Bringing Up Boys is the subject of a debate at Cheltenham Festival this Thursday 9 June and the brilliant campaigning organisation Let Toys Be Toys are on the panel. They asked their Twitter followers what is important about raising boys so, as a mother of two primary age boys and a campaigner on Challenging Gender Stereotypes, here's what I chimed in with.
Illustration by Squid, squidishere.com
1. Expose boys to a wide range of activities from solitary to group, from active to not. Be clear that nothing is off-limits or 'for girls'.
2. Big up caring male role models from fathers to charity workers to nurses, and expose boys to male creatives and male individualists who go their own way. With music stars, sports stars, rich men, superheroes and violent characters in video games celebrated as the acceptable male role models, the pressure is on boys to be super-strong, physically courageous or aggressive, excel at physical activity or making money - or fail at 'being a man'.
3. Make sure boys know they are allowed to show their feelings, feel vulnerable, scared, insecure or worthless. Young men are the group most prone to suicide. This can be challenged.
4. Cultivate a questioning mind. Ask, 'Were there any girls in that film? What did she do? Did the men in that film show their feelings? Did they resolve conflict in any way other than fighting?' I knew I was instilling a questioning mind in my son, when, age five, he said to me, 'Mummy, don't be cross but there's only one girl in Angry Birds and she's pink.' He has learnt to notice inequality.
5. Having a male role model is great to keep lines of communication open in teen years - to talk talk talk to boys about porn as separate from sex, about porn as a money-driven 'industry' that eroticises female non-consent and inequality. Understanding consent is paramount.
OK, five tidy points done, I noticed the debate concerns young men, too. So....
Show boys how to stick up for themselves and others with their words, self-belief and conviction - to give bullies the finger and not be a bystander to sexist, racist or homophobic abuse.
Train them up to be self-sufficient. Show them that men clean and cook. Training in the art of conversation is a good life skill. Listening to women and not talking over them is, too. (I'm talking about helping men to 'see' how the female experience is not as free as their own). All this equals a better chance of pulling.
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