little, we are filling our home with subtle cues of gender equality in order to counteract the drip-drop messages of patriarchy in larger society. Because blatant misogyny is, well, blatant: the stories of sexual assault, of egomaniacs who shout sexist slurs and cat-calls, the in-your-face offenses are obvious to condemn as unacceptable behavior.
Far more insidious are the small acts that cumulatively create stereotypes, that promote gender constructs that limit the full humanity of each person. Just as it is the ordinary acts of kindness that promote the greatest good, so it is the ordinary acts of evil that devastates.
Here’s what I know about why I want to raise a feminist son: liberation for women benefits him. When the little girl in his fourth grade classroom is told to be small and quiet, he misses out on her voice—and absent little girls’ personalities, little boys learn to dominate those spaces. For already assertive boys, this feeds into their ego instead of learning to share their power; for those not naturally inclined to assert, it feeds into a cycle of shame for not being “man enough.”
When the developing bodies of teenage girls are told to cover up and accused of being the cause of boys’ lust—boys learn to see female bodies as objects of desire. Instead of maturing in their sexual impulses, they believe the lie that lust is instinctual and the right to a woman’s body is entitled them.
When girls are diminished for their capabilities because of their emotions, boys internalize emotional expression is for girls-only and inferior. They learn to suppress their real emotions and exhibit them through unhealthy venues such as aggression, fear, and bullying. The strongest man isn’t one who doesn’t show emotions, but one with a spirit of humility and vulnerability.
So we combat the subtleties of patriarchy in the larger world with the subtleties of gender equality in our family. We notice the way our son patiently spoon-feeds our puppy and marvel at his nurturing qualities. When he cries at distress we validate his tears (although to be fair, our whole family has BIG EMOTIONS so any outburst blends right in). We celebrate female warriors, superheros, and activists together. A lot. Often. And he sees me high-fiving my daughter on feminist wins over the dinner table.
And as he grows older and begins to take on more responsibility, we will help him understand his unearned privileges. We will instruct him to give his power away, to remember the women he encounters in his life are his sister and his mother—strong and soft and just as fully human as he—and accord respect the way the world does not, at least not yet.
I love my son. Writing about him brings an instant smile to my face and a rush of joy to my heart. He is so full of personality and depth and compassion. And it is because of my immense love for him that I want him to proudly claim the identity of a feminist. For one, because he already is one and just needs to name it, and also because growing into the role is his best chance at living into his own nuanced personhood. Giving power away is the path to true whoelness.
But while he’s still a child, I better get busy dismantling Patriarchy and advocating for equal access to education, equal wage, reproductive justice, fair emotional burden, end to sexual assault/harrassment for girls and women worldwide. So I can say that I tried to make the world more kind and just for my daughter.
And my son.
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