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Raising my feminist son

One of my proudest moments in parenting to date happened today.

I was editing Tiktok videos on the sofa *ahem* when Fatty came up to me and said, “You’ll be glad to hear this”.

So the kids are big Roblox fans (in addition to Minecraft) and they’ve recently been absorbed in this Roblox game called Bloxburg.  From what I can tell, it’s essentially The Sims for us 80s and 90s babies but to this Gen Z (or whatever gen our kids are), it’s the bomb.

Roblox is an online gaming platform so when they play Bloxburg, it’s with other kids online all in the game.  Today they were playing on it  when apparently, some boy on it said, “Boys are better than girls.”

To which my seven year old son replied, “No they’re not!  Boys and girls are all equal!  Girls are strong too.”

I don’t know if it incited a big debate in Bloxburg or what but apparently the boy who said it then apologized for it!  Fighter told me he said, “Sorry I said boys are better”.

I am on my way to raising a feminist. T_________T

Not just a feminist, but a rabble rousing one who can actually change other boys’ minds. T______T

(Also, I say on my way cos he’s only seven and we have some way to go before he’s done growing up.)

I always knew I wanted to raise my children as feminists.  Feminism doesn’t mean touting that women are better either; it’s just the idea that men and women, boys and girls are equal and deserve equal opportunities and rights.  I am a feminist.  I went to Mount Holyoke College, the oldest women’s college in the US and there’s no way you could come out of there and not be a strong believer in equal gender rights and opportunities hahahaha.

Raising a daughter to be strong and recognize her own value and to break barriers etc etc is kinda like the norm now.  But what’s equally as important – or maybe even more so – is raising our sons differently from what boys have always been told to behave.

Gloria Steinem once said “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”

We now teach our girls that they can achieve anything, to dream big and aim for the stars, that they’re strong and clever.  That they can be girly, that they can play with dolls but also monster trucks if that’s what they want.  But what do we do with boys?  We still tell them big boys don’t cry, that pink is a girl’s color, that they need to “be a man” or “man up”.  This kind of thinking creates a very narrow and toxic definition of what it means to be a man – that being a man means showing no vulnerability, that men are supposed to be the breadwinner, that men should not deign or be bothered with “women’s work” (which may include but not limited to caregiving, raising children or housework).

We don’t ask our daughters to “woman up” – why then do we tell boys to “man up”, as if being a man is a goal to attain, one which they need to constantly work towards, instead of just being?

When I go to the bookstore there are tons of books targeted specifically at teaching girls to be courageous, or strong, or independent — traits traditionally associated with masculinity.  There are modern retellings of traditional fairytales in which the princesses have a lot more agency and fight for their happy endings rather than wait to be saved by princes.  There are books focusing solely on inspiring, barrier breaking female figures – Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart and the like.  But try as I could, I could not find any books targeted at little boys to teach them strength, or gentleness, or kindness.  Is this because there are enough superhero stories out there that we don’t feel like we need to show little boys what strength is anymore?  Is it because we think there are enough male figures around for boys to look up to?  I seriously wondered at this.

There were no books celebrating boys (or men) in typically female pursuits.

Fighter is not a typical boy — he’s not into guns or cars or pirates.  He’s obsessed with trivia,  skyscrapers, historical facts, natural disasters (lolol) and stuffed animals.  He’s also extremely gentle and sensitive.  Where were the role models and stories for a little boy who isn’t into superheroes (because they fight wars and Fighter prefers peace haha)?  I remember being frustrated at one point at the lack of children’s literature I saw out there when it comes to showcasing strength in non typical macho ways.  (One exception I found is the Little People Big Dream series.)

So what do we need to do in order to raise feminist boys?  I think it all boils down to not enforcing gender stereotypesI don’t know all the answers and I’m sure there is lots of room for discussion and learning!  But here are some of the things that I can think of that we do with Fighter.

Don’t enforce gender stereotypes

When Fighter was two or three, his favorite color was pink and his favorite character was Hello Kitty.  Okay I suspect this is due to my influence la hahahaha he liked whatever mommy liked.  One day after recently starting preschool though, he came home and declared that his favorite color was now blue, because “pink is a girl’s color”.  Apparently green, blue, black and white are boys colors and all the warm shades like pink, red, purple belong to the ladies. 0_o

It made me a little sad, not gonna lie, that he went out into the big world and received news that his color preference was deemed too girly and therefore unsuitable for him as a boy. 🙁

My children are very much entrenched in gender stereotypes when it comes to colors unfortunately hahaha.  Penny identifies with very femininely associated  – like baby dolls and pink and unicorns and Fighter is into green and blue, and sometimes orange because he has this orange tshirt which is supposedly damn comfortable wtf.  But sometimes Penny asks for a blue plate in a restaurant or something and Fighter a pink, and I just give them whatever they like.  Sometimes they both want the blue and Fighter would say but blue is not for girls in an effort to win wtf, but I reply that there are no colors specific for girls or boys and they accept it.  These are tiny things that don’t seem to make a difference – I mean, colors?! -but they add up.

Allow him to play with whatever he wants

This is a big part in not enforcing gender stereotypes I think.  So the other day, to cope with the monotony of CMCO, we decided to take the kids out for a treat.  We took them to Toysrus and let them each pick a toy.  Penny rambang mata too many choices hahaha but Fighter couldn’t see anything he liked.  In the end he asked if he could take a look at the girl’s section.  Without batting a lash, we said sure, and he picked this little guy out:

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Some funny thing that came inside a plastic box shaped to look like a popsicle.  It’s purple and pink with eyelashes so clearly meant to appeal to little girls but Fighter chose it.  He named him Rufus hahahahaha.

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Fighter has always loved soft toys and I don’t see anything wrong with that lo!  He once went through a phase where he was obsessed with toy household appliances and we just rolled with it.  But I drew the line at a second toy washing machine wtf.  But we’ve purchased Polly Pockets and Mel Chan dolls for him too.

Even up till today, when Fighter and Penny play, one of their favorite games which they can spend hours on is “Barbie Doll House”.  They take out Penny’s Barbie house and her assorted Barbies and Disney princesses, and their stuffed animals and create an entire township in the playroom, complete with houses for the dolls and roads.  And they just role play.  Which is actually what me and my brother did as kids – we transformed our shared bedroom into a ‘country’ for our soft toys we called Babyland LOL.

Some people might think but Barbie and her hot pink branding is a different matter. Fatty and I have never made a big deal about this so neither Fighter or Penny see anything unusual about the way they play.

Don’t tell him “big boys cannot cry”

I really hate this.  Why boys cannot cry boys got no feelings one is it!?  Sometimes I hear male relatives saying this to Fighter and it triggers me like crazy.  Crying is a normal reaction to sadness, grief, hurt and pain.  Everyone cries – or feels like crying at some point.  But society states that crying is for girls, or girls are supposed to cry and boys are supposed to get angry.  This is super toxic masculinity right here because it does not give boys (and men) the space needed to process, acknowledge and release their emotions.  It teaches them that they aren’t allowed to feel sad or hurt or blue.  Suppressed emotions frequently devolve into suppressed rage (cough school shootings cough) and I’m sure into a potential host of unhealthy relationships with other people and themselves.

Introduce to them heroes from both genders

So as I mentioned earlier, one of our favorite series is the Little People Big Dreams one because each book features an inspiring historical figure, beautiful illustrations and their stories told in simple language.  Some of the male role models I really liked were Mahatma Gandhi and Stephen Hawking because of the focus on values of peaceful struggle (as opposed to you know, fighting super villains wtf).  They also have a lot of really good female figures – from Audrey Hepburn to Frida Kahlo to Marie Curie.

So that’s what I try to do – tell them stories about heroes from both genders.  We’ve gone through Joan of Arc and Mulan, which started a whole discussion about why girls weren’t allowed in the army back then, and why Mulan had to pretend to be a boy.  I explained that back then, people didn’t know better and thought that girls weren’t as strong or as smart as boys and they were expected to stay at home.  Fighter got very indignant about this and exclaimed, “What!  That’s silly – Penny is stronger than me! She can carry me!” LOL.  And Penny nodded sagely as if to affirm this HAHAHAHAHA.

And afterward, even up till today Fighter would come up to me and ask again why were people last time so silly, why would they think girls are weaker because they’re not. (maybe got whacked by Penny too many times wtf kidding hahahaa)

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I think this was what really inspired Fighter to speak out in that Roblox game, to be honest.

 

Which brings me to….

Speak out against injustice 

When Fighter was entering preschool, as overly worried first time parents, we were concerned he would get bullied in school due to his small size and gentle nature.  So it started with us coaching him to say “No!” if anyone made him feel bad. Lolol.  But as he grew, I also started to tell him speak up or tell a teacher if he ever saw any bullying going on.  He has a very pronounced sense of justice and fairness (which I think came from me wtf) so this came naturally as part of our discussions.

Bullying and harassment can happen in school and I think it’s common for boys to just go along with their peers and not speak out even if they see something wrong.

There’s a stereotype that “boys will be boys” which may further let harmful behavior go unchecked.  Peer pressure is very hard to resist though, and I expect its influence to increase as they grow older.  But a good beginning step would be to get them to recognize what harmful behavior looks like and teach them that being strong is doing the right thing, not going along with the wrong.

Equal household chores

We have helpers at home so don’t say gender specific chores or what, more like my kids would just not have any chores at all to do if I didn’t step up wtf.  It’s important for them to learn survival skills ok which include housework!  Don’t be like me wtf.  The truth is, growing up I didn’t have that many chores to do – maybe my parents indulged us; the most I had to do was the dishes, set and clear the table for meals, keep my own room neat and maybe wash my school shoes wtf.

So we’ve been working on getting the children to help out with small chores at home.  Stuff like tidy their own beds in the morning, bring the dog out for potty time and wash away his pee, bring their dishes to the sink after eating, etc.  We don’t classify chores for example, washing dishes or cooking or babysitting as women’s work, or say, gardening as men’s work.  Actually they’re supposed to wash their own dishes too but my plates are very heavy and Penny already dropped one wtf so this one gotta put on the back burner a bit hahahaha.

Teach them empathy

Girls are often raised to have empathy – we give them baby dolls and soft toys and cooking sets to play with, and when they grow up, very often they are expected to do the the majority of childcare or shoulder the care of old parents.  Boys are taught to be “tough and rough and ruthless and strong” and many men naturally see childcare is a woman’s job.  It is then our job as parents to teach boys empathy as well.  For example, we could let them babysit younger children, let them take care of a pet, or help with sick or older relatives.

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This was one of the reasons why we chose to get Butters, as we wanted to get the kids thinking about caring for smaller beings.  Ironically among them, Fighter is the empathetic one, while Penny can be quite unaware of people’s feelings hahahaha.  When we took Butters for his vaccinations, Fighter couldn’t bear it and turned away and cried.  Penny watched interestedly.  Butters just sat there like a stone with no reaction to the injection WTF.

Don’t use “like a girl” in a derogatory way

“You hit like a girl”.  This kind of sentence is so common in our culture even today.  Even I have caught myself thinking or saying stuff like that, so entrenched is it in the way we perceive others around us.  Like, “yer why so sensitive like a girl” wtf smack my own mouth.  I am trying to be very careful with what I say in front of the kids cos I don’t want to pass down this sort of behavior.

I’m sure there are lots of other things out there we can watch out for and do to help the kids not get stuck in toxic masculinity and machoness.  There are tons of resources online too if you want to read more about raising kids as gender equals.

Feel free to leave a comment to share your thoughts or how you do it with the children in your life!