10 Things I Am Doing to Raise Feminist Sons

Photograph by Twenty20

I have no qualms about labeling myself as a feminist. Neither does my husband. Hmmm, perhaps that is one of the reasons we get along so well. We do not think feminism is anything other than what it is—a belief in equality.

Our approach is both philosophical and practical in nature. Using common-sense methods unites us in our goal of raising our two young sons (7 and 2 year olds) as feminists.

Here's how we do it:

1. Buy the pink shirt

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When my oldest was just 2, his favorite color was pink. He really, really wanted a pink shirt. I had a hard time finding something for him without ruffles, which I searched for mainly because as a culture we insist on really genderizing our kiddos. But finally, I found something. Even though his babysitter expressed some concern that he was wearing a "girl's color," our son, even at that young age, knew to say, "Girls can't own a color!"

2. No means no

My 2-year-old is what some like to refer to as "all boy." We don't use that phrase ourselves, but let's just say he matches the stereotype of rough and tumble. Sometimes, though, he is too rough. When he is, we let him know what is acceptable and what isn't. It is never acceptable, even for a toddler, to use size or physical strength to get their way, simply because they can.

3. Watch Daddy

See Daddy change that diaper? See Daddy fold the laundry? See Daddy cook dinner? My two boys have a front row seat for watching what equity in a relationship looks like. There are no chores off limits to those with a penis. Running a home is work, just like when Daddy goes to his office or Mommy types on her keyboard. Work is work and it needs to get done. We all chip in to keep our family functioning.

4. Encourage empathy

One certain way to help raise feminists is to teach our sons what it might be like to be a girl, and vice versa. How? Through empathy—trying to imagine what other people think and feel. What is it like for a girl to be told she must always be sugar and spice and everything nice? And that boys are made of snails and puppy dog tails? What do boys and girls have in common?

5. Befriend a girl

One of our oldest son's best friends is a beautiful little girl who no one would confuse with a princess. Hell, she dressed up as a bucket of toxic waste for Halloween. We are so grateful our boy is learning that girls can play rough on the playground and be full of kind gestures, too. We are all allowed to be multi-dimensional.

6. Be a gentleman

This does not mean "ladies first," but encourages our sons to be considerate human beings. Hold the door not just for ladies, but for whomever is coming behind you. Be kind and mannerly not just to be chivalrous, but because it is the right thing to do.

7. Use your words

We are teaching our sons about their penis and testicles. Girls have vaginas. End of story. Leave the shame and odd pet names out of it.

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8. Read about girls

There are lots and lots of wonderful books written from the perspective of girls, and they are not to be missed because the main protagonist wears a dress. I want my boys to be as thrilled with the Little House series as I was, because pioneer living is simply fascinating.

9. Difference is OK

It is OK for boys and girls to be different. Being equal does not require sameness. Girls can be different from boys, and boys can be different from girls, and one is not better than the other. Also? Don't overstate the differences. Dolls are for everyone and math is, too.

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10. No kisses

Our youngest son is sometimes stingy with the kisses and hugs. He gifts them to us on occasion and oh, how special they are. We have come to respect this about him and never force affection or intimacy he is uncomfortable with. His body is his, and we can't demand kisses and hugs just because we want them. Consent must be respected for the young toddler just as it is for older folks, too.

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