As the founder of Girls Out Loud, a social enterprise working with teenage girls, this is a question I get asked over and over again and it’s a good question. However, I am not going to create Boys Out Loud anytime soon, but as I am sure you can guess I do have some concerns about the way we are raising our boys.
My main anxiety focusses around this: does parenting take account of the major shifts created by feminism? Or are we still raising boys to view girls as home makers, child bearers and sexual objects ONLY?
I wonder, as working women do we pass on different values now and teach boys to respect girls, work alongside them and interact with them at all levels? I am not sure. Are we still empowering boys to be strong, non-emotive, aggressive breadwinners and if so how does this prepare them for an equal relationship with a girl, who has the same aspirations as them? Or how would they cope if they were expected to work for a female boss?
I think we all know the answers to these questions don’t we? Society may be changing but very few boys arrive at puberty without some negative or confused pre-suppositions about the role of women, how to treat them and what they are for? Often they share the same views and believe their world is the same as the one their father or in some cases,c their grand father grew up in! Whereas girls have very little in common with the world their mothers or grandmothers were raised in. It feels like boys and girls are miles apart in terms of their cultural development and boys definitely need to play catch up.
In a society where the majority of boys will end up in a dual income relationship, co-owning a house, earning similar money and working the same hours as their female mate, how are they going to view this as a partnership when we have brought them up to believe that everything to do with their life outside of work, is not their concern? As over protective, superwomen, guilt mothers we have done everything for them since they could walk and talk. They understand very little about keeping house, cooking, shopping, caring for others, managing household budgets, etc. We simply expect them to move from the care of mother to wife in one seamless manoeuvre!
From my work in schools it seems to me girls are travelling along the equality and shifting identity highway either alone or with a reticent passenger and this hampers aspiration, is confusing and will send us all backwards if we do not act now.
Just like girls, boys need more empowering role models. Modern men who believe in and respect the contribution women make to the workplace and the boardroom; men who are already in loving and supportive relationships with women, where daily chores are shared or managed as a team. This includes all things domestic, life planning and childcare.
I can hear you shouting at the screen from here ladies ‘Ha! Yeah right, where are these men then??’ Maybe this is part of the problem? Dare I say even men of our generation are struggling with this changing landscape too?
So where does this leave us? It means the shifts need to start with our sons, now, today. We need to go back a generation and teach them to respect girls’ brains as opposed to their ‘hot rating.’
This applies to all of us: mothers, sisters, aunties, nannies and friends. Here are my top tips for what I think we need to do now. I am pretty sure you could add to this and would love to hear your views:
- We must encourage boys to have girls as friends, so they are not afraid of encounters with the opposite sex and learn to recognise, acknowledge and respect our differences and our value as early as possible
- We must not allow them to opt out of all things deemed domestic and women’s work. What are we even thinking of, doing this? Keeping house is a joint responsibility; they need to do the basics, like we do
- We must stop ‘over nurturing’ them, ie doing everything for them as long as they live under our roof. This teaches them nothing, (other than it is what women do) sabotages self sufficiency and sets them up for a shed load of domestic conflict when they do finally leave the nest to embark on a relationship. Sisterhood, ladies, sisterhood!
- We must ensure they have some positive male influences from men that respect women, have some emotional intelligence and get our contribution. These men DO exist, honest but you may need to look outside your immediate circle to engage them. I have many in my life including my husband, but interesting enough none in my immediate family, although I see my 16 year old nephew as a work in progress!
To conclude, most girls and boys struggle to get to 18 without a full on identity crisis at the moment. It is no good blaming the media, the internet or the breakdown of the family. We all need to step up and teach them the rules of the new game.
‘So, what about the boys then Jane?’
You tell me………………………
If you have a spare 20 minutes Colin Stokes latest TED talk How Movies teach Manhood is very interesting.
Jane Kenyon is a regular contributor to the3rdimagazine. http://www.jane-kenyon.com/