Should I Be Raising Feminist Boys?

femboys

Being a man and trying to discuss feminism is…tricky. To say the least.

I’m a white, heterosexual male. Because of that, I enjoy privilege. That wasn’t always so easy for me to recognize or admit, but it’s true.

I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. I have no idea how it feels to have my self-worth tied to my waistline. I will never have to worry about dressing too provocatively to the point where that might be translated into a good enough reason for someone to rape me. And I don’t have to be concerned about getting paid 77 cents while my equally skilled coworkers earn a dollar for doing the same work.

So we’ve established I’m not a woman, I can never have the proper perspective to understand what women endure, and I’ve been told by “actual” feminists in the past that I’m no feminist at all. Which all begs the question, why am I bothering to discuss it in the first place?

The answer is because I’m the father of two boys who need to learn some valuable lessons feminism has to offer.

A man who is inherently incapable of understanding feminism charged with instilling feminist values in boys who will also be unable to fully understand them. It’s an interesting little conundrum, isn’t it?

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I recently came across Will playing with some toys in the sand. I asked him what he was doing and the following conversation happened:

Me: “What’s your knight doing?”
Will: “Rescuing the princess.”
Me: “Cool. But what about if the princess rescued the knight?”
Will: “Dad. That’s not how it works.”

Uh oh.

To be honest, I’ve struggled with this for years. I like to think of myself as a feminist. And I say that because I believe the following:

Women are equal to men. Women should have the same opportunities as men. Women are just as suited to leadership positions as men. Women should get equal pay for equal work. And both women and men should always strive to make this a reality.

Seems simple enough, right? But it’s not. Unfortunately feminism is just like anything else — filled with a multitude of people who don’t all agree on everything. In fact, when perusing the comment section of Slate or Jezebel, it’s a common occurrence to see arguments regarding which type of feminism is best, and who can truly lay claim to the title.

I watched a friend write an introspective article copping to the lustful thoughts that occupy his mind whenever he looks at a woman, and how he’d like to be a little more free of them. While I didn’t agree with everything he said, it seemed he had a genuine desire to stop objectifying women so much and focus on them as people instead of objects. I thought to myself “Now THAT right there must definitely be feminism at work.”

Nope.

He was SLAMMED by “real” feminists who accused him of “policing men’s thoughts and scrubbing them clean of anything resembling sexual desire,” and fantasizing about “snapping his fingers, one by one.” Despite having two daughters and expressing how uncomfortable he had become about the continuous loop of desirous thoughts of women in his head, my friend — a self-described feminist — was kicked off the feminist train for reasons I still don’t understand.

As for me, I was lambasted back in 2011 for the radical idea that holding doors open for women, walking them to cars, and offering to pay for dinner on a date are all examples of common courtesy. Little did I know that is sexist, misogynistic, and indicative of the patriarchal world in which we live.

I was raised to hold doors open for women (and men), to pay for dinner on a date with no expectations, and to always make sure a woman gets to her door/car safe and sound. I maintain these are polite actions no matter what the inference is by others. But according to many feminists, the good manners are only good manners TO ME, and not respecting their difference of opinion about good manners is bad manners. And misogynistic.

Membership in the Feminist Club seems an elusive thing, as is the answer to the questions about feminism and my boys. Truthfully, my question began to shift from “HOW should I raise feminist boys?” to “SHOULD I raise feminist boys?”

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My response at being called a woman-hater was to get defensive. And that’s unfortunate because men like myself should be natural allies regarding feminism.

As an outspoken proponent of involved fatherhood, I’m thrilled to see working dads spending more time at home as well as the skyrocketing number of full-time stay-at-home dads. And I realize that can’t happen without more women entering the workforce and being paid enough to support their families. It’s why we write articles highlighting the gender wage gap and seek to end it, and want a better world for our sons and daughters in general. Because we realize this isn’t an “Us vs. Them” battle, as the shifting priorities and goals of men and women are intricately tied together.

Yet many of us leave with a very sour taste in our mouths after dealing with some feminists who seem anything but inclusive.

So I stopped caring about the “right” answer and the “real” feminists.

As a parent, I can only do the best I can for my boys and I have to trust my instincts. My instincts tell me my definition of feminism might not be all-encompassing, but it’s a positive one that preaches the things I want to instill in my sons. So I’m teaching them to respect women, to see them as equals, to realize there are no “boy movies” and “girl movies,” to respect boundaries, to combat rape culture, and to actively and vocally support women whenever possible — especially in the face of discrimination by their male peers.

Also, I will continue to teach my boys to hold doors open for women, walk them to their door/car, and offer to pay for dinner. However, I’ll also teach them there’s nothing wrong with a woman who politely declines all those things, either.

When it comes to the conversation with my son I referenced earlier, I didn’t include how it ended.

Me: Why not? Girls are strong too. Look at mom.”
Will: “Hmmmm. I guess so. We’ll do that next time.”

Progress.

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17 thoughts on “Should I Be Raising Feminist Boys?

  1. Great article. I’m a work-at-home dad, raising a daughter, and I’ll have to confront questions related to these in a few years.

  2. I remember the original post about this- and my first thought was “Will, you’re right” But, I think we’ve placed too much “feminism” on males. You’re men, act like it. Maybe that is old fashioned- but I don’t think it is a bad philosophy, and my family is thriving with that thought. The main difference being then and now is that we have an involved father, but we’re 40 & 45.
    What is wrong with the man making the money and mom running the house? Why can’t dad rescue the princess?
    I married a manly man, and I am glad I did. With the activities that we participate in; I can count on and trust him when I fall apart (fear), things fall apart (parts), or we’re in trouble (lost in the desert). I don’t think most men of our generation are like that; I am sorry to say, but they’re kinda wimpy.
    My husband coached my Harley riding; and it has taught me more about life than I can imagine. I hope we are passing it on to our new daughter.

  3. Dawn: Sorry, but I disagree with you completely.

    What’s a “manly man?” I’d argue it’s forsaking career to become a stay-at-home dad just as much as it’s me working full time to provide for my family. Manly is a dad cooking dinner for his family and doing the vacuuming, just as much as working on the car in the garage. What you call wimpy, I call a much needed change in how we view masculinity.

    I’m sorry to say the men of previous generations don’t understand that, and it’s kinda awful.
    Daddy Files recently posted..Should I Be Raising Feminist Boys?My Profile

  4. I’m a liberal, intersectional feminist. There are radfems out there who will tell you that a man can’t be a feminist. I disagree. Do you believe that women deserve respect and equal opportunities? Do you believe that we should be treated as people and not objects? Do you think that we should have equal pay for equal work? You seem to think so. You also recognize that it’s important to raise your sons to believe in these tenets.
    Whether this makes you a feminist or a feminist ally doesn’t matter. You’re doing it right.

  5. I tend to think of feminism as a more radical stance. Why can’t we just raise our children to be good members of society? I love when my husband holds the door for me. I appreciate it when others do as well, men or women. I have two boys, and my goal has been to raise them to be respectful. Of everyone. They say Ma’am and Sir. They hold doors. However, I don’t care whether someone thinks of them (or me) as a feminist ally or not. I want my boys to grow up to be the best human beings ever. I do also realize that at this point, they aren’t interested in playing with dolls (despite a great pic I have of my oldest trying to nurse a baby doll) and LOVE their Nerf Guns and Legos. I will also say that my husband is a stay-at-home dad/part-time nurse and I am in the military. On a regular basis people assume he’s the military member. We just correct them and move on. It’s not worth getting upset over.

  6. Oh Boy, you are brave to even start this post. I see where you are coming from and I agree with you all the way. But you have to remember that there is no winning with some people. And you shouldn’t really expect a medal for doing the right thing. As for children, a parent can only teach what he/she thinks is right. The way you act will count a lot more than the words you say anyway. Love the blog.
    M Tali recently posted..Consequences of Reckless Driving AttitudesMy Profile

  7. Well done. Aside from our 3 yr old son, myself and our dads, we’re enveloped by 6 other strong female roles as aunts, grandmothers and cousins. As I was at his age, I knew how it all went, in the past generation, but I knew I could see better treatment of the female archetype, even as a young boy late – seventies. Almost 1.5 generations later language and behaviour have left men to keep a place open for both genders to accept a feminist mindfulness, whether men are aware of it or not. For little ones, we teach fairness and equality at home and school, but I have to realize from time to time that they are a target market just as much as we all are, and if adults find it difficult to make the right approach to aligning their own decisions with fairness and equality for all people, then so is it for kids, even moreso. I’ve just recently discovered the underlying reason my son wails AFTER bath once he’s seen the ‘pink’ we call it, skin cream…through the grapevine he got wind pink is only for girls. Which apparently is not a ‘good boy’ thing. Hmmm. Did I mention he’s a recorder?

  8. Hi Aaron,
    I wanted to thank you for writing this (and really your blog as a whole). My husband and I are pregnant with our first child (our daughter). I just recently graduated with my Bachelors in Liberal Arts concentrating on Women Studies and History. I really didn’t like my Women Studies class or the people that were in them. They were full of the ‘real’ feminists which if you know a little bit about the history of feminism is mainly the second wave movement. They didn’t like me to much because I advocate for sex workers rights (I digress though). Your boys are very lucky to have you asking them questions about the role of the knight and the princess. I really think the next generation is going to be amazing and encouraging critical thinking from a young age is beautiful. I think a lot of ‘real’ feminists are extremely high strung and need to realize there can be no free women if there are not free men. Men have a lot more pressures then some would like to admit. The word feminist has a lot of history that honestly is not pretty, but we can’t lump everyone in the same category. To say ‘A man should be a man’ or ‘A woman should be a woman’. Those are societal pressures that do more damage then good. (That and one has to ask themselves what makes a man and what makes a woman).
    Sorry I know that was a lot.
    Again thank you for writing this post and blog in general.
    -Rebecca

  9. I haven’t read any of your other posts yet, but this one bothers me. It’s full of misconceptions that feminists have flaunted as truths. Raise your boys to be boys! Raise them to be respectful and kind, but men, not feminists. All the items you cited as inequalities for women are hugely false. Do you want to raise your sons to grow up in a world where they are not respected by the same feminists your claiming they should be? Where they are deamed as rapists just for being male? Where they are not given any rights because they are male? Feminism is not equality and I think it is a horrible idea to raise your children with the mindset of feminism. It’s almost abuse to instill this level of degradation in our boys. To make them think they are inherently evil because they are boys. It’s just disgusting. Please do your research before taking this path and allowing feminist propaganda to brainwash your children also.

  10. Brandi: You’re so off base it’s not even funny. And thanks, but I’m not about to take life or parenting advice from people who write “deamed” and don’t know the difference between your and you’re.

    SOME feminists might be annoying, but they’re not calling all men rapists and there’s no brainwashing going on. Feminism IS equality at its core, and I’m going to raise my boys to believe men and women are absolutely equal. That’s a positive message, not a negative. And it’s certainly not abuse. The fact that you list feminism as abuse speaks to how ill informed you are regarding ACTUAL abuse.

    Raise your kids however you want, but please keep them away from mine if they have your attitude.
    Daddy Files recently posted..Celebrate the First Day of School, Don’t Mourn ItMy Profile

  11. I would like to apologize for my rushed post and cell phone auto correct, but not for my thoughts on this situation. I’m not sure if you’ve actually researched any of the claims made by feminists, but maybe you should, before your boys can’t even look the way of a women or ask her for her number without being accused of stare rape or sexual harassment. There is a huge difference between having respect for women and men and being feminist. Do you know the difference? Men and women will never be equal. We are biologically evolved to compliment each other. Do you know a true history of feminism? Margaret Sanger promoted birth control for the cause of eugenics. Women are not oppressed and 1 in 5 are not raped. These statistics are not valid. Yet you want your children to confirm to an ideology that says men and boys are not equal. Before you get so uppity about a dissenting opinion, do some research of your own before just putting your faith in your feminist friends. And yes, I do think it is a form of abuse to teach boys and girls the ideology of feminists. They both have worth. I could go on and on, but I just ask that you look up Karen straughan, Janet Bloomfield, Christina Sommers, mundane Matt, thunder foot… And more.

  12. Dude, you’re still back in feminism 101. Stop being so arrogant -if you are able- and STUDY MORE. Sheila jeffreys, Mary Daly, Andrea Dworkin, Germaine Greet. If you haven’t read them, you don’t know jack, and your kid will become a whining misogynist. Just like you are now. Free truth. Take it or leave it. Makes no difference to me.

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