“Raising a strong daughter is a piece of cake compared to raising a feminist son in my family. It's been a lot more challenging... it's like being a dude and being a feminist is still not macho.”
LISA ON RAISING HER SON (15) AND DAUGHTER (12)
PORTLAND | OREGON
Times are changing
I feel like the moment that we're in now is so different than the moment when my kids were little, a decade ago. There’s a lot more discussion around consent, like how if a kid doesn’t want to kiss grandma, that’s okay. There are these basic things about treating people and all humans with respect, giving kids the tools to be able to speak up, and allowing parents to be able to intervene. All of these resources that set people up. Here's the ten things you can do with your kids during kindergarten that will set them up to be respectful humans and be feminists basically.
Raising a feminist son vs. daughter
There are so many stories of young girls who have horrible experiences with boys who haven't been informed or educated. Little boys haven’t been taught to be feminists and to treat girls and women with respect.
The little girls, however, were all set up with the whole “girl power” thing. Girls were having those empowering t-shirts and Girls, Inc. initiatives. All these girls are running around putting their fists up in the air. I think the boys didn’t really understand it all. They were like, “What's going on?" What's wrong with me and why are they so special?”
Raising a strong daughter is a piece of cake compared to raising a feminist son in my family. It's been a lot more challenging.
It's really hard to pick it apart and understand parts you contribute to and what you’ll let slide because there are certain gender biases. As a female raised in our culture, you have a certain way you perceive males which affects how you are seeing your son. Vice versa with my husband. I'm much more lenient with my son and my husband is much more lenient with my daughter. We don’t mean to but we definitely notice it. It's complicated.
Privilege and explaining feminism
I had the thought that we need more good men in the world. As I started doing various research and watching various kinds of movies and whatnot, I realized we need good boys along the path. It became a big interest of mine. When men are older, they have their full brain already wired and little boys are still malleable.
I have a 55-year-old white husband and a 15-year-old white son. Privilege is a sensitive and complex thing. We need to understand it, own it, and then do something with it when you get there. There's no guilt. Guilt is if you're just wandering around oblivious. I've come from a conservative family with lots of people who are willfully oblivious or just decided that they don't agree, and my son sees that, so he'd rather be on my side. Although generally speaking, the issue is more of a teen thing and I know not all teens are the same, but it is like if I say x then he will do y. So when I say we should all be feminists, my son doesn't want to be a feminist even though he is.
What should I do with that? I’ve talked to him about it in the 30-second conversation spurts we have. He doesn't really know where to put that. I tell my son that this is what a feminist is, they believe in equality and equity, they believe this and that, and he's like, yeah, yeah, yeah. He believes it all. He buys it. However, it's like being a dude and being a feminist is still not macho.
Outside influences are super powerful. If I had my druthers, my son would never have listened to misogynistic music, some of which is fairly grim. I can't have him not listen to the same music that everyone else is listening to. It’s really hard because then you're sort of the one who is over-policing. I always feel like I'm the only one doing it even though I'm sure I'm not the only one that has that kind view. There's a lot of leniency in terms of what kids can listen to and watch. I whine about it, but I guess it's just reality. I think peers have incredible influence and I guess you could think about having your kids not hanging out with certain people but what kid likes being controlled? My son does not like us controlling him. So you have to really pick your battles wisely.
My husband is supportive. Generally, we have different approaches and that’s helpful but sometimes he needs to be the reinforcer. There was a time when my son, he was about 12 at that time, had a friend over and they were upstairs listening to music. Little did they know that their phones were connected to the house speaker and it was coming out downstairs and I could listen to the music they were playing. It was like horribly violent music and I just about lost it.
I had to lock myself in the bedroom so I didn't rip the house apart, pretty much. I had to ask my husband to talk to him. I felt at that moment he needed to hear it from a man, which, I could be wrong, I could be right, and I still don't know. But I felt like it was important for me to be reinforced. I wasn't just the reactionary female and that I needed my husband to double down and tell him- here's why that’s really affecting your mom and why it's really not cool to listen it and why I don't listen to it. He did it it but it was not easy for him because he doesn’t like confrontation. We’re on the same page but our approach on delivery still needs work. He needs a little more exposure on these topics. I spend a lot of time reading books about hyper-sexualization of girls and on these types of issues so I’m more well-versed.
My kids are 12 and 15 so they're like almost the same age. Because they’re different genders, they talk a lot about dating and appearance and I feel like they have each other to bounce things off of.
They have each other and I feel like he's goIng to hear from her in a way he can't hear from me. Here's a good example: she just got her period like a month ago and she doesn't want her brother to know because, based on his history and past behavior, she's pretty sure he's going to make fun of her. Of course he might not and that's just her perception, but she’s probably right. So it makes me crazy to think I can teach him everything but yet they are who they are.
This comes back to that thing I said initially about raising a good man. I want to raise a good boy along the way so my son could turn out to be a wonderful man who's a total feminist.
Participating with her
I went with my daughter and another mom and her daughter to a movie (Eight Grade) and there was one scene that was a little advanced, but it was good for her to see. There was a scene in the backseat of a car and the eighth-grader got mixed up in the backseat with an 11th-grader and there was some definite sexual pressuring.
Nothing horrible happened, but it was very uncomfortable. And my daughter leaned over in the middle of it and she goes, “Why doesn’t she just kick him in the nuts?” More power to her. I hope she would do that.
With teenagers, it’s a lot of balancing. The more you talk about it, the less they want to bring stuff up. The less you talk about it, you feel like you're just letting it all happen and you're not addressing it. I often feel like I have to tell myself to put your big-girl pants on and address this. It's not going to be fun but I’m not supposed to be his best friend. I’m supposed to be their parent. But my son really feels like I'm taking my 48-year-old feminist view of the world and forcing it on him and he doesn't like it.
I think as parents we have a responsibility. I'm the grown-up here. I'm supposed to make sure that my daughter and my son are not at parties where their brain will malfunction and they will drink alcohol because of all the reasons kids do, and they will do something that's really painful for someone else or have something happen to them that's really painful, even when they're not evil people. But every time you restrict something, it’s really hard. It’s a battle and it will get ugly. Someone’s running away upstairs and crying. It’s really hard on the marriage too because everyone is angry.
So you’ve got to figure out like how would you have handled that differently? Did I handle that the right way? But again, it's more teenager parenting stuff.
My daughter thinks that her brother’s behavior is knocking the family dynamic around and she resents that. She really doesn't like the anger when that happens. But that's, again, more because of their teenage age than it is gender.
You’re your own human
I think it's interesting with parenting today versus back then. I grew up with parents who were like- we do this this way so you'll do it this way. My parenting is very different than that. My approach is I am my own human and you're your own human. I hope you are and will become an awesome human. I'm sure you will be, but I'm going to share values with you and they may be yours or they may not be, but it's my job as your parent to share mine with you. I don't expect you to love them all, but it is my job to steer them. You also get to have different ones, but I hope you err on the side of equality and things like that.