Feminism can mean many things, depending on who you ask. Underlying every discussion and debate is the premise that women should enjoy the same privileges and rights men do. In a world where women continue to statistically earn less than their male counterparts, fill fewer seats in Congress, are more likely to fall victim to domestic violence, and, as the Harvey Weinstein investigation underscores, face sexual harassment (or worse) in the workplace, it’s clear the fight for equality is far from over. As a mother to a young son, I recognize while he’s under my direction I still have the power to shape how he sees women and guide him to become a man who respects and treats women as equals. Here’s how I’m doing my part.
Though we have a long way to go to achieve gender equality, it’s essential for my son to understand how far women have already come as a result of the actions of a few heroic figures throughout history. It’s easy to take for granted the rights women now enjoy when he wasn’t around to witness how it is we came to have them. What his school doesn’t provide, I supplement at home via books and thoughtful discussion.
An emphatic no. Maybe is also a no. If there’s room for interpretation, I tell him he already has his answer: No.
The women he will come across at school, a party, work, or in any other setting during his lifetime will also be someone’s daughter, mother, sister, aunt, friend, and so forth, even if not his own. If he witnesses an injustice or abuse of any sort, it is on him to protect those women, too. After all, he would want someone to step up and do the same for the women in his life that he cares about or loves if he couldn’t do it himself, right?
Not long ago, my daughters (justifiably) pointed out that I was holding them to a different standard than I was my son when it came to helping out around the house. I took notice and have since given him specific age-appropriate tasks that allow him to contribute, too. It’s been gratifying to watch his growing independence, especially since I no longer have to ask him to clear the table or make his lunch for school. As he has discovered, housework is not only women’s work. R.I.P. June Cleaver.
For now, I’m the woman my son spends the most time with, although I know the day is coming when I won’t be. So, I want his point of reference for dealing with women to be a positive one, which means I have to first show respect for myself before expecting him to do the same, for me or any other woman he meets. That means creating healthy boundaries, exercising self-care, and walking away from relationships that limit or undermine me. Little children have big eyes. And as much as I’m watching my son, I know he’s watching me, too.
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