What’s happening in the world nowadays troubles and worries me in many ways – as a human being who is concerned about others, as an adult who sees rampant misogyny and frequently hears reports of sexual assault, as a man who feels that he should be doing more to stand up for others, especially women, as a husband who hopes (and prays) that his wife and women he knows are safe when they go out, and as a father who is trying his best to raise a son who will respect women and everyone else.
Of course, it doesn’t help that we live in a society that is quick to objectify women, turn a blind eye to them being molested, stalked, insulted or raped and then make them feel like it was all their fault. But it is imperative for us to realise that together we form, what is called, the ‘society’ and are responsible for ensuring that everyone around us feels and remains safe. It is also high time for us to realise that fathers can play an active role in raising sons who will grow up to create a fairer, more equal and safer society.
Be the positive role model that they need
One of the basic truths of parenting is that our children become what we are and not what we say. So, do the right things like respecting your wife and other women, treating them as equals, listening to their opinions, being civil, never resorting to physical violence, being compassionate and so on.
Despite all our talk about being progressive, conversations around topics like love and sex are still considered taboo in most families. However, advancement in technology has armed today’s children with the ability to access information more easily than ever before. As a result, our children are using the Internet and media to understand what is acceptable and what is the norm. But unfortunately, most of the content they read or watch promotes stereotypical and sexist mindset. So, it is vital that we open channels of communication and engage them in conversation. Talk to your sons about love, dating, physical intimacy and, particularly, the importance of consent. Also, if your sons are old enough, talk to them about the unsavoury stories that are often highlighted by the media. Help them understand and empathise, and reiterate to them the importance of treating women as equals and not as objects.
Speak up and challenge them
Respecting women (and others) is not just about the way you treat them, it’s also about taking a stand against sexist and predatory behaviour. And this is something that we need to imbibe in our sons from an early age. It is also important to teach them that standing up for women doesn’t make them superior. On the contrary, it is an indication of our belief that women deserve to be respected as well.
Similarly, it is also crucial that we strongly disapprove our sons’ behaviour when we see them disrespecting women. Observe how they treat their mothers, sisters and other women, and do not hesitate to correct them if you see them misbehaving in any way. Their behaviour towards women early on is an indicator of how they will treat women later in their lives.
Break gender barriers
While we continue to strive for gender equality, it is important for us to realise that in most families, children grow up with the notion of gender-specific roles for men and women. And inadvertently they start to see it that way too. So, as dads and husbands, it is key that we show our sons that we do not shy away from sharing responsibilities at home, that raising children and running the household is as much a man’s responsibility as it is a woman’s. When roles are defined based on gender, it unintentionally makes boys believe that they are superior to women around them.
Also teach your sons about double standards prevalent in the society; like how society is quick to shame women for wearing ‘revealing’ clothes but finds a man strutting around shirtless perfectly acceptable, or a woman’s bra strap showing is considered as her ‘asking for it’.
In conclusion, it is important that we imbue the right sense of morals and respect in our sons during the formative years. As fathers, we need to reiterate to our sons that women are not second-grade humans. In fact, the fear they feel and show arises from years of being subjected to taunts, abuses and insults. So, more than anything else, be the change that you want to see in your sons.