It’s not enough to raise a feminist

I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling like March has been a hotpot of emotions – one that has reached boiling point more than once. This month we’ve celebrated International Women’s Day, seen women raise their voices against gendered violence, and followed the ongoing allegations of sexual assault in Parliament House. It’s been a lot to unpack for women and men alike. Many are unsatisfied with PM Scott Morrison’s response, and all of this has sparked much conversation and debate about sexism and violence against women. As we’ve watched the last few weeks unfold, I can’t help but feel we’re left with the question – beyond all this talk, what has actually changed? 

Women are finding strength in their collective voices and yes this is progression, but our cries for change are still falling on deaf male ears. 

These events have forced me to stand back and examine my own role in this ongoing struggle – beyond being a (loud) feminist voice for myself and for other women, how can I create meaningful change for our future generations of women?

For the longest time, I dreamed of having a daughter and raising her to be confident, assertive, and boldly vulnerable. To teach her to know her worth and accept nothing less than complete equality. To save her from falling prey to the same gendered discrimination and exploitation that I endured growing up; and still do in many ways. 

But I don’t have a daughter (yet), I have a son. A beautiful, innocent baby boy.

Up to this point, I had naturally considered that I would need to teach him how to become a good, kind and decent man – to value and respect women as equals. To understand that women are more than sexual beings; they are capable and deserving of everything he is, and he is equally capable and responsible for parenting and domestic duties. It made me proud to think about the man he would become, under my watchful feminist eye.

Now though, I understand that it’s not enough to raise a feminist. If we truly want to plant the seed of change for our future generations, we need to raise allies.

It’s not enough to teach our sons to understand how to see women, we also need to shine a light on how they see themselves. We need to raise our sons to be aware of their male privilege and to use it as a platform to elevate women. To not just see and respect women as equals, but to speak up loudly against those who don’t and call out bad behaviour. To actively pursue and create the change that is needed, because anything less than that is unacceptable.

Erin Tatum has articulated it well in her article for Everyday Feminism:

“Just because you’re not actively or intentionally sexist or misogynistic doesn’t mean that you aren’t involved in creating an environment that perpetuates those forces…Passivity is still complicity.”

I almost feel naive for thinking my own feminist values would simply “rub off” on to my son, because in an ideal world this would be the case. Unfortunately, the world we live in is full of problematic influences. 

It is more apparent than ever, thanks to a viral speech from Brisbane Boys’ College Captain Mason Black that our sons will be inevitably be exposed to misogynistic influences that will threaten to undo any good work we have done in our own homes. They will have peers, friends even, who objectify women, degrade women, and take advantage of women, simply because they can.

As Tatum points out, even the media is responsible for glamourising unintentional sexism:

“Think about how male/female interaction and male/female friendship is portrayed in the media: Romantic implications almost immediately overshadow every dynamic. We’re not taught to envision relationships that don’t have a sexualized end goal.”

So how do you raise a male ally when even unintentional sexism and gendered violence is so deeply rooted within our social constructs? Such a task surely requires an ever-evolving, dynamic strategy. But as a starting point, this is what I plan to do:

– Model equality with my partner within our household through shared responsibility for domestic and parenting duties, and respectful unbiased behaviours.

– Allow our son to feel a full range of emotions and never make him feel as though being vulnerable is weak or wrong for either men or women.

– Teach him about gender equality and allow him to play how he wants without gendered constructs or expectations.

– Teach him to understand his male privilege and unintentional male entitlement.

– Teach him about sexuality, sexual intimacy and the inaccuracies of pornography.

– Keep a close eye on his social influences and whether he is being exposed to toxic masculinity and misogyny in his interactions.

– Create opportunities for him to demonstrate equality and empower him to speak up for girls or women when they aren’t able to

It is clear to me now that we need to raise our sons to understand that not only can they no longer be part of the problem, but they need to step up and actively become the solution. 

We need men to not only allow women to speak but to speak up for women themselves, and we need this behaviour to be born from a true belief in equality, not just chivalrous efforts seeking “deserved” reward.

It might not be all men who are responsible for violence against women, but it’s no longer enough to be #notallmen. It’s no longer enough to be the nice guy; to not be the problem.

I used to think the solution was protecting women, now I understand it’s just as much about educating men.

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