We need to stop telling boys to be tough, to not cry or feel scared. Here are some tips to help raise your son without toxic masculinity.
Gendered parenting is not just restricted to girls. While daughters are trained how to walk and talk the feminine way from a very young age, most parents also make sure their son’s behaviour doesn’t even remotely resemble that of the opposite gender. Boys are inherently considered to extremely masculine, characterised by their aggression or stoic self. And so, even a slight deviation from their accepted behaviour tends to cause discomfort among people.
That’s why, when five-year-old Sam Gouveia from Massachusetts wore nail polish to school, he was bullied by his classmates. “Sam was ridiculed for being a boy with nail polish. They called him names and told him to take it off…When my wife picked him up from school he collapsed into her arms and cried uncontrollably. He was devastated at how other kids turned on him, even his friends. He asked them to stop but that just made it worse,” his father Aaron Gouveia wrote on social media. The father went on to talk about how his son likes a lot of “girl” things besides playing sports. He owns a collection of purses and loves to paint his nails because he has no understanding or reason to believe that such things are only meant for women.
Sam is my middle child & he’s a terror. A “boy’s boy” as so many (not me) would say. He’s rough and tumble, he’s loud, he’s always dirty, loves trucks, plays sports and knee drops me from the couch. But he also loves a lot of “girl” things.
— Daddy Files (@DaddyFiles) October 23, 2018
It is important to note that men are as much victims of patriarchy as women are. The constant pressure to be strong and tough may have an adverse effect on a man’s well-being, and on women too in the process. As a society striving towards achieving gender equality, it is essential to rescue your sons from being trapped in toxic masculinity alongside empowering your daughters. But how can you do so? Express Parenting got in touch with a parenting consultant and a few parents to get some tips:
Stop telling your son to “be a man”
“That’s the most common thing that I hear any father telling his son, implying that a man is aggressive, emotionless and cannot cry,” said Dr Debmita Dutta, parenting consultant and founder of What Parents Ask, told Express Parenting. “Parents need to realise that such an understanding of manhood can only harm their child in the process. Telling your son to be man is a huge shortcut in parenting, without really understanding what he really wants,” she added.
Sons are only encouraged to play manly sports or take part in adventure activities by most parents, all in the name of making him tough. What one fails to realise is that the constant pressure to “be a man” can choke a boy’s individuality. “Many fathers believe that their son will be ridiculed in various situations unless he mans his son up and toughens him. It is a difficult mindset to get over but one has to do it,” added Dr Dutta.
Let your son express his vulnerabilities
Suppressing emotions can have a negative impact on any individual, leading to mood swings, frustration or depression. Right from the beginning, sons are never really encouraged to feel and express their emotions.
“Parents, especially fathers need to tell their son that it is not normal to be aggressive and emotionless. Men are programmed to be tough while dealing with every crisis that comes their way,” said Preeti Vyas, publisher and mother to a nine-year-old boy. Thankfully, that’s not the case with artist and graphic designer Sid Ghosh’s 11-year-old son. “We tell our son that it is okay to cry as loud as he wants if he is hurt,” he said.
Help your son identify emotions
Anger and aggression cannot be the expression to every emotion your son might feel. In many cases, children are rarely able to express themselves accurately due to their poor vocabulary or limited exposure to the world. It is because boys are trained to bottle up emotions, they typically resort to mindless aggression to vent out. “Help your son identify sadness, anger or frustration. Let your son cry,” asserted Dr Dutta.
Communicate with your son
More often than not, children are scared to openly talk to their parents about things happening in their life, for fear of being judged or scolded. Communication is the key to ensure your son has a healthy and sound upbringing. Encouraging your child to express his thoughts and desires will only help you understand him better, while bridging the parent-child gap.
Get rid of harsh expressions
Stop calling your son names like ‘sissy’ or ‘pansy’ every time he cries or appears to be weak because there is nothing feminine about being vulnerable or scared. “Trying to live up to the strong man-image is actually the biggest disservice to the male soul. It is only shameful if parents are using such words for their son,” said Vyas.
Teach respect, empathy and compassion
Parents need to practise and preach respect towards women. And that has to begin in the house. How a mother or other female members are treated in the house has a huge impact on a boy’s attitude towards women in general. Gender equality will only be a reality if we start showing empathy and compassion to people around us, irrespective of their gender. According to Dr Dutta, empathy is the currency for tomorrow. “You cannot give what you have never received. If your son has never received kindness or empathy from you, how can you ever expect him to pass it on?” she said. Sons need to be taught to be kind and empathetic and that can only happen when they receive similar compassion from their parents.
Parents need to encourage their sons to be equal partners in household responsibilities. “Let your son help you in the kitchen or in the laundry. If my son can operate games with complex technology, he can definitely operate a washing machine. Children need to be taught to embrace all roles required to lead a healthy life. Role play is something that all kids enjoy doing and also influences their cognitive development, ” said Vyas.
Ghosh said, “My son sees me working alongside my wife at home regularly, which also encourages him to lend a hand in household chores. And we allow him to help us.”
Your son need not play with cars only
Parents tend to define roles for their sons and daughters from a very early age by encouraging boys to play with cars while gifting kitchen sets and soft toys to girls. “Childhood is all about exploration and gathering new experiences and what a shame if your son is deprived of 50 per cent of such experiences just because they are meant for the opposite gender!” Vyas rightly pointed out. Ghosh too doesn’t believe in a masculine upbringing of his son. “My son possesses a good number of teddy bears. He also loves to listen to fairy tales and why shouldn’t he?” he said.
Educate your son through stories
Stories are an effective way of teaching a child. Ghosh, for instance, tries to give his son a dose of feminism through story-telling. He explains concepts to his son through mythological anecdotes like that of the Adishakti, comics or even movies. “We need to explain to our sons and daughters why we need a Wonder Woman in Justice League or a Black Widow in Avengers,” Ghosh signed off.