Raising Feminist Boys

Does it seem like there are more and more horrible things happening to women? Or do you think that we are just becoming more aware of them and that attitudes are slowly changing? Voices that may have gone unheard in the past are being listened to? Eyes are finally being opened to existing horrors? We are making progress and with that progress comes the inevitable push back from those who feel something is being stolen from them? I think it might be the latter. I hope it’s the latter.

Raising Feminist Boys

I have been thinking about this change in community attitudes. How it is so slow to unfurl. I have been wondering where certain attitudes come from. And how I can raise boys who respect women and treat them as equals. What small changes I can make? What language can I use to ensure my boys don’t feel entitled to be considered more than their female counterparts.

I don’t use “girl” or “woman” as an insult. I do not say “you are crying/acting/anything like a girl.” And if my husband does, he gets the look. You know the one.

We watch women and men play sport. I live in a fairly sports obsessed household. The school kid pretty much sleeps, eats and breathes soccer. And he is just as happy to watch women play as men. Here are some things he does not say:

  • The men are more entertaining to watch
  • The men work harder and are more skilful
  • I think it’s perfectly reasonable that female athletes earn a fraction of what men do

And if we keep a balanced approach to watching sport, I hope he never will.

I am not going to belittle their friendships with girls (any more). I admit, I was guilty of being all cute when my eldest made his first girl friend at school. We had them married off and teased a little bit. But I think it’s important that boys are able to see girls in the light of friendship. How can they be expected to work together as colleagues and equals in later life if we continually try to put the romantic box around every female/male relationship? I know it’s all in fun, but I do think modelling behaviour is important and just wonder if this particular behaviour sends the right message.

We have an equal partnership in our household. My husband has always done his fair share of the housework and cooking. It’s how our relationship started out and it’s how it continues. And when my boys go out into the world, they will do so having seen their Dad entirely capable of looking after himself.

We don’t talk about what “boys are good at” and “girls are good at”.  Small boys and girls do act differently. There is no sense in pretending that there isn’t a difference. Most of the girls in Master I’s class are definitely more mature than the boys. We know that, in general, girls use more language earlier. We know that, in general, boys find it harder to sit still and concentrate. So of course, on average, girls are going to find the early years at school easier than boys. Which can lead to boys feeling bad about themselves in comparison. But assigning that feeling to gender difference is dangerous ground that we are going to avoid.

Things aren’t gendered. My littlest quite likes to play with dolls. My eldest is partial to the odd bit of nail polish. At their age, I don’t think this has anything to do with anything aside from them having fun and expressing themselves. So we don’t make a deal of it.

We talk about kindness, fairness, justice and equality. We don’t always talk about those things in the context of gender equality. But we talk about them as important things to treasure and to consider in our interactions with others. I firmly believe that kindness is the bedrock of bringing up decent human beings.

I am happy with my role in our family. My husband works full time and I freelance part-time and look after the boys when he’s not home. This suits us, our personalities and our skills. There are plenty of times I have felt like I have betrayed the sisterhood with this choice. That with my education and background I should be climbing the corporate ladder and forging the way for women in senior management positions. That I am not setting the best example to my children. But what’s best for our family has to come before ideals that made sense in my twenties. And I am gradually becoming okay with this choice from a feminist perspective. Reducing the important work of child-rearing into insignificance next to paid work does nothing for the cause of equality. So I won’t be party to that reduction.

I want my boys to grow into men who love women. Who respect women and who will stand up for them and with them. Who understand justice and equality and will protect both. Who don’t feel threatened by equal rights. Men who will call themselves feminists with pride.

Arrow 2Are you raising feminists?
How do you do it? 

Linking up with Essentially Jess and IBOT



39 thoughts on “Raising Feminist Boys

  1. Emily says:

    Great post. I do think it’s the latter (that we’re just more aware of it) but also that there is more pushback against it as we become more aware, and so the reaction to that becomes more intense.
    Hoping that makes sense. Basically, the world doesn’t like being called sexist, but seems to respond to that by digging its heels in and acting … well, more sexist.
    Emily recently posted…Mirror, MirrorMy Profile

    • Robyna says:

      That makes perfect sense and I think that’s exactly what’s happening. Feels like the next wave of feminism is here and there is inevitable push back.

  2. Dani @ sand has no home says:

    I love this, Robyna. I am trying to raise feminists too. I think it all has a lot to do with simply being more mindful (which is a bit of a buzzword that I don’t usually use, but it’s very appropriate sometimes) as everything that we do as parents. As you say, that begins with equality at home and respect for all women. We are very different parents to our own parents, my father didn’t do any housework, and boys were boys, girls were girls. I still see this at my husband’s family house at Christmas time as well, where the women do all of the cooking and the clearing/washing up while the men relax. That’s not the message that I want imparted to my son OR to my daughter. Little steps, every day (I love it when my little girl prefers playing blocks and trucks over dolls).

    • Robyna says:

      I like it when my boys don’t feel limited by gender stereo types too. My Dad was (and is) fairly traditional and he still can’t really cook. I think every adult should be able to take proper care of themselves.

  3. Kez Unprepared says:

    I love absolutely everything you’ve written here. I too am trying to raise a feminist boy.
    I hear what you’re saying about feeling like you’ve betrayed the sisterhood. I am a mostly SAHM who works one day a week, casually. I am the primary carer throughout the week when my 4 year old is not at kindy. It just makes sense for our family. I think that feminism is about having choices and being equally respected for whatever those choices are.
    I think a big thing is raising boys who know men can look after themselves. I will feel like I’ve done my job properly if my son does not become a spoilt man child who wants a female partner to mother him!!
    I wrote about being a feminist parent a little while back, but it was nowhere near as eloquent as this – thanks!
    Kez Unprepared recently posted…The Happy List #36My Profile

    • Robyna says:

      Just read your post and loved it. Definitely feel like it’s such a responsibility and privilege to raise young men who respect all people.

  4. Bec @ Seeing the Lighter Side says:

    I think that we are labelling more things as ‘horrible things’ rather than shrugging and considering them simply a woman’s lot in life. I think that’s a wonderful thing – recognition is the first step. Now we need to find solutions, and certainly changing the starting points for the next generation is a huge one.

    • Robyna says:

      I recently read what Amy Poehler had to say about this in reaction to other celebrities saying they aren’t feminists – “But then they go on to explain what they support and live by — it’s feminism exactly… I don’t get it. That’s like someone being like, ‘I don’t really believe in cars, but I drive one every day and I love that it gets me places and makes life so much easier and faster and I don’t know what I would do without it.’”

    • Robyna says:

      I think it’s so important to lay the groundwork now when they are little. Hopefully it will give them enough background and understanding when they come across people in later life who will try to convince them differently.

  5. Sing-Ki says:

    My husband was a house-husband in the 70’s. You cannot even imagine what he had to deal with. But my two boys grew up seeing a man do the washing and ironing, cooking and cleaning and Mummy going to work and going on business trips. But he was a better mother than I would ever have been. He found time for BBQ’s in the bush rather than doing the vacuuming and trips to the beach after which they would bring a bucket of sand and seawater into work for me, nappy dragging on the floor after the littlie. One of my sons is a wonderful feminist and a marvellous husband and partner. The other is a chauvinist pig. Who knew?

    • Robyna says:

      Just goes to show doesn’t it? My partner grew up with his Mum and two sisters. And he just does his bit because that’s what has always been expected of him. The acceptance (and celebration) of men doing what we traditionally have called “women’s work” is a whole other thing isn’t it?

  6. jess says:

    What a wonderful post and really got me thinking. I like the point about not belittling or making fun of boy-girl friendships, I have never thought of the longer term consequences of that.

    • Robyna says:

      Thanks Jess – I vaguely remember from my own childhood that a friendship I had with a boy (based on a mutual love of the The Hardy Boys books) being made fun of and I shyed away from that friendship as a result.

    • Robyna says:

      Thanks for re-commenting even though the internets are hungry beasts tonight. It does feel like putting small dam against a relentless tide, but I’ll continue to build that dam and hope that it becomes part of who my boys are.

  7. Renee Wilson says:

    It sounds like you’re doing a wonderful job. This has been on my mind a lot lately too. We do our best here to show and tell our girls that girls can do anything and they are just as strong and smart and brave as boys. It’s amazing what they pick up from daycare and on TV though to undo all of our hard work. #teamIBOT

  8. Cathy @lifethroughthehaze says:


    Such a beautifully written post. It is so important that we as mothers show through our modelling how we want our children to live. As a mum to both a boy and girls I think it is important for me to teach them all to be respectful of each other and most importantly to respect themselves. I think if we can show each other more respect and care then truly that will go a very long way. I hope that I raise strong and confident children who know that with hard work and dedication they can all achieve.

    I am a stay at home mum and these days I am not even earning a freelance income so I am totally dependent on my husband and it is not really something that I enjoy (the dependency that is!) but to be here for my kids is the greatest gift I can give my family. I am fast learning that I actually think they need me more as they move into the scary teen years, puberty and all that brings. I often feel terribly guilty that I am not doing more and using my multiple degrees, something I have discovered in the last 12mths (I knew before but wouldn’t accept!) is that we can have it all BUT not all at the same time.

    Cathy xoxo
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    • Robyna says:

      I think its essential that we do recognise bringing up children is important work. I think somewhere along the line it got devalued and I don’t think that is the point of feminism.

  9. Tegan says:

    I love this post. I have a boy and even though I do the things you’ve mentioned, it’s amazing how much outside influence still trickles in. We’ve especially has a few discussions recently about toys not being just for boys or just for girls.

  10. Beth at AlmostPosh.com says:

    I think the boy-girl friendship teasing is a big one and I won’t be doing it. I have a lot of male friends, mostly due to working in a male-dominant environment, and it annoys me that there are comments made or eyebrows raised if I mention catching up with them; like “do their wives know?” Yet nobody asks if “their husband knows” when I meet up with a female friend . . . ?
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    • Robyna says:

      Oh I hear you – I worked in IT so you can imagine how male dominated that was and the comments made about my friends. I think it’s entirely possible to have friends of both genders and should be encouraged.

  11. Flat Bum Mum says:

    Robyna, This is such a great topic. As the mum of girls I am always trying to tread carefully around body image, self worth and confidence. I also love that my girls do many things that are not ‘girly’. I think in a world of gender fluidity we should just parent the personality and not the gender. Bron x

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