'How I'm teaching my young sons to respect women'

Lauren Crosby
·5-min read
Photo credit: Leon Neal - Getty Images
Photo credit: Leon Neal - Getty Images

Lauren Crosby is a freelance journalist with a background in early childhood education. She has worked with women escaping domestic violence and female survivors of modern slavery. She is also a mum to three young boys. Here, Lauren shares the ways she's bringing up her sons to respect women.

Last week commenced with celebrating women on International Women’s Day. We revered, honoured, applauded, and thanked them. By the end of the week, we were mourning the death of Sarah Everard, remembering the countless acts of sexual harassment and violence toward us, reading comments warning us not to respond with hysteria, and watching women arrested as they grieved for Everard at a London vigil. This cycle of upholding women before trampling them must stop.

Photo credit: Leon Neal - Getty Images
Photo credit: Leon Neal - Getty Images

UN Women has proposed a global initiative with solutions to ending violence against women and girls. As part of their brief, they emphasise the importance of early intervention and education as a means preventing violence against women. They claim it is the most cost-effective way to stop violence. By targeting boys and men, the primary perpetrators of violence against women, we can begin to change the cultural and societal narrative.

As a mother of young boys, I know that it is my responsibility to begin shaping the values that will define them as men. I may not have daughters to pass my feminism on to, but I have sons who will learn from me how to uphold women with the greatest esteem and respect – treating them as equals, not objects.

We as parents have the responsibility and the privilege to shape the kind of men that challenge misogyny. We mustn’t passively expect schools to teach them respect. We need to look our boys in the eyes and see men that have the potential to protect and elevate women. We have the power to change the status quo of the next generation through our active involvement in educating and modelling for our boys the respect of women. We have the power to guarantee our sons won’t be part of the problem, but of the solution.

Here's how I teach my sons to respect women...

Lead by example

To teach my sons respect for women, I show women respect. Young children note our actions, our words, our attitudes – they learn from what they experience. If they hear me demeaning my body, criticising my friends, talking over other women to get my voice heard, or ignoring the opinions of others then I pass that onto them.

Challenge their behaviour

They copy what they see – I want them to see me respect adults, respect women, and respect their friends who are girls. I verbalise why I act and speak with respect, so there is no confusion that it stems from a worldview that reveres women. If I see them making fun of girls in their classes, I will get to the root of why they think that behaviour is acceptable and coach them how to change. To teach, we must show.

Photo credit: Dan Kitwood - Getty Images
Photo credit: Dan Kitwood - Getty Images

Create a safe environment to express their feelings

There is a narrative given by some that boys need to learn how to be “macho”. They shouldn’t cry when their feelings are hurt. Shouldn’t be scared. Shouldn’t be sensitive.

When this narrative is forced upon a boy, they learn to mask their anxiety and frustration with emotionless anger. As a mother that wants to raise respectful boys, I create a safe environment for them to express their feelings, and be empathetic to the women around them.

Challenge stereotypes

Since our boys were born, I remained the primary care giver. I made the choice to stay home with them and fit in work around nap times and school runs. Yet, I don’t want them to think that a woman’s role is to put her mind, her skills, and her career to the side for the sake of her children.

A woman can choose if she wants to stay home or if she wants to work. A woman can choose to hire a cleaner. A woman can choose to put her children in childcare. There isn’t a one size fits all woman, and I am clear with my boys that they are never to think it is a woman’s job to cook, clean, and change nappies. I often tell them, “I’m not your maid. I’m not your chef” to teach them how to take care of themselves by cleaning their own messes and making their own food.

Teach them universal skills

Boys need to learn universal skills just as much as girls so that they don’t end up expecting their future partners to prepare their chicken dinners, while washing loads of clothes, after taking out the bins.

Monitor what they watch and consume

Finally, I monitor their media intake. Even as young as four, boys are playing video games and watching television shows that promote violence toward and disrespect of women.

While I hate being the prude mum that keeps my sons from engaging with media that “all the other kids” are watching, I want to ensure that the visual images they consume do not numb their minds to violence and aggression. I’m willing to be unpopular for the sake of future women.

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