After 100 years of suffrage, women are still doing most of the work in the house never mind working outside it for less pay. So how do we break this cycle and build a truly equal dynamic for the next generation? Jessie Collins looks at five ways we can help foster equality by raising feminist boys.
Parent with another feminist
You could say this is just the baseline, and it's something I’d like to believe that women in same sex relationships are automatically guaranteed to do, but for those of us fishing in the other pool, this can be a little less of a given (it’s actually surprising the amount of dinosaurs that are masquerading as 21st century specimens out there). Not all feminist men look like Justin Trudeau and Barack Obama, but even the most down at heel progressive, equal opportunities lover is more attractive in the long term than a James Bond type. You can bet your 20%motherhood pay cut that James Bond doesn’t change nappies, or put your needs first, and there’s a reason they call him a lady killer. None of them are good.
2. Educate your son/nephew/ward
Not just about how to run and leap and jump, how to kick a ball, and all the other traditional stuff we are supposed to impart , but in equality, and the lack of it. Educate them about how women have only recently become fully recognised, equal citizens in law, and are far off being that in practice yet. Tell them about the gender pay gap, and the marriage ban, and the lack of female political representation. Point out when they are watching the news how many male central characters there are in politics and business and how few women. Teach them to respect all people and that words matter so they never descend into locker room talk.
Don’t let them grow up in ignorance about how their mother or their sisters' bodies work. It’s extraordinary to me how many Irish men reach 18 or 21, or 36 for that matter, with little or no realisation that their mother has a period every month, and what exactly that means. We share in the blame, we still tend to keep that information to ourselves. Given many of them will have to engage with grown up women, parenthood and childbirth at some point, it’s important boys know and understand how everything works.
Train them, retrain ourselves
They need to master cooking and cleaning, pure and simple. If there is going to be one difference we can make to our daughters' and sons' generation and the relationships they will have together, it is the sharing of the domestic load, something that is still shamefully weighted on women’s shoulders. The fact is domestic chores are not gender-specific. My own daughter has unfortunately taken after me in her lack of love of housework, my son however is obsessed with hoovering and cooking. The amount of reaction we get when people see him, at two years old, actively hoovering, demonstrates just how pre-conditioned we still areas a society. People think it’s a hoot, which is grand but is missing the point. We have got to stop picturing women and girls with hoovers and boys without them.
Women are known for their interconnectedness, we tend to be the conduit by which our family’s socialising happens. But there is an art to socialising that can be taught. We expect it of girls, that they chat, from an early age, and engage, and the fact that boys can tend to be slightly less quick off the mark linguistically can sometimes make it seem like they are less interested or drawn to conversation. I don’t think that’s true but somehow boys are often seen as more lone creatures, and are not asked to integrate in family gatherings as much as their female counterparts. But some of the most highly valued skills in our modern job economy, skills seen as more female in the past such as working together, empathy and dedication, are ones that can be taught and can be learnt. Encourage eye contact with adults and quality engagement.
Mix it Up
There is a weight of evidence to suggest that kids who play with the opposite sex are better problem solvers and communicators, all highly prized skills. There is no question that segregating children from an early age according to gender is unnatural, and can lead to a skewed vision of the world. In Ireland we are at a particular disadvantage, with almost one-third of schools single sex, something that is almost unprecedented in Europe. Research has found in recent years that teaching in mixed schools tends to be more focused on active learning with a positive learning environment in general. But the benefits of having a level playing field from a gender perspective is not just about education in terms of academia, it’s also about socialisation, so mix the company at play dates and birthday parties. The more normal integration is, the more natural it will become as time goes on.
Photo credit: Edward Cisneros, Unsplash