Feminism & Raising Boys

(55 Posts)
AntiquityIsDotDotDot Sun 19-Apr-15 09:37:02

I see this pop up lots & it's also something that concerns me as I have two sons. I have certainly seen plenty of comments along the lines of feminism isn't about men when this issue comes up. But the fact is boys are children, not men, and we are raising them. Yes, a lot of unpaid parenting work goes into this & that is, in the end, working for men. But they are children, children disproportionately targeted by adult men for ridicule & corporal punish. Children also mocked by other women as well as men for perceived feminine traits.

One of my boys (and perhaps both) has autism. He will be more vulnerable to male violence as he grows up. Both will be confronted with the objectification of women & through no doubt inevitable exposure to porn be at least taught the hurt, shame & degradation of women should be what they find pleasurable.

How is parenting boy CHILDREN not a feminist issue?

AntiquityIsDotDotDot Sun 19-Apr-15 09:39:03

Typing on phone so that's not as comprehensive or perhaps makes as much sense as I would like!

cailindana Sun 19-Apr-15 09:42:28

It is a feminist issue, is the answer, and it's a tough one, because it's hard to fight against the conditioning that children face once they go out into the wider world. My own DS loves fairy costumes but has learned that that is "for girls." He still wears them at home but won't wear them in front of friends and I won't post a picture of him wearing one on facebook as I know the nasty and ignorant comments I will get from my own family. And that's just the start of it.

As long as boys are brought up to despise "girly" things then the cycle of sexism will continue and nothing will ever change.

tribpot Sun 19-Apr-15 09:44:39

I'm not sure I recognise most of the comments you describe.

Feminism is about men, it's about achieving gender equality. One of the ways that we can do that is ensure that adult men (fathers) are fully involved in parenting and that boys are educated beyond stereotypes. Educated about the effects of violence and porn, surely.

You're saying that boys are disproportionately targeted by men for corporal punishment and ridicule? Based on what? (It may be true but I'm not aware of stats to that effect). And compared to what other forms of abuse? Are you saying abuse of boys is treated less seriously than abuse of girls?

JeanneDeMontbaston Sun 19-Apr-15 09:44:52

YY, definitely a feminist issue.

Branleuse Sun 19-Apr-15 09:46:51

parenting in general is a feminist issue. Its really important to talk to boys about discrimination and issues surrounding that, just as much as girls.
My 14 year old ds has great feminist views

TondelayoSchwarzkopf Sun 19-Apr-15 10:01:54

Completely agree it's a feminist issue and also there has been so much focus on how we, as feminists, raise girls to cope in a sexist world but real change will only come when we parent boys from a feminist perspective as they hold the comparative power and privilege.

My older DS is 6 and very much into gaming, football, lego, Star Wars and typical 'male' pursuits. It has been a real struggle at times because of gendered influences everywhere from CBeebies to family and friends. At times when he was 3-5 I felt like I was living with the Taliban with some of the pronouncements he came put with on girls and boys. I have just kept on the grunt work of challenging any sexism he repeats or sees. He now has female friends who include some very strong characters and that has been beneficial,

The biggest factor in changing him though has been DH being made redundant and taking on the lion's share of 'wifework' and supporting childcare. I think that gave him a good role model and it also helped DH understand the admin and grunt work involved in keeping a child in school and keeping a house. I don't recommend it as a strategy though.

Hakluyt Sun 19-Apr-15 10:09:18

Raising children is a feminist issue! But yes, raising boys has particular challenges as a feminist- great to have a thread about it.

AntiquityIsDotDotDot Sun 19-Apr-15 10:16:45

Just quickly as I'm going out, but I'm from a working class background and we're only just in the middle class bracket & ds1 goes to an excellent school in a deprived area. There was and is still an issue of hitting boys but not girls as behaviour management, both at home and out and about. Also it's common to hear fathers ridicule boys & be "protective" of girls.

Unfortunately class is an issue which also doesn't get much discussion here.

Ensuring adult men do anything is one of those invisible burdens on women to do the work. Which I think is where problems often come in with parenting boys. And also the sexist assumptions of dysfunction around mother-son relationships v. Father-daughter.

OutsSelf Sun 19-Apr-15 10:22:59

I have a little boy and I think about this a lot. To me it entirely encapsulates the way feminism is fighting PATRIARCHY and not men. I get a bit confused when irritated people turn up saying feminism is bs because men have to go to war, etc. I think, yeah, they do, because of patriarchal views about men and boys. I'm fighting the patriarchy, not sending men to war. The thing I am fighting is what sends men to war, but somehow you're irritated with me?

OutsSelf Sun 19-Apr-15 10:25:50

Agree, I think working class boys get a pretty nasty version of masculinity to emulate. It is to their detriment as well as the women who they then have relationships and children with.

cailindana Sun 19-Apr-15 11:03:17

I agree with Outs on this one. In my view, feminism is about looking at the situation that we have in front of us and saying, "Does it work?" The answer is yes, it works for a certain class of white, able-bodied men. Everyone else is disadvantaged in some way, women in particular, but also young boys, men of a certain class, men of different ethnicities etc. So the aim is to challenge the system, not to put men down.

sausageeggbacon11 Sun 19-Apr-15 11:25:21

I have a boys but my oldest is a feisty young lady. All of them have studied martial arts to one degree or another to build self confidence and control. Having an older sister who can kick their collective butt has helped the boys learn about everyone being equal. Even to the discussion about the neighbour's use of a cleaner and showing the person who does that sort of work the same sort of respect that my boys would want. DS1 was assaulted by his now ex and he didn't hit back even though she started it and sprayed hairspray in his eyes. I am proud of him for showing the control and just doing enough so he could step away.He has played violent video games but it hasn't made him violent. I do think the fact the boys have visited third world countries and not just sat on the beach has helped their education that equality is for everyone or no one.

I am not sure there is a way of teaching young men not to do something. This teach men not to rape is not going to work (ever). Should we have it straight after the not to murder classes? Society and it's punishment structure should be education enough but it doesn't work. Assigning the blame to video games and porn makes like murder and rape didn't exist until the 90s. Murder has been something that society is against for a long time and the christian upbringing in the west with Thou shall not kill has been around almost 2000 years hasn't really worked as an education programme.

And this at a time when overall sexual crime has been seen to be falling. Rape comes from entitlement and you don't get entitlement from porn of video games any more than you would books, I believe it is about socialisation either in an environment where they are given everything or an environment where they have nothing.

BeyondDoesBootcamp Sun 19-Apr-15 11:35:41

I have two boys. Bit early to be coherent, so just marking my place for now

OutsSelf Sun 19-Apr-15 11:53:21

Hmm, I don't 'assign blame to video games and porn' - I assign symbolic value to them, by which I mean they create a certain narrative about say violence or sexual relationships which affects dominant views. So violent or misogynistic products do entrench, reproduce, normalise and promote unhealthy attitudes.

So in video games that casually normalise violence, I wouldn't think the problem was that you would play them and start attacking people, I'd think the problem was that you'd play them and accept the idea that you defeat people with violence, that power is ultimately about who can affect the most violence. This is a view that people hold on interpersonal levels and also on societal levels - so we casually accept that part of male power is relate to male physical strength.

But I'm not sure that power and violence are necessarily the same thing. I like Hannah Arendt's definition of power - that human power is realised in the ability to create consensus. We can do anything as a species when we agree on actions, like we definitely COULD stop emitting carbon, but we don't have consensus on whether the things we'd have to endure as part of that stopping are acceptable, or what actions we'd have to take, and some people deny a need to take them anyway. This means that while it is within our gift to stop emitting carbon, it is not in our power (yet).

Sure, you can deploy violence to coerce consensus, (and isn't international politics a testament to this) but they are not the same thing. If you understand power as the capacity for consensus, then what this implies is that violence destabilises power, it is violence or coercion that is the ultimate threat to power. The interesting thing is then what you do about that threat... But we can't even begin that debate while we confuse power and violence and let violence stand in for power by circumventing the need for consensus. And part of that confusion definitely lies in cultural products like video games. I don't BLAME video games for the use of violence on interpersonal and societal levels but I certainly think they reflect and reproduce ideas like violence is equivalent to power. I wonder how different the world would be if we instead saw violence as the ultimate threat to our capacity to take up positions of power. What effect would that perspective have on interpersonal, community and international relations?

OutsSelf Sun 19-Apr-15 12:55:47

"Teaching people not to rape" and "teaching people not to murder" don't have the same equivalence in my view. I mean, no investigation of a murder would proceed by trying to establish whether or not the alleged murderer could have mistakenly believed that they had consent for their actions. People aren't required to make clear statements of their lack of consent to be murdered to others, if they wish to remain alive in the presence of others but we often treat rape victims in a way that implies you must clearly, with your words, actions and deeds explain that you are unwilling to have sex as otherwise it is reasonable that someone else will think you are willing and will have sex with you because you haven't said no.

We have a culture in which there is a default expectation that women in the presence of men are probably consenting to sex with those men unless they clearly say they are not and do things like refuse to drink coffee with them or not laugh at their jokes. Women letting men into their houses or bedrooms are usually seen as consenting to sexual activity. Women drinking alcohol in the presence of men are warned that this may signal to the men that they are available for sex. They are expected to say 'no' clearly to penetration in order to remain unpenetrated and not do things which make it difficult for men to realise that they have not consented for sex. They are more or less deemed to be in a perpetual state of consent for sex unless they are actively saying no AND eschewing male company. And I remember more than one thread where posters were teaching their DC that 'nice girls don't put out' or whatever, meaning that women who are worthy of a sexual partnership are the kind that are refusing one. So even consent and non-consent in this context are confusing.

So when people are talking about teaching not to rape, I am thinking that I want to give my little boy a clear understanding that people being 'coy' are probably not actually being 'coy' but not wanting to have sex. It's not because they really want it but are too moral or nice a person to let their sexual desires be known, it's because they don't want to have sex. I will be teaching my son and my daughter both that consent is not an absence of no but the presence of clear, enthusiastic consent. I don't think I have to offer similar lessons about murder because the culture makes it really clear that taking life is completely unacceptable - the culture sends out much, much more ambiguous messages about what consent looks like, though. My children will be taught that you only have sex with someone who has clearly let you know that they want it not through things like laughing at jokes or offering to make coffee but through direct answers to clear questions and active participation in sexual activity.

If we think about say, the Columbine high school shooting, which involved murder, and the Steubuenville rapes, I think we clearly can see that there is a great deal of difference between the culture that produces alienated young people to the extent that they are murderous and the culture that produces young men who think it's okay to have sex with a drunk woman. Many, many people supported the young men who perpetuated the rapes and much of the discussion about those things completely minimised the experiences of the person who was raped in Steubenville. In Columbine the perpetrator was viewed as a maladjusted loner. In Steubenville, there was basically an idea that the 'mistake' of raping that young woman was a 'reasonable one to make' - the perpetrators were not seen as deviant monsters but people just falling a bit outside of the normal and acceptable boundaries of sexual behaviour. But the view of high school shooters is entirely different. To me, if we generally and those young men in particular understood and required active, enthusiastic consent from their sexual partners there would be fewer rapes. But the problems that the high school shooters ones aren't usually associated with 'mistakes' that the culture sees as 'easy to make'. We're really clear and unambiguous about the right of people to remain alive but much less so about the right of people not have sex that they haven't consented to.

BertieBotts Sun 19-Apr-15 14:25:56

For me what's important about raising a boy is the following:

- Don't emphasise his gender as a defining characteristic. I don't say "Good boy" or refer to him as a "big boy" or "That's what men do, and you're a man!" - I try to use gender neutral phrases such as "Thank you for..." "Well done" "You're so grown up" and then to emphasise positive characteristics we use our family name. "You're a Botts and Bottses always..."

- Teach enthusiastic consent actively from a young age. In any game which involved bodily contact - tickling, wrestling, playfighting, you establish rules which mean that if there is ANY sign the other person isn't happy, you stop and check they are okay. Never restrain or sit on a person so that they can't get away and we always have a safe zone too so if you go into the safe zone, nobody can touch you at all. Encourage/expect/require asking before cuddling/kissing another child, and for adults before kissing your child, and offer alternatives if they don't want to (shaking hands, waving, blowing a kiss)

- If you have male role models around, make sure they do things that are considered "women's work" like cleaning, cooking, etc. Not necessarily all the time but some of the time. And as a woman it's a good idea to have a go at cars, DIY type stuff in front of them too.

- Talk to them about emotions, give them words for their feelings early on and accept their feelings. This is a sort of "positive parenting" staple anyway for both genders but I think it's really important for boys because they get a lot of messages that boys shouldn't have feelings.

- Consistently reaffirm the message that girls are not another mysterious species. They are just people, and are as varied as other boys might be. Just because there are stereotypes about girls it doesn't mean they are true, much as stereotypes about boys aren't true. When approaching dating, there is no formula to "talk to girls", believe it or not girls are just as nervous as you are, and they will have just as varied a response.

Those are the big things. Then the smaller things that I try to be aware of - it's interesting if you're struggling with a particular issue, to google "how to help girls with __" - often it throws up totally different responses. You might not think it appropriate with your child, but it gives you another idea from another perspective.

I try, but fail a bit, to watch out for media coming into the home. I think that we still have quite a bit of stuff with values I'm not so keen on sneaking in, but I have a blanket ban on older age rated stuff and DH and I discuss it if we want to bring something in which is rated older. I often use the sites common sense media, and IMDB's parental guidance section to see what is appropriate. I don't just go by the age rating given, we read the content summaries. I don't always agree with the content.

Porn is an issue for me. I know it will come up and he will access it and he will see things I'd rather he didn't before he got a chance to discover it for himself. So I am hoping that the consent knowledge base, the emotions/empathising knowledge base and the "women are people" knowledge base will all conspire to enable him to not just view it as something abstract but as things happening between humans and to be able to judge it on that basis. Because that's quite a lot to expect at nine or twelve or fourteen (if I'm lucky!) I also plan to talk to him about it - we already talk about coming across scary/confusing/weird things online, and I think the time to step it up and be more specific about porn is probably about ten, fingers crossed. I would like him to be able to tell the difference between three on-the-surface kinds of porn - you have the total shock videos, which are made to be controversial, the outright abusive stuff and then stuff which looks at least on the surface to be consensual. I am not going to get into details of the industry as a whole at this point, because I think it will dilute the message, and he can figure that out when he's older anyway. What I would like to do is give him the tools to decide if what he is seeing is fair and respectful or not, and to be able to judge it through that lens, rather than an overall idea that this is what sex is, this is what everybody does, he's meant to find this attractive, etc.

Hakluyt Sun 19-Apr-15 14:38:05

I think the consent thing is incredibly important- we talk about that a lot.

TondelayoSchwarzkopf Sun 19-Apr-15 14:40:28

I think working class men get a pretty nasty version of masculinity to emulate

I really want to challenge this. How is the WC "version" of masculinity more toxic than a middle class one?

TondelayoSchwarzkopf Sun 19-Apr-15 14:45:39

Bertie I really like your list and am going to try and remember the tactics.

I do however think that media targeted at pre-schoolers is even more aggressively gendered than that for Tweens and older children. CBeebies have a pervasive message that boys are active and leaders and girls wear pink and dance, that boys are the main protagonists in the narrative and the majority of parts are assigned to them. Not to mention the Disney culture.

Hakluyt Sun 19-Apr-15 14:54:10

The working class masculinity thing is interesting. I would like to hear more about what people think. Through my children's different schools I have observed boys from two very different socio economic groups- the "working class" boys are much more overtly macho, but in terms of attitude there seems to me to be very little difference. The middle class boys tend to be more articulate about it, that's all!

mitigosi Sun 19-Apr-15 14:59:37

Message deleted by MNHQ. Here's a link to our Talk Guidelines.

OutsSelf Sun 19-Apr-15 15:02:59

I think wc masculinity is more toxic because it requires men to be just as powerful, successful and heroic as mc masculinity but many fewer resources though which to achieve that level of "respectability".

My family are wc and the men are required to be so tough. Sometimes it alienates them entirely, aren't allowed to be " soft" in their friendships with one another and totally unable to connect with women. Who do they have, then, to love and accept them as is? Their dogs and their pigeons.

TondelayoSchwarzkopf Sun 19-Apr-15 15:12:30

Middle class men have more resources and they use those to protect their privileges. And they also use that privilege to divert attention from their own behaviour.

LagerthaEarlIngstad Sun 19-Apr-15 15:20:59

I have 2 sons, I take a similar approach to Bertie and make a point of encouraging them to think critically about the messages they encounter in media etc

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