Growing up, have you ever felt that your relatives favour your brother over you? Sometimes it is explicit, sometimes it is subtle—but sure it is there. You grow up seeing that he gets the bigger piece of fish during lunch or he gets to stay out till late at night while you cannot. You’re not alone. Patriarchy and sexism have been ingrained in our country’s collective psyche for centuries now, and while things are much better than what it was say, a hundred years ago, we still have a long way to go.
People often talk about how big a responsibility it is to raise a daughter but I think it’s a much bigger responsibility I have as a boy-mom to raise my son right. From teaching him how to treat the women in his life (or otherwise) right, to teaching him about gender equality, about empathy, about not pandering to patriarchy—I have a whole laundry list prepared. While the girls in 2022 are being raised to be strong, independent, fierce, and badass women of the future, are we doing enough while raising our boys? Are we pandering to the iron-clad patriarchy that has seeped into our brains through generations, or are we finally getting up in the morning, willing to break that very chain
Divide chores equally at home
I, for one, have made a conscious decision as a boy-mom to educate my son early on about feminism. He is also privileged enough to see both his parents being breadwinners in the family; juggling housework as well as their careers equally. In order for him to truly understand about feminism and the very concept of gender equality, both my husband and I realized that it’s important for him to see the role models first-hand at home. So, very early on, we decided on dividing our roles equally as parents. Can my husband change our son’s dirty diapers? Yes. Can he put him to sleep? Yes, better than me. Does he spend enough quality time with his son despite a grueling day at work? A big yes!
Apart from his duties as a father, he also does the dishes at home and helps in setting up the dinner table. While most people will give him a resounding clap for being the ‘Father/Husband of the year’, we try to see this as the norm as opposed to an anomaly. That is how our son can grow up truly believing in gender equality and not something that he should feel he deserves an award for. I’ve also decided on making it a point to assign him household chores once he grows up a little. Folding his own laundry, washing his own dishes, ironing his own school uniform—assigning these duties to your child, irrespective of the gender, go a long way. A boy who grows up helping around the house grows up to be a responsible husband and a father in the future.
Don’t pander to age-old patriarchal concepts
I also don’t want him to grow up subscribing to ridiculously sexist and hyper-masculine concepts like—“Boys don't cry”. He must know that it is absolutely okay to cry irrespective of the gender—boys CAN cry and so can girls. I want him to grow up to be an empathetic, sensitive adult who isn’t afraid to show his true emotions—be it sadness, anger, happiness, shock, love. Do not encourage sexist jokes and jibes around him. He should know better than to think the word ‘p***y can be used to describe someone who is physically weak. Next time you receive a ‘wife joke’ on your family WhatsApp group, call them out. Set an example for your son and tell them that it isn’t funny.
No means no
Learning about consent should happen as early as possible. Teach your sons that ‘No means no’. Even silence means ‘no’ and only an explicit ‘yes’ actually means yes. Teach him how to respect people’s personal boundaries and spaces. Teach him what makes a woman uncomfortable and how to ensure he doesn’t do anything like that.
Sex-education begins at home
While I hope that schools in India eventually collectively realize the importance of sex education as a part of the academic curriculum, take matters into your own hands till that happens. Make him understand about his own body as well as the female body—don’t let social stigma, unnecessary taboos and shame deter you from teaching him this. A child can grow up to be a confident and responsible adult only when they know about their own bodies well. Teach him about periods, about safe sex, about good touch and bad touch. Break the social and cultural taboo—sex is not a dirty word and sex education is of utmost importance for every child and teenager. Period!
Don’t give gender assigned toys
My tiny toddler loves playing with his cars and trains but if tomorrow a dollhouse catches his fancy, I’m not going to stop him from playing with it either. Assigning a particular colour (‘Boys don’t wear pink') or a toy (‘Boys don’t play with dolls’) to different genders should be stopped. As long as they’re happy playing with said toy and it is helping in their physical and mental development, it shouldn’t matter what they’re playing with. Remember, feminism starts at home. If you don’t do apparent gender division at home, you’re already doing a great job of raising a feminist child.
Say no to heteronormativity
Squash the ancient heteronormative narrative that a boy and girl cannot be just friends. Encourage his female friendships and teach him that not all male-female relationships are romantic or sexual in nature. Of course, it helps more if your child studies in a co-ed school. Tell him that different people have different sexual orientations and preferences, and everyone should be equally loved and respected for their choices.
Whatever we teach our kids today is what they will end up becoming tomorrow as an adult. It is an overwhelming responsibility and that’s why I’m trying my best as a mother to raise my son as a feminist. But I’m just one mother and he is just one child. If every mother ends up teaching these things and every child grows up understanding feminism, then imagine what a beautiful world we would be living in. Now, isn’t that what we all dream of?