To me, one of the first steps toward a more equal society is raising boys and girls free from gender stereotypes. Children should grow up believing their sex in no way limits, or even shapes, what they are capable of achieving. However, it is simply not enough for girls to be told they can be whatever they want unless we also raise boys to feel comfortable filling the roles the girls may vacate. The 3rd wave of feminism finds women with greater access to same education and job opportunities that traditionally were only offered to men, yet women are still largely expected to handle the bulk of the domestic chores. Arlie Russel Hoshschild refers to this as “The Second Shift” and wrote a book on the subject. The 2nd wave of feminism envisioned a world where women were allowed to do it all. Today, I see a society where women are often forced to do it all because some of our men haven’t picked up the slack.
Knowing this, my husband and I felt it was important to raise our boys in an environment that exemplifies equality. Aside from hyphenating our names together to show solidarity and respect for each other’s individuality, my husband and I wanted our children to see of us each getting our educations, working inside or outside the home doing whatever fulfilled us, and handling the household chores or parenting tasks as a team.
We also felt that it was important to support and encourage our kids to express inter-gender play. Whereas some fathers would simply forbid their son playing with dolls, we find it a necessary step in any child’s development. The way we see it, if you raise a boy to believe that only girls play with baby dolls, then they are more likely to grow up believing that only women handle baby care. If only the women are responsible for caring for baby, then she is not an equal partner in that parenting relationship. I know too many fathers who would never be caught dead changing a diaper or giving their baby a bath because that’s considered womens’ work. Well, I think that’s parents’ work and anyone incapable or unwilling to change a diaper ought not to have had a baby. Imagine how harshly a woman would be judged if she hired someone to change every one of her baby’s diapers – would she be considered a “good” mother? Certainly not in this society. Yet somehow, we tolerate this out of some men. But really, if we raise boys to believe that baby dolls are toys only girls should play with, what can you really expect?
Conversely, if a girl is raised to believe that only boys are allowed to handle tools or know about cars, then we are crippling our daughters’ sense of self esteem and independence. Women buy 60% of the new cars sold in the US, and make 80% of the car purchase decisions in a household, so how will she know what she’s buying if she’s always been told that girl’s don’t need to know a 4-cylinder from a 6-cylinder?
I am now a mother to a daughter who I will raise to believe in feminist goals, but I also believe that I may be doing the world an even greater service by raising feminist sons. It’s one thing for women to want to be equal, to try to be equal, and to even feel equal, but it is yet another for the men in our lives to step up to the equality plate and support our quest for equality.