TV Editor Sam Wait discusses bringing up boys as feminists, arguing that early education is essential for tackling sexism
Women of the World Festival explores gender equality, sexism, and gender issues which are still prevalent in society today. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, WOW has been forced to go online – and partnered with the BBC to do so. WOW’s deliberation on ‘Bringing Up Boys’ is particularly thought-provoking, as Jude Kelly asks if there is a right way to bring up boys in our effort toward gender equality.
Unfortunately, for many, feminism is perceived as an outdated issue, one which has long been resolved. Women have fundamental human rights now, do they not? What more could we be asking for? Although most ‘big issues’ facing women in the West may have been resolved, to use an example, in Saudi Arabia women were only given the right to access healthcare without a male guardian three years ago. So, what do we Western women have to moan about in comparison? Unlike in 1910, we can vote, we can work, we are not condemned to becoming housewives or existing solely as a male’s counterpart. In the last century, the progress for most women has been insurmountably great – but there is still much more to be done. Gender equality has not been met and will not be if people ignore the feminist voices calling for further change. Sexism is still integral to our society, and stereotypes of feminists as ‘angry, obnoxious’ and unjustifiably ‘opinionated’ are still rife.
Feminism is often seen as a dirty word, due to the worst stereotype of all, that feminists are in fact anti-men.
Founder of WOW, Jude Kelly, addresses this issue in the broadcast ‘Bringing Up Boys’ which details how boys should be raised today. Kelly asks ‘we say that boys and men will benefit from a gender-equal world…but are we making it feel as if it is their world to help define? Or are they marginalised from these conversations?’ The rise of feminism seems to have made some men feel as though they are on the periphery of the topic, whereas this could not be further from the truth. Men play an important role in feminism. But the perpetuation of anti-male activists labelling themselves as ‘feminists’ on social media is only harming our cause and disrupting their inclusion.
Rather, feminism is defined as ‘the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.’ Kelly’s guests on the show, Karen Blackett OBE and Nihal Arthanayake are invited to speak about how they teach their sons about sexism. Sexism is socially constructed, and as a 21-year-old I grew up watching countless Disney Princess movies and reading books whose female protagonist’s main concern was seemingly always a male love interest (I’m looking at you, Stephenie Meyer). Luckily, in 2020 female empowerment is becoming ubiquitous onscreen, but this is futile if it is not also instated in the home.
Blackett, Country Manager for WPP, attempts to dispute these female stereotypes for her young son. One of her methods to achieve this is by ensuring she always employs male nannies. She aims to demystify the concept that there are ‘male’ and ‘female’ occupations and works to ensure she corrects sexism whenever her son questions it. Moreover, Arthanayake, presenter and podcaster details how sexism is rarely seen as an issue to his son. Arthanayake says his son ‘has the attitude towards sexism that all of us should have – it just doesn’t make any sense to him.’
However, Arthanayake outlines that he has had to have conversations with his son about what children from other families with differing values have said about women. As an adult, he is still having to pick up friends on sexist behaviour – so is certain that sexism will still have to be in kept in check for his son’s generation. Despite Gen-Z’s pushing against outdated gender constructs and binaries, Arthanayake argues sexism is still a prevalent issue. His solution is to discuss this with his son to reshape his thinking into showing him the logicality of gender equality.
Kelly recounts that many parents have spoken to her saying that ‘not enough is done for boys to stop them from feeling entitled without them being pushed down.’ This seems to be one of the key issues driving men and women to refuse to identify themselves as feminists. Feminism is not about pushing men down but elevating women to their level, so we are all equal. Therefore, this terminology must be clarified from an early age. Blackett tells how her son was taught about sexism from an early age, so he has learned to talk to his friends when they say something against gender equality and attempts to readjust their thinking.
I think this response is essential, not only in bringing up children today, but in re-educating some adults about feminism. Not only should we be calling out misogyny, but attempting to explain its fallacies. Men should not be excluded from being feminists, or face uncertainty based on whether to label themselves as one due to the damaging ‘anti-male’ stereotypes it has accumulated. Gender equality needs to be taught to boys from a young age so they learn that though it is women who have been oppressed for years, constantly their inferior in the history lessons taught to them at school – this is not their fault. They are not to feel attacked by the feminist movement, as some men may do today. They must recalibrate to identify themselves as part of the recovery; instead, they must view themselves as part of the change to ensure gender equality can become an attainable goal.
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