2016 Is the Year I’ve Truly Learned How to Teach My Sons About Feminism

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My mother always told me that it is impolite to talk about politics and religion in front of company. Since I grew up before the time of Facebook (gasp!) this social etiquette rule was one that I upheld with vigor, lest I be seen as rude. It was not until this year, this horrible, awful, no-good, very bad year of unprecedented presidential campaign strategies that I gave up this rule of politeness in favor of using this historical moment to teach my sons how to be REAL feminists.

As my sons grew past toddlerhood and into boyhood (they’re ages 7 and 3), they began to experience influences from outside of our family. Some of those influences taught my boys that girls are not athletic, that they all like pink, that they are “girly,” and other mumbo-jumbo stuff…you know the drill. So, I thought I was doing my feminist part by pointing out that girls can run as fast as boys (sometimes faster), that girls can be scientists, that they sometimes like blue too, and all the other expected feminist explanations.

But then violent riots broke out and the Black Lives Matter movement was born. Our Muslim friends and neighbors were threatened by conservatives hoping to ban them from our country. Stories about sexual assault saturated my newsfeed. This was when I realized that teaching my sons that feminism is relegated to surface issues of pink and blue was embarrassingly devoid of substance.

In age appropriate ways my husband and I began to tell the truth about what is happening around us to our kids. Yes, we said, some white people really don’t like anyone who is not white. And this is unacceptable, irresponsible, un-American, and morally wrong. We explained what equality means, we talked about diversity and pointed out how our kids’ groups of friends are diverse and that THAT is what makes them so wonderful.

We talked about how boys and girls may have different interests, they may tend to like different things, and they may even tend to be treated differently by people who don’t understand feminism, but that at the end of the day, boys and girls — and men and women — should have equal rights.

We pointed out to our kids that they are supremely lucky to be choosing their new winter coats from a catalog. We took their older coats, mended them up, had them cleaned, and we brought them to the kids’ school and donated them to the guidance counselor because she would know which kids in the school could use a nice warm coat and she could get it to them discreetly. We talked about access to the things we need like heat, medicine, food, shelter, and safety and how that is an issue or equality, of feminism.

But all of that doesn’t feel like enough.

My husband and I talked at great length about the roles we have in our house and what these roles tell our kids about the differences between men and women. He decided to take on more of the housekeeping and I agreed to learn how to fix things, not just because we want our kids to see us modeling that gender doesn’t dictate how a family and a house run, but because in many ways this role reversal was just plain smart in order to expand our collective knowledge of where things are, how they work, and what needs to get done.

These conversations are not fast or quickly understood by our kids, and if I am being honest, my husband and I are learning more and more nuances of what true feminism — true equality — really looks like. Our kids may only understand the pink and the blue right now, but by starting these conversations early and not letting up on them, we feel confident that they will grow up to be the kind of feminist men that our country needs.

When I imagine my sons growing into men and falling in love, I want to know that they will choose partners who are strong and smart and worthy of their love, but I also want to know in my bones that everything we did as parents will lead to them treating their future partners as equals. I want to see our lessons of feminism taking root in their hearts in a manner that will help heal and change our world.

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Photo: Getty