We need to teach our boys that they’re an integral part of gender-equality solutions (and not just bystanders).
One of the goals of the steadily-growing gender-equality movement is for the next generation of young men and women to grow up in a society where mutual respect, support, and a shared sense of responsibility is the norm. To make that a reality, it’s crucial to engage boys in the process. But how can we do that? We convince them that gender-equality success is actually a good thing for everybody, not just girls. Here are some thoughts:
Flattery still works
It’s so important that boys know the enormous positive impact they can have on gender-equality progress. Without their participation, we run the risk of continuing to be held back by outdated gender norms. The best way to engage boys is with positive reinforcement (AKA bribery or strategic parenting). If you lavish a boy with praise every time he stands up for a girl who’s being treated unfairly, he’ll keep doing it. Eventually it will catch on and other boys around him will do it too. (One can hope!)
Make a concerted effort to praise your boy every time he says or does something to support girls’ and women’s rights. Compliment him extensively when he includes girls in a traditionally-male activity. Not just a quick ‘thanks’ but really look him in the eyes and tell him he did the right thing and he should be very proud of himself.
This is not a lose-lose situation
The biggest hurdle to teaching boys that gender equality is good for them too, and not just good for girls, is convincing them that they’re not giving anything up. Just the opposite in fact. They’re actually gaining from gender equality because they’ll have less work, which means they’ll have more opportunity to show off their skills and finish their work sooner.
Here’s an example. Suppose your boy is really good at a math project he’s working on at school. But only boys are allowed to participate (so wrong!). But if boys include girls in the project, half of their workload would be eliminated and they’d be able to focus on the part(s) of the project they’re really good at. Plus they could finish their project way sooner.
Gender equality isn’t about teaching boys how to be decent men. Rather, I think it’s more about teaching them how to be decent human beings. If we can repeatedly reinforce respect and good manners, being fair to girls will hopefully become part of boys’ daily routine.
One of the best ways for boys to learn how to be respectful is by watching the most consistent authority figure in their life. Kids learn more from what we do than from what we say. For example, if he sees you hold the door open for someone who has their hands full, he’ll apply the same logic to scenarios in his own life. Make sure he’s watching.
Teach non-traditional skills to boys too
We teach girls how to code, encourage them to study STEM, and dissuade them from being limited by their gender. That’s fantastic and a giant step in the right direction. But we need to give boys the same message by actively encouraging them to pursue careers in nursing, teaching, or any other traditionally female-dominated fields.
Take the time to show your boy how you usually empty the dishwasher, set the table, vacuum, or sew on a button. The next time one of those chores needs doing, ask him to help you do it. The time after that, he should be able to do it on his own. (It’s okay if it’s not perfect. Wink. Wink.)
One last thought. Convincing boys that they’re an integral part of the gender-equality solution is not a once-and-done effort. Instead, it should be a series of ongoing, casual conversations, actions, and positive reinforcements. Make it a part of your daily parenting routine.
Originally published at https://www.deiforparents.com
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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