When I became a parent I was adamant that I would be a good role model for my children and try my hardest to raise them to be self confident, something that I lacked as a child and teenager which consequently resulted in a range of issues as I grew up.
In recent years there has been a lot of attention on the way we raise our daughters, we want them to be independent and emotionally secure, encouraging them to take leadership roles and push the status quo. I can see the positive impact this is having on the younger generation, and it’s exciting.
However when I had my son Reza, I realised that I needed to raise him to be as equally emotionally secure and independent. If anything, I feel that I have an even greater responsibility to help my son navigate his way through the rigid gender stereotypes that exist for males. I’m starting to understand the complexity of gender stereotypes; oversimplified ideas, messages and images about differences between males and females which have become meaningful because society has given them meaning and value.
The problem is, these out dated ideas are limiting and potentially harmful for our kids. 92% of parents believe that boys and girls should be treated equally, but despite our best intentions, even before a child is born, and then continuing throughout childhood, our world can expect certain things of them, because of their gender.
Every day I feel perplexed about what I should be teaching or role modelling to Ayla and Reza, and to be honest I feel that raising a son in this generation could be more challenging than raising a daughter.
Boys have always known they could do anything; all they had to do was look around at their presidents, religious leaders, professional athletes, at the statues that stand erect in big cities and small. Girls have always known they were allowed to feel anything — except anger. But now, girls, led by strong women, are being told they can own righteous anger. Now they can feel what they want and are encouraged to be what they want (though I recognise they still can't necessarily see women represented at all levels of power). However there’s no corresponding lesson or messaging for boys in our culture. While girls are encouraged to be not just ballerinas, but astronauts and coders, boys—who already know they can walk on the moon and dominate the corporate world—don’t receive explicit encouragement to fully access their emotions or participate in traditionally female activities.
When I look at my son, I see a beautifully gentle soul. He is sweet, calm and caring, and he’s only 7 months old. Every one of these characteristics, I want to stay with him for life. We don’t need to raise our kids with gender neutrality or deny intrinsic differences between children, but we do need to recognise that children, regardless of gender, have an innate sweetness that we, as a society, would do well to foster and preserve.
I believe that sweet, caring boys grow up to be men who recognise the strength in being vulnerable and empathetic. Men who aren’t threatened by criticism or perceived competition from people whom they deem “Other” — be it skin colour or sexual orientation or religion or education. Sweet boys are children who’ve been given, by their parents and wider society, the permission to feel everything and to express those emotions without shame.
At a young age, this should be done explicitly. As a parent I have a responsibility to invite my son to be sad, afraid, hurt, silly and affectionate, and I embrace him as often as I do my daughter. Sweet boys learn early on that they can defend themselves against loneliness by reaching out and asking for support rather than turning into people who, literally, grab for power.
Sweet boys evolve into genuine men who aren’t confused about consent and sexual boundaries, because they experience women as equals. I hope to raise a boy who becomes a loving man, someone who respects himself and others equally. His dad and I do this by loving him silly, cuddling and kissing him at every opportunity, so he knows love and what it feels like to be safe and secure. And he sees this demoNstrated by both parents.
For more information about the roles parents and family can have when it comes to smashing out dated gender stereotypes please visit the #BecauseWhy website: www.becausewhy.com.au