Once I realized that my family would be mostly male (I’m the only double-X here), I oriented myself toward the task of raising good men. But as those boys edge closer to actual manhood — as the 14-year-old’s shoulders get nearly as broad as his dad’s and the 12-year-old starts learning “embarrassing” information about sex and reproduction in his health class — I’m feeling my good-man project needs more specificity. I don’t just want them to be good. They’re already pretty good (kind, curious, mostly respectful, good huggers).
I want them to be feminists. I want them to understand, reflexively, that men and women are equal — not because I say so, but because it feels intuitive to them. Because it’s true.
My efforts began with example-setting: There’s no one adult in this house who exclusively either brings home the bacon, or cooks it. My husband and I both wield vacuums and snow shovels. Our entire early parenting journey involved almost literal juggling of the baby and the sitter, the shopping and the bill-paying.
I started talking about feminist issues with our sons when they were tots, and I basically haven’t stopped. We talk about how women are depicted in commercials and TV shows, how female politicians are sometimes characterized, and how women are often viewed or labeled in terms of their relationship to a man.
We also turn to books, which can do two things in any mom’s quest to raise feminist sons: help you educate yourself on the challenges and issues around feminism, and present your sons with stories of strong and forthright women and girls.
First, for you: You might want to pick up such books as Gloria Steinem’s recent memoir, My Life on the Road. Or delve into Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik. Both will give you a refreshed admiration for the kind of women who entered the fight for equality — from two very different perspectives — a long time ago and haven’t let up yet.
Books aimed at parents on the subject of gender generally are also good bets. Check out Pink Brain, Blue Brain, by Lise Eliot, Ph.D., which picks apart the assumption that boys’ and girls’ brains are “different.” And consider — if like me you’re raising tween or teen sons — Rosalind Wiseman’s book about the secret lives of adolescent boys, Masterminds and Wingmen.
Second, for your boys: Lots of books, from picture books through those aimed at middle grade readers and higher, feature strong female characters or tell stories that illustrate the importance of equality. Here are a few go-to reads to add to your family’s list:
Rosie is visited by her great, great aunt, who happens to be the legendary Rosie the Riveter. Reading the story of the younger Rosie’s efforts to build her aunt a flying machine might prompt you to tell your son the true tale of the women who kept the home fires and the factories burning during World War II.
(Ages 5 - 7)
Not only does a girl rule the world of the Pippi books, she’s a true original, unworried about what anyone thinks of her, a good message for girls or boys.
(Ages 7 - 10)
Among other great messages, this story of unsung (female and African American) heroines of the NASA space program makes it clear that math and science know no gender.
(Ages 8 - 12)
What other empowering stories would you recommend to boys and their moms?