Every dad wants to raise their son to respect women with the kind of thoughtfulness that transcends holding a door or pulling out a chair (although, do that too). And, there is nobody more qualified to give you real insight into that than Lt. Col. Kate Germano. She’s dealt with her share of dickheads as a female Marine, combat veteran, and chief operating officer of the Service Women’s Action Network. As an advocate for gender equality in the very male-centric world of the United States Marine Corps, she has some solid ideas on what you can do to prevent such dickery in your own boys.
“The easiest way to make sure that boys grow up into men who understand women bring something to the table, is to help them become familiar with the fact that women have leadership – and brains – to offer from the onset of their developmental years, ” says Germano.
Atten-hut, because there’s a badass lady on deck.
Don’t Just Talk About Dead Presidents
Your kids know George Washington and Abraham Lincoln — they’re the old guys on their allowance. But what about Jane Addams, co-founder of the American Civil Liberties Union and winner of the 1931 Nobel Peace Prize? Or Mary Sherman Morgan, rocket scientist and space travel pioneer? If they’re not familiar with the equally heroic women of the past, it’s time to start balancing the history books.
“If there are discussions [about history] going on at home, those discussions have to include women.”
“If there are discussions [about history] going on at home, those discussions have to include women,” says Germano. “For millennia, women have been part of society, part of science, part of math. Unfortunately, we forget that.” And now that Harriet Tubman is about to be on the $20 bill, even their allowance will remind them of that fact.
Appearance Shouldn’t Matter
Looks tell us virtually nothing about ability and should not be a factor. That should go without saying in the 21st century — but it was just said. If you tune into cable news coverage of the presidential election, it’s obvious why you still need to point this out to your sons.
“Hillary Clinton — this isn’t her first go-around,” says Germano. “And it’s not the first time a woman candidate has run for the presidency. If you look at the press coverage, [there are] many more instances of mentioning her looks; the way she dressed; the tone of her voice. Kids need to be made aware of these unique obstacles that a woman faces every single day.” No matter what your politics are, nobody should be singled out for their race or sex.
Point Out Gender Bias
Really listen to the words your sons say about girls. Do they disparage girls’ athletic ability or behavior? Do they make fun of a girl for dressing differently or for wearing her hair a certain way? Have you found a copy of Neil Strauss’ The Game under their bed?
Most likely they’re parroting things they hear from their peers during or after school. It’s your job to talk to teachers, coaches, and any other adults who have a day-to-day influence on your sons’ ideas about girls. Let them know it’s not OK to say things like, “You throw like a girl.” (Because, honestly, anyone can suck at throwing — just look at Jacoby Ellsbury.)
“If you are raising a child and you know they’re not picking behavior or language that is the basis of equality, then discuss it,” says Germano. “Then make sure other players in the process understand they have a role.”
Show Them What a Leader Looks Like
“I think one of the easiest things a dad can do is have a discussion with your child, and have them tell you what they think a leader looks like,” says Germano. “Then show them a picture of a leader — one woman and one man — and then talk about the characteristics those individuals share. Those traits are not gender-specific, and it can start early.”
It’s important to remind all the boys that it’s intelligence, self-confidence, preparation, assertiveness, and gumption that gets a person far in life. Not that and a pair of testes.