Although my title for this post is tongue in cheek, and I like humorous and food porn blogs above all others, this post is, alas, a serious one. I’m troubled by the hate rhetoric towards the fairer sex that I’ve seen in spades lately, and I gotta write about it. But I’m not going to rant. I’m going to share my plan for attempting to change things, one boy at a time. That one boy happens to be the one I call son.
As an aside, I want to note that it’s possible what’s gnawing at me may have been compounded recently by an evening gleefully spent binge watching Mad Men after the kids were in bed. I can’t say for sure. Whatever the prompt, the societal hate vibe I’m feeling addressed toward my gender is making me wonder: How I can teach my son to respect women? A lot. Sincerely. The way he does or will respect most men implicitly, by virtue of their gender.
I don’t mean the kind of respect that entails holding doors open and saying pretty things. Those are surface gestures with a complicated past, present, and future. I’m talking about deep-seated, honest-to-goodness, unbiased respect.
My son is bright, and sweet, and thoughtful, and I’m extremely proud of the young man he is becoming. That said, I’m nervous about the implicit bias, to borrow a word, he absorbs from the world around him. Even from inside our home. I am the primary caregiver, the homemaker, the part-time worker, and the one who does most of the compromising in our house. What messages do I unknowingly send him?
It’s a role I’ve taken on gladly because I love my children. I love them the way you love something so perfect and succinct you didn’t know it was possible the day before it arrived, neatly like a package on your doorstep. Only it was a baby, not a package, that came with a lot of effort, mottled pink skin, a cone head, and tear-stained sticky cheeks.
But now that my son, this person who is part of me but clearly not me, is growing up, I recognize how important my role is in helping him become a feeling, caring, thoughtful, empathetic man who treats women as equals. So, how do I help him to see me and all other women on a level playing ground? Talk about it. If we don’t talk about it, nothing will change.
- Talk about it. Instead of sweeping it under the carpet, I am resolved to talk to my son about sexism. I don’t think I have to share all the gory details of the unfortunate things I have witnessed and experienced in my lifetime (there are many). If you’re a woman, you know what I’m talking about. We’ve all been there. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, read this. A great starting place is to discuss exactly what it means to respect women. Followed by a big dose of empathy building. I heard this on NPR one morning, and I love the message. In short, bullies can have manners when they want to and still lack a fundamental understanding of empathy.
- Talk about it. After we have a good understanding of what it means to respect women (actually ALL people), then we can discuss how to resist peer pressure because it is real, fo sho. I realize my son is young, and this might be wishful thinking, but it’s worked with some other peer pressure issues we’ve faced. And I’m hopeful.
- Talk about it. If and when things feel out of control, or we’ve gone off the mark slightly, bringing in a little professional guidance can’t hurt. Kids sometimes (read: almost always) listen to other adults (teachers, school psychologist, coaches, etc.) more readily than their parents. And I’m okay with that.
At the end of the day, we’re all human, all imperfect, and all striving for something. Let’s listen to what this crazy time in history (or so it seems) is telling us. What I hear is this: We need to work on empathy big time. And it can start with something as simple as a short conversation on the ride home from school.
Just a Few Resources for Teaching Empathy:
Harvard University Make Caring Common Project
Edutopia’s 5-Minute Film Festival: Videos on Kindness, Empathy, and Connection
UC Berkley’s Greater Good Science Center