How To Talk About Sexism With Your Son
BY NATASHA CHIAM
Mar 8, 2017
As soon as it was announced that there was going to be a Women's March in Edmonton, in solidarity with the Women's March on Washington on January 21st, I knew I was going to attend.
I clicked "Going" on the Facebook event page, and shared it immediately with all my friends and followers. I then put it in our shared family calendar on my iPhone, along with all the rest of our activities and appointments that week.
That's when I noticed that the timing of the march conflicted with my son's soccer game.
I was torn. I am his biggest fan, the team manager and I hate to miss his games. Then I started talking to my eight-year-old daughter about the march, and she was so excited to make our protest posters and to be part of something so "grown up" with me.
I got carried away by her excitement and my own, and left my 10-year-old son feeling very left out in the process.
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At dinner, a few days before the march, he asked me, "Why is it called a Women's March? Why are there always things for women and not for men? Do you have a problem with me being a boy?”
Through my enthusiasm for the march and the solidarity I was feeling with women all over the world, I had alienated my boy-child. Being the sensitive kid that he is, he was feeling mad about being left out, and also bad about being a boy.
How do you talk about sexism with your son, about the history of patriarchy and the oppression of women/girls, without him feeling bad or guilty about being a boy?
We’ve had conversations before about why there is an International Women’s Day or Day of the Girl Child. We’ve talked about how girls haven’t always had the same rights as boys, and how in some countries in the world, they still don’t. We talk about feminism, what it means to me and to him, and how we want to live in a world where everyone has the same opportunities to succeed and be happy. I know he gets it to a certain degree. What I didn’t realize until that night at the dinner table is that he sees men and boys being UNFAIR and MEAN to women and girls, and then feels BLAME and SHAME about being a boy.
How did I miss this until now? How do you talk about sexism with your son, about the history of patriarchy and the oppression of women/girls, without him feeling bad or guilty about being a boy?
I've read a lot about the effects of toxic masculinity on our boys, and how we must move away from the "man up" and "boys will be boys" culture. But it’s hard for any of us to break away from the effects of generation after generation of patriarchal rule.
So where do we start?
I believe we first have to reject the binary gender expectations that start even before our kids are born. (I’m looking at you, gender-reveal parties.) Our next generation of boys and girls need to understand the history of patriarchy, and actively work together to destabilize that foundation. Rather than blame anyone for what happened in the past, they need to figure out how the present and future can be better.
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Patriarchy is not something we consciously chose to be a part of. It is not a man vs. woman phenomenon. It is an age-old institution that has been woven into the very fabric of our society so intricately, we can’t even see the threads that surround us at every turn. How else can we explain that 53 per cent of white women in the U.S. voted for a man who confessed to sexually assaulting women, because according to him, when you are [white], rich and powerful, “they just let you do whatever you want”?
I now know I need to work harder at teaching my son that patriarchy is not his fault, but also that fighting it is all of our responsibility, men and women, girls and boys. We need to learn from past and present mistakes, and to change the way we behave and think to truly become a fair and just world for everyone.
And next time, I’ll make sure we all go to the march. (And hopefully it won't coincide with another soccer game!)