Raising Feminist Sons: A Working Guide

Sesetu Holomisa

Boys are not born sexist; sexism is learned. Children absorb the values, behaviours, and perspectives of those around them and so it is on parents, guardians, teachers, and elders to create environments that hold all genders equally. Young boys must not grow up thinking that there are inherent differences between men and women, although society tells them that there are. Boys need to enter the world having views that challenge the capitalist patriarchy and all that it stands for. This can be done by raising feminist sons.

Note: This article is based on the construct of the gender binary so it is written using binary terms.

For this guide, I would like to define feminism through the lens of Bell Hooks. She “proposes a new definition of feminism, one that does not simply fight for the equality of women and men (of the same class) but of a movement that fights to end sexist oppression and exploitation without neglecting other forms of oppression such as racism, classism, imperialism, and others.” Boys should be raised with this kind of feminism, here’s how:

Raise Your Sons to Feel — Without Shaming Them

KC Davis aka @DomesticBlisters on TikTok is a licensed professional therapist who made a video explaining why men don’t actually like women. She explains that society socialises boys to “become men'' by teaching them how not to be women. “Don’t cry. Be a man. Don’t be a pussy. Be a man. Don’t be weak. Be a man. Don’t be sensitive. Be a man.” Ultimately, toxic masculinity results from rejecting and villainising femininity, although this concept is gender non-conforming. The root of femininity through the patriarchal gaze is expressing feelings. Women are labelled as too emotional, so men are conditioned to be apathetic. This needs to be countered.

Boys are human beings and so experiencing a vast spectrum of emotions in life is inevitable, but forcing them to suppress these emotions harms them and those around them.

If the world teaches boys to essentially become sociopaths; where feelings such as anger are the only ones affirmed, loved ones must be intentional in making sure that boys feel and express every emotion other than rage and that their feelings are validated, not shamed. Feeling is human and forcing boys not to acknowledge, accept and express their emotions is not natural. Imagine how different this world would be if the majority of men were emotionally intelligent. I imagine that it would be a world filled with loving men. 

Raise Your Sons Not to Value Themselves Through a Capitalist Lens

“In an anti-patriarchal culture males do not have to prove their value and worth. They know from birth that simply being gives them value, the right to be cherished and loved.” — bell hooks. 

We live in a time where many men pretend to be heterosexual because they have grown up attaching their value to the number of women they are intimate with, where men are praised for their monetary wealth versus their characters, and where they are expected to provide financially for their families. These patriarchal values are damaging to all beings because the manifestations of these pressures create narcissistic and violent humans. As hooks put it, young boys need to be loved for who they are, not for “living up to sexist-defined notions of male identity.”

Raise Your Sons to Reject Gender Roles

Living within a patriarchal society makes it nearly impossible for boys not to learn the behaviours deemed appropriate or inappropriate for the male identity. Therefore, it is the role of guardians, parents, and elders to teach boys that there is no right or wrong way to be, regardless of gender. Teach your sons to be responsible for their words and actions. Teach them how to clean up after themselves, wash dishes, cook, and be functioning beings that do not grow up valuing women for what they can do for them but as individuals, inherently worthy of respect. 

Teach your sons that women are not naturally submissive, passive, home-oriented, or dependent and that, that, is simply how they are framed to be in the world. Teach your sons that they do not have to operate from their egos to be heard, accepted, or get what they want. Tell your sons that they can wear makeup, that women don’t have to, that they can wear skirts, put on facemasks, enjoy romantic comedies, and that women don’t have to. Show them that gender is a social construct and that they are not bound to the ideas of dead white men.

Teach your sons that there is no superior or inferior gender. Make sure that they know that women are not lesser than others because some societies reflect that. Maybe that will lead to fewer men growing up thinking that women are objects to be controlled or owned because of phantom psychological differences reinforced by gender roles. 

Have Difficult Conversations 

When men hurt women physically, emotionally, or mentally, the infuriating norm in most societies is to ask women, why it happened, how it happened and why it happened. The onus is often on us to explain why our minds and bodies are sites of violence when it should be on those enacting violence against us. Activist, educator, and filmmaker, Jackson Katz, has spoken of the dangerous implications of using passive language when it comes to ‘violence against women.’ Further calling out how the term ‘violence against women’ precludes men from the conversation, making them bystanders to offences that they actively commit. Men are socialised to be problematic, but they don’t have to be if they are raised to be feminists.

Speak to your sons about their social positions of power and how they can use that power to call out the system that gave them it. Tell them that objectification in all instances is unacceptable and educate them on the importance of consent and respect for women.

Tell them to cut ties with abusers, homophobes, rapists, misogynists, transphobes, racists, and incels. Enable them to initiate conversations about pay at work so that they can discover any pay disparities between genders. Most importantly, young boys must see their loved ones treating others with love and kindness because they will emulate that behaviour, that is what it all comes down to.  

Women continue to face institutional marginalisation at the hands of a few men in high places. Now more than ever, we need men to speak up and use their agency to make the lives of women and other disempowered groups easier. That is why we should all make a conscious effort to raise feminist sons instead of raising vigilant daughters. 

Sesetu Holomisa

"Until we accept that all oppressions are intersectional, everything we do will only be a scratch on the surfaces of the manifestations of imperialism. From the climate crisis, feminism and mental health issues to tackling human rights violations around the world, I would like to contribute to discourses on meaningful change through writing."
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