Be an involved family member and an exemplary role model. Here’s how:
The well-being of the young men in your family includes the ability to develop healthy relationships with women and other men. As such, sharing your values regarding gender equality is just as important as teaching them how to play ball or how to safely cross the road. Share with them the means through which they can establish relationships that are based on respect, equality, and equal responsibility.
Recognize that you have a role to play in educating your son about gender equality and healthy relationships. These are not only “women’s issues” but issues that affect us all, including men and boys. The vast majority of violence against women and men is committed by men, therefore it is important for you to educate your son about this issue and model positive and healthy examples of male behaviour.
Learn about violence and gender inequality by asking a woman who trusts you how violence has affected her life. Then, if she feels comfortable to talk, sit back and listen. Turn to your local women’s organizations. They have a wealth of accumulated experience and knowledge. Talk to them. Read their publications. Contribute financially. Learn from them.
Your son is exposed on a daily basis to many examples of sexist behaviour, homophobia, and objectification of women. Culture is a powerful tool in reinforcing gender stereotypes both for women and men. Recognize the impact of the media, video games, and popular culture on your son and as such share a new healthier view of masculinity, one that models respect and equality towards women, girls, and other men. Not speaking up contributes to the silence around these issues, and helps to normalize gender inequality and homophobia.
Talk with the boys in your family about how consent is created and why it’s so important. Consent is a voluntary, sober, imaginative, enthusiastic, creative, wanted, informed, mutual, honest, and verbal agreement. Consent is an active agreement: Consent cannot be coerced. Consent is a process, which must be asked for every step of the way. Consent is never implied and cannot be assumed, even in the context of a relationship. Just because you are in a relationship does not mean that you have permission to be sexual with your partner. A person who is intoxicated cannot legally give consent.
Helping boys understand their own boundaries and how to assert them is an important step in helping them understand other people’s boundaries and how to respect them. When boys can connect the feelings they experience when the are bullied, teased, isolated or pushed outside of their comfortable, safe limits with the feelings other people have in similar circumstances this fosters empathy. Feeling empathy reduces the likelihood that a boy will disrespect somebody else’s boundaries whether they’re on the sports field, at home or in a relationship.
Your language, behaviour, and interactions with the women and men in your life will have a significant impact on your son’s values and attitudes towards women and girls. Sharing equally in family responsibilities and chores at home with your spouse, being open about your feelings with the women in your life, or publicly questioning negative depictions of women, are ways to demonstrate to them that you value women as equals and believe in healthy relationships. Conversely, laughing at sexist jokes, sharing magazines that objectify women, or remaining silent about violence or injustices against women are behaviours and values that may well end up being adopted by your son.
Share with your son remarkable moments or stories in your life about examples of positive learning. Share a story about a lesson you learned from your parents or family members about healthy relationships; talk about your early interest or empathy towards equality between men and women; or the lessons you learned from a mistake you made. These are stories you can easily share at bed time, at the dinner table, or while driving to an extra-curricular activity.
Just like you have the capacity to be a positive role model in your son’s life, you can probably identify men and women that had an impact on your values regarding equality between men and women. Share what these people represent to you, the reasons why they are important, and the values that you admire in them. You can make a difference by generating further discussion about the benefits and qualities of healthy masculinities. Point out to your son that they too have the potential to be good role models for others.
A father who denounces a violent act or sexist comment witnessed by his son can share with him the confidence, language, and skills for him to be able to do the same later on. Share your thoughts and feelings regarding what happened and talk about how that action was unhealthy or demeaning to women. On the other hand, remaining silent, or making excuses, helps to normalize sexist behaviour and violence against women.
Involve your extended family in positive discussions about healthy and equal relationships and show your son that gender equality is a universally shared value in your family and circle of friends. Your male family members and friends can help reinforce messages of positive masculinity and act as inspiring role models. Speak with them ahead of time to help you maximize dialogue with your son.
Share this link and invite your friends to learn more about violence against women and the positive role they can play in putting an end to it.