In her book, Dear Ijeawele, Or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie gives instructions for raising a feminist daughter — but seldom do we talk about raising feminist sons. Rather, we teach our sons that big boys don't cry and to be aggressive in the pursuit of their goals — and we teach their sisters to be emotional (but not too emotional) and passive. That means that we sometimes, even unintentionally, teach our sons to perpetuate both obvious and subtle sexism.
But some mothers are actively teaching their sons about gender equality. Some are talking feminism at their dinner tables, and others are just leading by example. We reached out to moms raising feminist sons to ask them how they're doing it, and here's what they suggest.
1. Critically Analyze the Media
"One of the ways my husband and I [raise feminist sons] is to teach our children to critically analyze the media they are consuming," says Joyelle, a mother of two sons, six and 11. "Whenever we are watching a movie and see a moment that makes us cringe, we pause the show and have a talk with our sons about what is happening in that moment. Usually that means identifying what sexist or misogynist beliefs are behind a character's words or actions. Sometimes it makes watching a movie feel more like work than relaxation, but I figure that, in the end, our sons will grow up with media literacy that we never had as kids, and that is so worth it to me."
2. Set an Example
"I know that I’m doing a good job raising feminist sons when they ask my opinion on current events or seek my help with computer issues," says Varda, a mother of eight sons. "I know I’m doing a good job when my boys see my husband doing the dishes or the laundry, or even better, when my boys do those jobs themselves because I’m busy with the work that puts a roof over their heads. It’s all about setting an example. If there’s equality in the home, then there is no reason for sons to see women as less than men.
3. Equally Distribute Household Labor
"My sons are being raised as feminist partly because they each split their chores with their sisters, my husband and me," says Lydia, a mother of two sons. "They see my husband and I divide up the dishes and the laundry, and they each help out by taking on a different task each day and rotating. One day my one daughter is doing the dishes and the other is helping fold the laundry while the boys are helping mow the lawn or rake the leaves. And the next day they're switching it up."
4. Establish Equal Rules Among the Siblings
"When I was growing up, my mother wouldn't let me have a boy upstairs and I couldn't even date until I was 18," says Samantha, a mother of one son and a daughter. "Meanwhile, my two brothers had their girlfriends at the house all the time, and they sometimes even slept over. I want both my son and my daughter to be open and honest with me about their lives so they're given equal treatment and rules. They're given the same curfews and they're allowed to date so long as they're honest with me about where they're going and who they're seeing. I want my daughter to grow up with autonomy, and I want my son to see that."
5. Work and Parent Simultaneously
"Some moms don't want to work or can't for specific circumstances, and that's fine, but I choose to work and have continued to do so even since having my son last year," Gina, a new mother, says. "I'm a single mother and I want to have enough to support my son on my own. He's growing up with a mother who works hard and makes the time to spend time with him, too. He's learning dedication and balance from his mother."
6. Talk About Feminism
"My husband and I regularly talk to our sons about feminism," Patty, a mother of four sons, says. "It all started when our youngest came home asking about a girl in his class. He let us know that the teacher wouldn't let her play kickball with them because boys and girls weren't supposed to play sports together. We told him that the next time that happens that he doesn't play unless everyone can play. We teach all of our sons to practice equality and recognize sexism every day."
AnnaMarie Houlis is a multimedia journalist and an adventure aficionado with a keen cultural curiosity and an affinity for solo travel. She's an editor by day and a travel blogger at HerReport.org by night.