Women’s History Month: I Raised My Daughter To Be A Warrior — Here Are Six Pivotal Messages For My Son
As women around the world acknowledge the pioneers of the women’s movement with Women’s History Month, my son is far more interested in the movie “Deadpool”. He has been raised by a single mother with a strong-willed sister, and certainly has interacted with smart, focused girls all through school. Like many men in his early twenties, he does not see the women’s movement as a major concern: he grew up with a lot of empowered women.
His reticence to engage on women’s issues bothers me greatly; I know that women will never reach full potential unless the men in our lives support us. As a Millennial, I know he believes in human rights and is usually “color-blind” to those around him. He’s a strong advocate for evaluating others based on their character not on any visible cues. So why do I often feel young men do not care about women’s empowerment? Perhaps the six key messages below will help our sons understand why this matters so much to us:
Just because I am pro-women doesn’t mean I’m anti-men
For the most part, women want equality. We aren’t looking to take FROM men, but rather to advance all people together. I know you grew up with vocal girls in school, and at your college men are the minority, and so many college-aged women take Gender Studies to explore the world from a female-centric view. Certainly there are women who blame men for all of the inequity, and others demonize men as “keeping women down”. But like any movement, there is a spectrum of opinion. The bulk of women want men to join us in gaining greater equity for women. We recognize there is a balance between the sexes, and we completely get that our gains cannot come from your losses. The goal is to float all boats.
Acknowledge the struggle
It’s still a man’s world. Men earn more. Men control more. Men have greater power. Those are facts, and wish you would recognize that this bothers women immensely. For centuries, women have been told they are inferior, have been held back from education, have been unable to choose their own life paths, unable to pursue their dreams. That’s real and it’s painful, and all women carry that legacy. But we are inspired by the amazing men and women that have worked hard to change this. From the 19th Amendment to the work of Margaret Sanger to Janet Yellen’s ascendancy at the Federal Reserve, women are embracing their full rights as citizens, and I know you want this for us. So at times when we bemoan the slow pace of change, we do not expect you to fix it; we just want you to acknowledge it. Looked at one way, women have made incredible gains in a very short time (it’s less than 100 years since we got the right to vote!), but there is still a lot of work to be done. Your acknowledgement of our achievements is important.
Recognize the importance of the right to choose
All of the political and media bluster about Planned Parenthood and abortion rights is anathema to the women of my generation. Here is how we look at it: if a woman cannot have control over her own body, she cannot control her own destiny. I cannot imagine there is a woman who ever wants an abortion, but there are millions of women who have to make the hardest choice so that they can live the life they want. When men try to tell us what we can/cannot do with our own bodies, it is the ultimate power play. I know you support a woman’s right to choose, but you feel it isn’t your issue. It is. Until all women have the right to determine their own destiny — this includes your mother, your sister, your (perhaps) future daughter — we are held down by others, and equality is not possible.
Be a full partner
I am sorry that you have not had a role model to show you how to be a more evolved partner/parent. While your father’s generation supported women working, they continued the at-home rule of their own fathers: “women take care of the household”. I worked outside the home, yet still did all the work inside the home. My generation suffered from being transitional in the evolution of true partnership and co-parenting; many of us “ brought home the bacon and fried it up in the pan”. Your generation has the opportunity to change that broken model. I encourage you to keep learning how to cook, to clean your own apartment and do your own laundry, and to recognize that all families are better served when both parents are equally involved with childcare.
Join me in the fight for pay equity
There are many reasons why women are not yet at pay equity, from the mommy penalty, to the fact that more women are in lower paying jobs, to a simple game of catch up. We will get there, but not until 2058 according to studies. That is just too long, and I know you agree. Yes, college educated, single, childless, urban women match their male counterparts in salary. But once that woman has a child, the trajectory changes, and almost all women never catch up. This hurts everyone. Certainly it hurt you growing up, since I was paid — and still am paid — less than a male peer. When we truly pay for talent and results, not for gender or circumstance, then everyone has the chance to earn more. There need be no downside for men in supporting pay equity, but you will benefit from having female friends, family members, and perhaps one day, a wife, be paid what she is really worth. If/when you are a boss, I hope you fix this for your team members.
Support women in small ways
Be conscious of your own biases, and work hard to eliminate them. Read books by female authors (they aren’t all “chick lit”). Go to women’s sporting events and cheer them on. Buy from women-owned businesses when you can. Take a gender studies class, as hard as that is because you are convinced you will be the villain. I hope that won’t be the case, and that the Millennial women will welcome you with open arms, an ally in their fight. And while I know you and many of your generation support Bernie Sanders, please understand why the fact that there is a viable female Presidential candidate is a HUGE deal to the women of my generation. I may not agree with everything Hillary Clinton says — I may not even vote for her; that is my choice and my right — but the milestone that a woman can truly have a chance to be President — the most powerful job in the world — is significant to the women’s movement.
I am confident that most Millennial men believe in the women’s movement, but they do not know how to play a role, and often feel that women blame them for our struggles. And sometimes, quite frankly, we do. As parents, we need to raise both our sons and our daughters to believe gender equity matters, and that all children can grow up to pursue their dreams. As Gloria Steinem once said: ““We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” Let’s celebrate Women’s History Month by doing just that.