6 ways to raise feminist boys (all year long)

A vicious 24-hour stomach bug steamrolled through our house yesterday. We all spent today in recovery doing what I call couchschooling.

It is exactly what you think it is.

Some time after breakfast (my first full meal in 24 hours), I logged onto my phone and learned it was March 8.

International Women’s Day.

Somewhere in the haze of late-night bedding changes and semiconscious debates with Matt about which one of us was the least nauseous parent (and thus obligated to clean the carpet), I didn’t plan any special activities for today.

But on second thought, I justified to myself, stumbling my way from the bed to the couch, maybe it’s better this way.

Maybe it’s better to teach the important things – like feminism, or environmentalism, or racial justice – a little bit, all of the time.

And so that is what we did today.

We read a few of our favorite feminist biographies (while I still had the voice enough to read).

Then Gus chose one woman to learn more about. He picked Harriet Tubman.

We watched a few Youtube videos on Tubman’s life. (Which also meant that I could stop talking. Yay.)

Did you know that after guiding 300 slaves to freedom, she became the U.S.’s first black female spy (during the Civil War)? And that her most famous quote is, “Move or die”? And she never went anywhere without her gun?

Gus thinks she was incredible.

Me too.

He made a drawing of Tubman’s escape route (from the crops at the plantation to the northern part of his piece of paper). In his drawing, she makes her way through swamps and narrowly avoids alligators. He made sure to include her walking stick and gun.

And the words he used to describe what women can do? Be brave, navigate, rescue, spy. 

And that’s it, folks.

After that, I had enough energy to lay motionless, occasionally refilling the kids’ bowls of dried Cheerios.

(They were well-fed, supervised, and busy putting together alphabet puzzles. Don’t worry.)

We try to teach feminism year-round over here. Which makes me feel better about the minimal amount of effort I put into homeschooling today.

Here are my 6 Ways to Raise Feminist Boys (All Year Long): 

  1. Stock your shelves with books that feature bold, unstoppable female characters.

    Boys should be reading books about girls. There are lots of fantastic children’s books written about brave, clever, and creative girls – but it’s a problem if only girls are reading them. Boys need to read books about gender equality and girl empowerment, too.

    Curious about some of our favorites?

  2. Include the perspectives of women from diverse backgrounds. 

    Scour the library shelves for books about bold, unstoppable female characters, but don’t stop there. Make sure your collection includes the perspectives and voices of women of color, women from countries outside of the United States, women with disabilities, working-class women, and bisexual, lesbian, and trans women.

    Unfortunately, this isn’t easy. But there are book lists out there that can help.

  3. Learn about famous women from history…
  4. … but don’t forget about the amazing things young women and girls are doing today.

    Ted talks are a great way to introduce your kids to the young women who are changing the world today. Gus especially liked the talks featuring:

    Jade Hameister, who at 14 years old became the youngest person to ski to the North Pole.

    Adora Svitak, who published her first book at 6 and now, at age 12, is a educator, public speaker, and children’s rights advocate.

    Lauren Hodge, Shree Bose and Naomi Shah, award-winning teenage scientists.

    At 4.5, Gus is just barely old enough for TED Talks. If I pause the videos frequently enough to explain and answer his questions, however, he can follow along pretty well.

    And even if he doesn’t understand every detail of the talk, he’s seeing images of young women in positions of authority, accomplishment and leadership. This will make a lasting impression.

  5. Give your son female role models…

    Have a future pilot in the house? Learn about Amelia Earhart. A budding computer programmer? Read books about Ada Lovelace.

    Gus was already interested in spies when he discovered that Harriet Tubman had been a spy for the Union Army. That fact made him want to learn everything I could find about her.

  6. … as well as male. 

Boys need to learn that girls can do anything. But they also must learn that boys can too.

Boys can be sensitive. Boys can cry. Boys can play with dolls and wear pink. Boys can grow to become nurses, preschool teachers, and stay-at-home parents.

I’ve been searching for books that show boys and men in non-traditional gender roles.

One of my favorite books that teaches a broad, inclusive definition of masculinity is called Real Cowboys by Kate Hoelfer.

Real cowboys are gentle. They know all of the songs that keep cattle calm..

This book is amazing. I’ve never read another quite like it. Hoelfer does a fantastic job of illustrating how a person can be strong and sensitive, tough and tender at the very same time. Because, as she points out in the book, real cowboys are girls, too.

Real cowboys want peace…

Real cowboys are good to the earth…

There is so much good in this book. And so many good resources out there.

But there’s not enough.

I want more children’s books to feature stay-at-home dads. (There is this one, however, that we plan to read).

I want to read a book that tells boys and girls that they can become a scientist, the president, or a stay-at-home parent – and that all of those choices have value. All too often, female empowerment in children’s books looks like success in the workplace. We need to recognize and value the unpaid work of full-time parenting (regardless of which parent is staying at home) and present it as a legitimate, valuable role for children to aspire to.

I want more books that teach children how to speak out and stand up to injustice.

It’s one thing to learn that injustice exists, but it’s another thing completely to learn how to stop it.


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