I knew even before I had a daughter that I was going to raise her to laugh in the face of sexist stereotypes, to be whoever she wanted to be and to do her part in keeping the world safe for others to do the same. And then we got the ultrasound and it turned out I was having a boy.
Photo by Robert Degenarro.
But fighting sexist attitudes isn’t just a girl thing: it’s something we all have to do to make our world a good place to live. This piece from the New York Times is a mini instruction manual on how to do that. It’s especially important for boys to avoid developing an unhealthy addiction to the power and privilege that can come with the territory of being a dude. But as long as that power structure is in place, guys are in an especially good position to educate or intervene when their guy friends are about to do something cruel, stupid, or inadvertently biased.
Here are some of the tips that might be less obvious:
- Let him be himself. You can’t totally protect your kids from stereotypes, so this is a two-parter. Don’t pin him into stereotypes, but do talk about the stereotypes that intrude into his life. (There’s only girls in this dollhouse commercial, how weird.)
- Teach him to take care of himself. The guy who expects his mother or wife to do all the housework is so 1950. And the guy who pitches in, but lets a woman keep track of what needs to be done, is making more work for her.
- Teach ‘no means no.’ This one is easy to start young: never tickle a kid who communicates that they don’t want to be tickled. Extrapolate from there.
- Help him understand that it’s his job to speak up. Teach him to be the person who intervenes when somebody on the playground is harassing another kid. Teaching your kid this one skill is going to make life a lot better for him and for everybody around him.
The flip side of each of these points is to teach girls the same things, while being mindful of your message. For example, it’s not anti-feminist to teach your daughter to do housework or let her play with toy kitchens. The problem is when only girls get those lessons. Likewise, it’s fine for a girl to wear a princess dress, as long as you make it easy for her to choose the dinosaur costume instead if that’s what she wants.
I finally did end up with a girl, and sometimes I notice that I let her do something that I didn’t let her brothers do (pick out pink shoes, for example). But I try. All my kids know about the no tickling rule. All my kids are learning to do and will eventually direct some of the housework. (I cannot wait until they’re old enough to plan and cook dinner.) It takes some conscious effort to raise kids without the harmful stereotypes that are all around us. But when we do, we’re making our children’s world better, one small person at a time.