I was raised by a hippie father and feminist mother, and yet, even with their progressive ideologies, I was taught to protect myself, my body. The duty to make sure that I wasn’t taken advantage of was put on me, not the person potentially taking advantage. So I knew when I got the news that I’d be having a son, I would flip the script on this way of teaching. Instead of raising an empowered daughter, I was meant to be raising a feminist son.
One historic overturning decided the fate of young girls everywhere
I didn’t know true heartbreak until June 24, 2022. Instead of calling my father to wish him a happy 71st birthday, I called my mother in tears. Because I knew she would understand, she was with me in the heartbreak. It was the day the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade – a once historic ruling that guaranteed a person’s liberty to protect individual privacy which included a right to an abortion. The devastating decision on that fateful day in June took that fundamental right away within the blink of an eye.
There was a collective sigh felt across my group of female friends as we texted each other furiously. The grief we all felt that day was palpable, visceral. It felt like we were no longer the owners of our bodies; we were vessels to create more humans regardless of our lives. That was…terrifying.
Young girls have always been taught to protect their bodies
As young girls, we were taught certain things. Don’t wear revealing clothing. Never walk alone at night. Carry keys between your fingers when you go to your car. Always cover your drink at a party. If you lose sight of your drink, even for a moment, get a new one. We were taught to protect ourselves, protect our bodies.
We were taught to protect ourselves from men. Plain and simple.
It’s taken me almost a year since the overturning of Roe v. Wade to understand how incredibly angry I am. I grew up during a time where the right to have an abortion was solidified. During a time that even if all the protections I was taught still didn’t stop a man from abusing me, I had the ability to fall back on an abortion. There was comfort in knowing that.
Girls are now feeling empowered
And now I see young girls being raised by friends who are terrified for them. Because at the end of the day, they still teach their girls to protect themselves. They teach the same tricks we were taught. Always walk on opposite side of the street when a man is coming the other way. Cover up the dress you’re going out in with a large overcoat. Keep pepper spray in your purse.
But they’re also being empowered by the women who raise them. My friends who have daughters are constantly showing them how powerful it is to be a woman. They show that when someone might call them bossy or loud, they really mean they’re strong and confident. They are switching the meaning of these words to inspire their daughters.
Raise feminist sons
Rarely do you see the other side to this coin. While we teach our daughters to protect their bodies, why aren’t we also teaching our sons to not harm other bodies? I realize that not all abuse is done to women by men, but the majority is. Almost seventeen percent of American women have been a victim of an attempted or completed sexual assault while only three percent of American men have. Don’t even get me started with the risks of sexual assault against transgender people. The fact is, most of these crimes are done to women and by men.
So what are we doing about it?
How I’m raising my son
I’m starting in my own home. I am not supposed to raise a daughter, that isn’t my purpose. I now know that I am meant to raise a son in a post-overturning of Roe world. And here’s how I’m doing it.
Creating a safe space
At the end of the day, I want my son to feel like he can be his true self and it starts within the home. My husband and I provide a space for my kid to ask questions without judgement. That last part is important. Even the most harmless of responses like “oh what a silly question” or “you don’t need to know the answer of that right now” can last a lifetime. It’s why when my kid asks questions that might make other adults uncomfortable, I answer him with as much honesty as I can.
Letting him show emotions
At a very young age, boys are taught to “suck it up” or “stop crying” when something upsets them. I teach my son that he’s allowed, and in fact it’s healthy, to cry and show emotion. Recently, he has gone through a phase of hitting when frustrated or angry so we’ve tried to channel that emotion safely. We give him options of throwing a pillow against our storm door, screaming at the top of his lungs outside, or needing to be left alone. The idea is to show him that he can have these feelings but there are healthy ways to manifest them.
Talking about the female anatomy and more
This might be an unpopular opinion, but we talk about the female anatomy. My kid is currently five-and-a-half and knows a lot about the female anatomy. He was brought into this world with the help of IVF (in-vitro fertilization) so we talk often about the different steps that made that happen. We didn’t force this down his throat. He asked a question one day about how babies were made and we told him the various ways babies are brought into this world.
When boys know more about the female body, they understand and respect it that much more. This will also open dialogue for when he gets older and has questions about sex and sexuality. It goes back to creating a safe space for him to ask questions without judgement. Learning the right terms is a critical body safety habit for young children!
Having good role models
As a mother, I’d like to think that I am all he needs but that’s not the case. Young boys require good role models who showcase how you treat others, especially women. Again, we start in the home. Luckily, my son has a great role model in my husband. Every day, my kid sees how my husband treats me (and vice versa). Maybe it’s a gentle touch while I’m doing dishes or him making dinner while I read on the couch as my kid plays. I want my kid to see what role a man has in somebody’s life, what effects they have on the people around them.
Playing with all toys
This has been a tough one especially with birthdays and Christmases where extended family members give my kiddo toys that are typically geared towards boys. My kid’s favorite color is rainbow and it is sometimes hard to tell our extended family members that we don’t just need blue, green, and gray clothes. It’s been hard to tell them we don’t need more trucks and Legos, but would love more paints, coloring books, and stuffed animals.
We’re adamant about talking to our families about the types of toys we like our kid to play with. A lot of our time is spent outdoors. We give our kid options with what he wants to do whether it be soccer versus gymnastics versus ice skating. We try hard not to pressure him to do something that we think he wants to do.
No means no
This seems like it should be a given but it’s not just something that we want to teach him with girls. Whenever we’re playing around with him, if he says “no” or “stop,” we do so immediately. The same thing goes for when we say “no” or “ouch” or “stop” – he knows to immediately halt what he’s doing. Teaching this at a young age will hopefully lead him to listen when he gets older.
As a mom, I feel like I’m doing everything wrong almost always. I’m late picking my kid up, I forget to pick up his favorite snack, and I really hate doing imaginative play with my kid. But I feel like I’m doing something right as I raise him as a feminist. I know deep in my heart that I was meant to raise a son in a post-overturning of Roe world. I hate that we’re even here but it’s what we’ve been dealt. Being a mom these days is exhausting but it’s even more fulfilling to mold these little humans into kind and loving adults.
Check out Lindsey’s post: If the Future is Female, That’s Good for My Son