I simply assumed I was bringing up feminist children. I’m a feminist, my mother’s a feminist, so my kids are feminists, right?
Well, ummm, no. Apparently not.
I was sitting out on the deck late one afternoon on what happened to be international women’s day. My two older sons arrived home and plonked themselves down next to me. They started up their usual back and forth banter, making me smile as I watched the sun sink towards the mountains.
Then Noah, my eighteen year old said, ‘Were you listening to the radio on the way home?’
‘Yeah, what?’ Jack who was now twenty-one didn’t look up from the bowl of grapes he was eating.
‘International women’s day! I can’t stand that feminist crap!’
Jack laughed, ‘Yeah, me neither, they go on and on. It’s such a load of rubbish.’
I sat up, all of a sudden much more interested in the conversation.
‘Well it’s true, Mum,’ Jack said, always the one ready to prove his point.
‘What?’ I said, ‘What’s true?’
Jack went on to explain that sure there’d been a time when feminism was relevant, when it was needed, but that was in the past, not now. Women had equal rights, they got to vote, they could walk into any pub, do what ever university course they wanted, they earned good money – some women were the highest paid people in the country and we’d even had a female prime minister for goodness sake.
I sat there listening to Jack and all of his reasons why feminism should have died a peaceful and graceful death a long time ago, grappling with my own thoughts as to why feminism should still be alive and well. Why was feminism as relevant today as it was to my mother when I was growing up? It was difficult for me to configure a clear and concise argument. As I listened to Jack argue his case further I wondered what the edge to his voice was. He sounded almost angry, as if he’d somehow been hard done by, or blamed in some way by the feminist movement.
‘You sound angry Jack,’ I said, ‘as if the whole feminist cause is some sort assault on you.’
I was shocked by the venom in his voice. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Women say they’re being stopped from doing certain things, kept down, suppressed. If that’s the case then someone’s got to be doing it, right? They’re not doing it to themselves.’
‘Obviously it’s got to be men.’
‘Who are doing the suppressing. That means me and Noah and Kai and for that matter Dad.’
I was astounded. In the simplicity of the argument there was a side that was right and a side that was wrong. In Jack’s mind him, his brothers and his father, because of their gender, were all on the wrong side.
I was careful before I spoke, gathering my thoughts around me first so I could speak calmly and clearly. I told my boys how even here, in our own country, a woman is killed every week at the hands of her partner or ex partner; 1 in 3 women are sexually assaulted by the age of 15 and 1 in 4 children are abused. I told them how 15.5 million girls around the world would be married in the next sixteen years as children; it would take another 75years for women to gain equal pay and that it will be 2086 before rural African girls can have a secondary education. I explained to my boys that none of this was their fault, they are not part of the problem but they could definitely be part of the solution. Firstly by simply acknowledging the facts and realising that there is still work to be done. I told them about the school principal at Endeavour high who took feminism so seriously that he held regular workshops with the boys in his high school, particularly the senior boys. He taught his senior boys to become aware of their size and their power, to give way to smaller kids in the hallways. He taught them how to speak out against stupid comments made against girls and women. He talked about the power of words and the power of a man standing by a woman’s side.
My boys listened quietly without giving too much away. They weren’t disagreeing but they weren’t agreeing either. ‘I guess there must be a better word,’ I said, ‘a word that talks to freedom and equal rights for all of us. A word that says it’s OK for men to cry, a word that says it’s OK for men to stay at home and look after their kids, a word that says it’s OK for men and women to be exactly who it is they want to be.’
And that was when Noah grinned, ‘Menfemism.’
To listen Emma Watson’s inspiring speech at the UN on why we want men and boys to feel part of the change we’re seeking instead of the problem,
follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-iFl4qhBsE
Image from www.newyorker.com