The newspapers and news channels are full of disturbing headlines on the ever increasing brutalization of women. Media, social activists, youth leaders, politicians, and lawmakers are crying hoarse for fast track courts, stringent laws, increased patrolling and more. Some go a step further and decide that girls should follow the protocol of dressing, walking and talking in a certain way to avoid getting raped or molested!
But what we fail to understand is that apart from stringent laws and committed law keepers we also need a massive shift in attitude and revamp of our cultural ethos. It’s about time, we look into our homes and redefine roles. It’s about time we raise our sons with more sensitivity and compassion.
Feminism has become a fashionable word. “We may have begun to raise our daughters like our sons, but for the social fabric to change, we must also work towards raising our sons like our daughters, embracing empathy and compassion.”
As responsible parents, the onus is on us to raise sensitive sons. If required, we must break cultural shackles, give a bolt to conventional notions, do things differently from our earlier generations to establish a new order that gives primary importance to dignity, compassion, and acceptance irrespective of gender and role.
“As a mother, and a woman, I’d be proud if my son can heal a heart, rather than move a mountain.”
The little rat always refuses to look straight for a picture!
Here are a few things we can consciously do while raising a son:
- Allow your son to express his emotions freely: Most boys, from an early age, are taught to act tough and repress their emotions. “Boys don’t cry”, “Boys don’t get scared”, “Don’t be a sissy” are common phrases we hear in families. Fear, pain, and hurt are gender neutral emotions. Do not do the mistake of discriminating gender on the basis of emotions. Do not use “like a girl” as a humiliation. Boys are as human as girls and feel the same emotions, which if they are unable to express creates immense stress within them.
- Help your son cultivate empathy: Empathy, the ability to understand another person’s feelings — develops over time. Children as young as two display empathy. Children learn by observation. When we scream or humiliate our house help, they observe. When we are uncourteous to the waiter who serves us, they observe. When the parents abuse each other during a fight, they observe. Cultivate and practice empathy as a family culture.
- Set home rules that are gender neutral: It is important to raise our children as persons and not as mascots of their respective genders. Allocate house work and chores based on ability and availability and not based on gender. Cut off time for parties and night outs should be same for both genders. Children must get the message clearly that they are equally important to parents as individuals and not because of their genders.
- Speak about women respectfully: We may not be aware, but there are subtleties in how we talk about women that boys pick up on, and adopt unconsciously. Associating morality or judging a woman’s worth in terms of the length of her skirt, the color of her lipstick or the tattoo on her neck has implications for how boys perceive the value of women. Display respect and compassion to women within your family – wife, mother, sister, and others based on their roles, achievements, and individual strengths. Remember, your son is watching you, to become you.
- Teach them that all women have the ability to achieve success: We are living in a time when women have broken many glass ceilings. Women are achieving professional excellence and success based on their merit and hard work. It is often difficult for men to accept women bosses and colleagues. Hence it is important for us to sensitize our boys from an early age to respect merit and hard work and the fact that women have the ability to achieve success just as men do.
- Teach sons to take care of themselves: We don’t need statistics here to prove that worldwide women still do significantly more housework than their male partners. In today’s times when both partners are breadwinners, the old model will only create more friction and broken families. As parents, we must focus on making our boys independent and capable of caring for himself and others, and not take pride in making him dependent on someone else for all his needs. That’s a sure way of raising dysfunctional boys.
- Encourage your sons to befriend girls: It is wrong to encourage same sex play mates and activities. Boys who have girls as their playmates are more empathetic to girls and their needs and are better at problem-solving and communication.
- Don’t underestimate the power of no: “No” is a powerful word and has a deeper meaning. Do not use it as a negotiation tool. A no means a no. If there is a scope for negotiation use alternative messaging like “We can discuss that over dinner”, or “Let’s see how we can work that out” or “I will think about it and let you know”. Boys must understand the power of no from an early age, and that a ‘no’ will not change into a ‘yes’ with nagging, threatening, bullying or violence.
- Be true to your words: Actions speak louder than words. Your actions that support or propagate feminism and gender equality have profound and long lasting impact on your children. Take a stand when you need to and lead by example if you face spousal abuse or are expected to comply with social norms that demand submission as part of your gender identity or when you witness or experience aggression. Never let your son feel that your words are in conflict with your action.
- Power of apology and forgiveness: In most households, men seldom apologize even for the gravest mistake or sin they may have made. Men are not raised to be apologetic. Boys raised in families where seeking apology is a seen as a sign of weakness and submission, are more aggressive and combative, while boys raised in a culture where seeking apology is seen as a healthy and important for building strong family ties are collaborative and compassionate.
Raising a boy is hard… Raising a boy, to be the man of honor and compassion you want him to be is harder.
“The tragedy of machismo is that a man is never quite man enough. “
The world today needs more compassionate and empathetic men – men with strong characters and stronger values, men who display respect and acceptance for women.
Let’s pledge to make our boys into such men.
Namrata, I rate it as one of the best articles on the topic. And with women performing astoundingly well in their careers, most ‘boys’ will not only have to work with women to get the work done in teams but will get women bosses. And, I have seen so many ‘boys’ struggling to face this reality. So, the other dimension of why boys need it is as Daniel Goleman (of E.Q. fame) said “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far”.
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