What the NY Times Missed – How to Raise a Feminist Son

by Boysen Hodgson

There is a trending topic this morning from @NYTimes based on the article “How to Raise a Feminist Son.”

Overall, the advice offered in the column – from my perspective – was excellent! It’s the kind of encouragements, boundaries, and awareness that I strive to bring to my parenting every day (for my son AND my daughter!). Claire Cain Miller did well, collecting research based tips from across a spectrum of disciplines, including A Call to Men’s @TonyPorterACTM, economists, social science and psychology researchers and a lot more.

Unsurprisingly, the backlash on twitter was swift and predictable from a handful of anti-feminist individuals. First guess is they didn’t actually read the article. And my deeper assumption is that they haven’t gotten enough of the one thing I think the article misses.

A couple standouts on the positive:

Give Him Role Models

Boys are particularly responsive to spending time with role models, even more than girls, research shows. There is growing evidence that boys raised in households without a father figure fare worse in behavior, academics and earnings. One reason, according to the economists David Autor and Melanie Wasserman, is they do not see men taking on life’s responsibilities. “Put good men in the space of your son,” Mr. Porter said.

Miller also brings out the importance of having strong female role models in a boy’s life and being conscious about celebrating women modeling characteristics outside typical gender roles, which I think is very important. I would add that drawing attention to male role models who are outside the heteronormative gender box is equally as important.

Celebrate Boyhood

So roughhouse, crack jokes, watch sports, climb trees, build campfires. Teach boys to show strength — the strength to acknowledge their emotions. Teach them to provide for their families — by caring for them. Show them how to be tough — tough enough to stand up to intolerance. Give them confidence — to pursue whatever they’re passionate about.

And here is what is left out.

Help Boys Learn Self-Love, Self-Acceptance, and Self-Soothing.

It’s easy to see how in an academic research frame, it would be hard to go ‘woo woo’ in studies about what we need to teach boys and young men. But it seems fundamental from my perspective, having worked with hundreds of men over the past dozen years, that an incredible obstacle to helping boys (and men) stand for girls and women is their inability to love or respect themselves.

When was the last time you had a conversation with your son (or yourself) about loving himself (yourself)? When was the last time you heard a male singer talk about valuing himself, loving himself, honoring his inherent value? When was the last time you helped a boy or man learn more about how to care for himself: to self-sooth in an upset?

Many of our boys grow up in a culture of toxic shame; surrounded by adults of both sexes who reflect back to them a message that they are a potential vector for violence. And for many boys, the men they have as role models are frequently in one of two camps: striving mightily to hide, repress, and deny everything that might put them in the ‘bad guy’ category, or conversely, saying ‘screw it’ and buying in 100% to the toxic *hegemonic* masculinity (and imposing this on their sons).

If you want my best advice for raising a feminist son … teach him how to love himself. With security, self-awareness, and no investment in a zero-sum gender game, I bet he’ll be a champion for girls and women. After all, it’s 2017.

 

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