Dear Ask a Feminist,
I posted something about this on the facebook page, but I wanted to write to you here as well, because this is something that is on my mind and heart right now, and I really want to have some conversations about it.
I am the mother of three sons. We are probably done having children, so I will not have daughters to raise as empowered, self-aware, self-trusting women. I want to raise my sons to love and respect women–to be male feminists–but I don’t know how to do that. Aside from teaching them basic egalitarianism, what can I do to tune them in to the inequalities of our culture (and our church) and help them be part of the change?
I appreciate your taking the time to respond to this question. I know several other mamas like myself who have only boys, and we have talked about this issue before, and I admit I’m still foundering trying to figure out where to go with it.
Dear Feminist Mama,
Thank you for contacting us. We appreciate all that you do! This is a great question and one many of us have discussed here at WAVE. While I am no expert in this area I will give you a couple suggestions born out of these conversations and I would invite all of our readers to contribute to this discussion in the comment section. Here are my top ten tips on how to raise feminist LDS sons!
1.) Check out some of these blogs on the subject. This beautiful piece by Ann Gardner Stone and discussed at Exponent II in a post by Emily Clyde Curtis. Another fantastic source is this post written by Winterbuzz at Feminist Mormon Housewives.There are also a ton of great non-LDS mother’s blogs and discussions on this topic. Check out some at: momotics, blogher, persephone magazine, etc.
2.) Exemplify, exemplify, exemplify. What is one of the most common pieces of advice that most parenting books and articles share? Your kids will learn more from your example than anything you say. Teach your sons to respect you and they will respect other women. Teach them to listen, value, and honor your opinion and they will do the same to their female peers. Teach them to assume women are strong and capable and they will expect those qualities in their future partner. Similarly, teach them that men get the last say and they will not know any better.
3.) Find opportunities to talk to them about equality early and often. From the ages of 5-10 (depending on your child’s development) kids have more rigid black and white thinking. If they learn that all people are equal regardless of age, gender, race, sexual orientation, religion, IQ, nationality, etc. during this stage it is more likely to stay with them for the rest of their lives and be a foundational principle in their future morality.
4.) Talk about Heavenly Mother. It doesn’t have to be deep or cautiously approached, just explain that we have heavenly and earthly parents who love us and want the best for us. Studies have shown that people’s perceptions of God are often based on their relationship with their earthly father. If you teach them about their Heavenly Mother as well this will open up the divine possibility while they are still constructing their relationship with God.
5.) Find ways to highlight female examples and narratives in the scriptures. It is important that children understand some of the cultural and historical realities that prevent more female representation in our religious texts. You can use our religion as an example arguing that we are the only major world religion on the planet today that believes in a female deity. You can make your sons proud of this and that feeling will extend to many aspects of their lives and how they think about and treat women in the future.
6.) Protect them from pornography, sexual abuse, and objectifying women by discussing early and often that no one should see or touch their private parts and they should not see or touch anyone else’s. This is especially helpful in the rigid stage of thinking (ages 5-10) and creates a healthy foundation on which you can add to their sex education through the rest of the years. This education born out of respect for yourself and others will help them recognize real people if they are exposed to pornography and when they begin cultivating relationships with girls.
7.) Due to the male gaze it is easy for men to grow up mainly being inundated with music, books, movies, and themes that are from male perspectives. In order for men to realize how it feels to be a female in a largely male world (especially in LDS scriptures and talks) it is important to encourage and expose your sons to media of all kinds from female perspectives and that represent complicated female characters. Talk about the books, music, movies, and themes that interest you and share those with your kids.
8.) Try to help your kids find a female religious example. This can be a heroine, a ward member, a scriptorian, or even yourself! It is critical that young men recognize and learn from female revelation, interpretation, talks and teachers. This alone will make an extraordinary difference in the ways your kids will approach their future leadership positions and how they will interact with the women under their stewardship.
9.) Create a home where equal parenting is apparent. While this arrangement depends on the details of your marriage and family circumstances, it is important for your kids to see that there are no male or female jobs, but rather different skill sets and preferences and that these duties need to be communicated and shared. It is okay, and in fact healthy, for them to see you working out the balance along the way and as family needs change.
10.) Lastly, love your kids demonstrably. This one is an easy one, but your sons will get enough messages about manliness, machismo, toughness, and strength from their peers and the world. Try not to hold back any displays of affection, empathy, nurturing, consoling, and/or support because of their gender. Recognize if and when you do this and evaluate why.
Ask a Feminist