Parenting

How to teach your children (especially your sons) about feminism


It’s important (Picture: Getty/Metro.co.uk)

We may have come a long way when it comes to feminism and the journey to equality for women, but there is still a lot to do.

One way we can tackle some of the obstacles is to break generational cycles and make feminism a normality in everyday life and conversation – and this involves broaching the topic with our children from an early age, and in the right way.

Too often, even if just by accident, we teach children gender roles and fit them in boxes, whether it’s through adding gender to the colours blue and pink, defining toys as ‘girl toys’ and ‘boy toys’ or gender-labelling careers.

We should be giving children the freedom to explore and find their own identities and, through this, we can bring about feminism in a natural way by deleting out any gender-specific notions.

That said, we need to tell our children – girls and possibly more importantly boys – what feminism is and why women and girls are still facing a fight for equality.

We want to bring up our children to be part of the solution. We want our girls to feel liberated and bold to achieve what they want to achieve. We want our boys to be part of the fight against the overruling patriarchy.

How do we do this?

Have open discussions

Because of generational cycles, your little one may come across gender inequality at school without you or them even realising.

The notions that ‘dolls are for girls and cars are for boys’ is still something that exists and, in a school-based setting, home economics is still seen as a female oriented subject when boys should be taking just as much interest in domestic skills, such as cooking and craft.

In physical education, there remains much more emphasis on which sports are for boys and which are for girls. In the real world, male football is still seen as the alpha sport and this can transcend into PE lessons as well.

Everything our child experiences in the outside world or watches online or on television will give them automatic biases and ideas that we need to spend time talking to them about.

Reiterating that both girls and boys can have any job they put their mind to, that girls and boys can both play competitive sports with huge skill and that toys do not have a gender is vital.

It works both ways – boys should be encouraged to be open about their feelings and not be belittled for crying when they are upset.

Maintain open communication (Picture: Getty Images)

Not assuming that a girl your boy is hanging out with is a girlfriend (and vice versa) with teases like ‘oh do you fancy her’ is also helpful in normalising friendships between genders and not adding fuel to the notion that girls and boys can’t just be mates. Spending time with the opposite gender is the perfect way to get an insight into their lives and so we must encourage our children to do this. It might seem a bit of fun at the time to tease boys about having a girlfriend, but that is teaching them that the only relationship you can have with a girl is romantic. On top of that, you also want your child to have the freedom of not being labelled with a sexuality from a young age.

Encourage your girls to speak to you about anything that is worrying them and ensure that you are at the forefront of championing them. But be honest with them – don’t fill them with expectations that the fight for feminism is over; just encourage them that they can flourish and while there are obstacles, every generation has a part to play in closing the gender gap.

The #MeToo movement and the gender pay gap are also things that can be discussed although with the former, care has to be taken not to frighten younger children. Just acknowledging that in many ways, women are treated in a worse way, without putting any panic or anxiety on your daughters, is enough.

You don’t have to be specific with details, just get across that it is something that is wrong and needs to change – with the help of boys just as much as girls.

Imaginative play

Children learn best through play and more often than not, playgroup and nursery settings are bursting with imaginative play from the ‘home corner’ to train sets and dolls houses and Lego.

These are just a few examples you can bring into your home and use to play and act out different contexts with your little one but letting them lead.

Giving children more scope to choose without judgment is key. If your boy wants to dress up or play with dolls, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that and if your girl loves chomping up the whole family with a giant T-Rex, then all the power to her.

You want to encourage imagination in children – and stifling their options not only makes them think they aren’t allowed certain things because of their gender but it also limits development.

Playing is powerful (Picture: Getty Images)

Lead by example

It doesn’t matter what your family situation is, all adults should play an active and equal role both in discussing feminism and championing it in the way they talk and behave.

Encourage everyone getting involved and taking equal roles in cooking, clearing up, childcare, picking up the kids from school, bedtime reading. Your family is a whole unit with no one more equal than the other – if the child takes that away with them, then they are more likely to see that in a school or work setting.

Books and TV

Books such Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls are a great resource to introduce discussion about women – both famous and non-famous – who have had success and created inspiration.

The title makes the series sound as if it’s just for girls – but it’s even more important that your boys access these stories of women.

Ensure your child also has access to media that doesn’t forever suggest that boys are the heroes and girls are the damsels in distress. Books such as Matilda by Roald Dahl, which shows a brainy girl taking down a monstrous headteacher and for older children, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, which shows Lyra as the lead heroine badass, are great examples.

Chris Colfer is an example of another author who has taken on the traditional fairy tale roles of women and turned the stories around to represent them as strong independent women.

The same applies to television, film and gaming – make sure your child is exposed to plenty of material that doesn’t rely on the desperately outdated ‘man saves woman’ plotline.

You want your children to not really care whether the character they watch or play are male or female – it should have no bearing on the experience and should not be a surprise to see a woman kicking ass or saving the world.

Because that’s what we women do – and will continue to do.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing MetroLifestyleTeam@Metro.co.uk.


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