3 helpful ways to teach boys to become men without the 'man up' nonsense.
Raising boys to be feminists doesn't just help girls and women. It helps boys, too.
Joanna Schroder is a proud feminist. She wants to raise her two sons to be proud feminists as well.
Schroeder is passionate about feminism due to her upbringing. In addition to her degree in women's studies from UCLA, she's part of a three-generation legacy of strong women, dating back to her grandmother who fought against sexist hiring standards in the 1930s.
But once her two sons came into the picture, things changed a bit.
"When I became a mom, my focus as a feminist shifted to what is happening with boys in society today," she told me. "That's why I believe in a feminist parenting style as I raise my sons."
Feminist parenting. Yep, it's a thing.
She's quick to point out that raising boys to be feminists is way more than just helping them become allies for women. Smashing gender norms helps our sons out, too.
Here are three reasons why Joanna believes raising our boys to be feminists is good idea.
1. It builds the foundation that boys are never justified in hurting or bullying girls.
There are a lot of seemingly innocent things we say about our boys:
"Boys will be boys."
"Don't worry. He's just mean to you because he likes you."
Joanna isn't buying any of it.
"Being a feminist parent doesn't allow for boys' bad behavior to be excused due to gender," she said. "Feminist parents believe that boys and girls are equally able to make choices that put empathy and kindness first."
Not to mention, studies have shown that gender-based language such as "boys will be boys" can lead our kids to subscribe to harmful stereotypes about what men and women can (or can't) do.
2. Crying? Yep, it's OK for boys to be emotional.
Back in the day, if a boy was caught crying, he might catch a lecture from a well-meaning adult or be targeted by other kids who thought he was being a "sissy."
Things have improved in that regard lately. Or have they?
"From the time they're small, we tell boys to 'man up' and we try to stop them from crying," Joanna said. "Language like that keeps boys quiet when they're hurt, and it tells them that they're not allowed to seek support when times are tough."
The whole "be a man" narrative really only allows men to experience three emotions: happiness, lust, and anger. Here's the thing — no matter what our gender is, sadness exists in all of us, too.
A recent study found that only 19% of men felt comfortable talking about their problems with others. It doesn't take a big leap to figure out that most of the men who keep their feelings bottled up learned to do so at an early age.
Unfortunately, bottling up emotions comes at a steep price. Males account for over 75% of all suicides, and they're more than four times as likely to commit suicide than females.
That is a big problem. A problem that Joanna hopes parents of young boys will address by allowing boys to be their true selves.
"Raising feminist sons, allowed to express the full range of their feelings and find support when they're feeling sad or scared, can help our boys live longer, happier lives," Joanna said.
3. It prepares boys to be loving, supportive dads in the future.
If a boy chooses to have children when he becomes a man, it will be the most important job he will ever have. But in order for boys to truly realize their potential as fathers, Joanna believes it all starts with how we raise them now.
"When we allow boys to see themselves as kind, empathetic, loving people, they are able to see themselves as engaged dads," Joanna said. "Dads who will help break the cycle of toxic masculinity."
How can we do that? Heather Mainville, a single mom of an 8-year-old son named Joey believes having boys playing with dolls helps.
"Joey loves dolls and has the confidence to speak up when he hears that boys shouldn't play with them," Heather told me. "He's also a loving and protective playmate with younger children due to learning empathy at a young age."
I like Joey's chances to be an excellent dad in the future.
Joanna believes that boys can also let go of the notion that their roles as men and fathers are to be financial providers. Instead they can be providers of a different kind.
The kind who reads books to his kids. The kind who attends his kids' doctor appointments. The kind who prepares healthy meals for his kids. The kind who styles his daughter's hair. The kind who isn't afraid to be affectionate around his kids.
In other words, boys can learn to grow up to be the type of dad everyone expects them to be.
"That allows for their partners to enter the workforce to their full capacity, knowing that their men are empowered as a different type of provider, too," Joanna said.
No matter what you think of feminist parenting, we all have one thing in common.
There are people who think that teaching our boys to be feminists is a bad idea. But what isn't up for debate is we need to do whatever we can to help our boys to become the best men they can be.
Joanna agrees. She just has strong opinions on how to go about it.
"Feminist parenting directly combats toxic masculinity, which ultimately offers all of our kids a better future," she said.
For more insight into what "toxic masculinity" looks like, and why it's important to fight it, check out the recent documentary "The Mask You Live In," which explores how boys deal with navigating between being true to themselves and satisfying society's definitions of masculinity.
Needless to say, it can be a tough road for our young men. It's up to us to help them.