How I’m Raising a Son Who Truly Respects Women

Raising a Son Who Truly Respects WomenI’m currently pregnant with my second child—a girl. She’ll be joining her 2-year-old brother in just a few months.

The day we found out that the little person growing inside me was female, I remarked to my husband that I was equal parts excited and terrified.

Excited because: Yay, a GIRL!

Terrified because: Gender discrimination, glass ceilings, sexual assault, catcalling, pay inequality, objectification, body image struggles. Oh, and makeup. Scary stuff!

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how I’m going to raise my daughter to stand up against these elements of our culture that are too often working against her. And then this thought occurred to me:

One of the most powerful ways I can help my daughter lies not in how I raise her, but in how I raise my son.

Because there’s only so much we girls and women can do to secure our own equality, safety, and forward momentum. In the end, we need strong, respectful men on our side.

How do I raise my son to be one of those men?

Well, here’s how I’m trying.

Walk the Talk

I’ve heard it said that when it comes to what kids learn from their parents, more is caught than taught.

My son needs to see the male figures in his life—his dad, grandpas, teachers, coaches—modeling what respect for women looks like. And he needs to see female figures who expect to be treated fairly and kindly.

That way respecting women just seems like the normal way for men to behave, even if it’s not totally the norm in our society just yet.

What’s more, I myself need to be conscious of the way I’m treating and talking about other women. If I’m constantly tearing other women down instead of building them up—the way we women too often do—I’m teaching my son to follow suit.

“Girl” is Not an Insult

The way children (and adults) talk these days, “girl” is still the most derogatory insult that can be hurled at a boy—even despite the success of campaigns like the Always #LikeAGirl video.

As parents, we have some power to change this simply by ensuring our sons don’t grow up thinking that anything traditionally feminine is negative or somehow “less than.”

One way I’m hoping to make that happen? Introducing my son to strong female role models.

We parents tend to reach for books and movies that showcase the sex of our child, which means most boys rarely read a book or see a movie with a female lead. But little boys need to have strong female role models just as much as little girls do.

Observe But Don’t Preach

I’m not one to let gender stereotypes or sexist comments go unchallenged. But I also understand that those relentless challenges can make the listener roll their eyes—and ultimately tune me out.

And the last thing I want is for my son to tune me out!

So when I see an ad on tv that objectifies women or hear a line in a song that demeans them, I’m working on simply pointing that out without getting heated or frustrated—that way I can get the message across to my son without coming off like I’m preaching from a high horse.

Take Sex Ed into My Own Hands

Ok, my son is 2, so we’re obviously not here yet.

But I already realize that if we parents say nothing to our kids about sex, then they’re going to learn all about it solely from the media, pornography, and other kids—all sources that aren’t exactly teaching respect for women.

So the awkward conversations must be had, because an awkward conversation is better than no conversation at all. And that conversation will most certainly include a discussion of the definition and importance of consent.

Respect Starts with Self

Perhaps the most important thing we parents can do to teach our sons to respect girls and women? First teach them to respect themselves.

Boys need to have their confidence and self-esteem built up just as much as girls do.

And when we teach boys to be kind to both themselves and others, that leads to the ultimate lesson: Respect isn’t just a male-female thing. Respect is a human thing.

That’s a lesson every one of our kids should learn, don’t you think?

If you have a son, how are you raising him to respect women? If you have a daughter, how are you raising her to be a strong, confident woman? 

29 responses to “How I’m Raising a Son Who Truly Respects Women”

  1. I had the same reaction when I found out I was having a girl! Yay – girl! Oh no – everything that comes with being a female! I am lucky to have a husband is more of a feminist than I am, and we both keep each other in check when it comes to social issues.

    Recently we were having a discussion with our son about the Avengers. He asked me who my favorite was and I said Thor, he said, ‘no mommy, you have to pick a lady like you.’ My husband tried to explain that if ladies could only pick ladies, there aren’t enough on the team for me and his future sister to like. It’s a bit of a complex statement for him to understand right now, but he’s already taking part in the gender divide. He loves superheroes but barely talks about the lady ones. And whenever he talks about them he says the same, ‘she’s a lady, like you mommy.’ Whereas he doesn’t say that the men superheroes are men like daddy. (Not sure what the deeper meaning is there, is he acknowledging that this momma is a superhero? 🙂 )

    It’ll be a long road of conversations and explanations, but I am totally with you that the conversations are worth the outcome. Even the awkward conversations are always worth having!

    • I think it is AWESOME that both you and your husband are on board. That makes a big difference for little boys, I think! Oh, and I’m certain your son sees you as a superhero, because you are one! 🙂

      • Angela, have you seen the Avengers poster re-worked to imagine what if the male characters were posed like the female one? It’s seriously funny, but really makes a great point. Your son isn’t ready for that particular lesson, but your story just reminded me of that image. My older daughter found it very eye-opening, and made her more thoughtful about the pervasive media images we get every day.

  2. Hmm…maybe I’m naive, but I don’t see gender in how we’re raising our daughters, or maybe we don’t think about it.

    We focus on our family foundation goals (creativity, resourcefulness, humility, excellent health, etc.) and take life moment by moment.

    We listen to our daughters and model what we expect and believe is important for them then we sit back and trust.

  3. This is such important topic – especially in our house with four boys. I try to lead by example and show our boys that there is nothing Dada does that Mama can’t do – and vice versa. My husband cooks and cleans, I put things together and take out the trash. They are being raised to help out as much in the house as anyone else. There are no gender-typical duties in our home and I think (more than anything) that sets a good foundation for them to respect women and their future wives. They SEE my husband comes home and cooks just as often as I do. He swings the vacuum cleaner much more often than I do – the only thing that “mama does, that no one else does” is dirty diapers – but that’s just our little joke! It’s not a gender thing… just cute and silly.

    Great article – I can’t wait to see your little baby girl!

  4. Congratulations on finding out that you are having a baby girl. My son is 15 and I have tried to lead by example and use situations along the way as he was growing up as teachable moments on what to do and what not to do. We were at the grocery store one day and an elderly lady was struggling to get a box from a higher shelf…without me saying a word…my son stopped what he was doing and went to help her. Its moments like this that make me proud.

  5. Great article, Katie! I like your point about minding how YOU talk about women, too. We all need to be role models, not just fathers.

  6. Congratulations on finding out! You make a very valid point. The way the world sees and treats girls tomorrow depends on how we raise our sons today. I would want to raise my son the same way, and make sure he can look up to inspiring female figures too.

  7. I can absolutely recommend the DVD “The New Rules of LovLove, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley.

  8. Although I’m not 100% behind the “like a girl” campaign (you can ask why if you want) but I do try to watch what I say in terms of stereotypes for boys and girls. Like my son asked why do only girls wear dresses, and I responded that some boys wear dresses but yes, lots of girls wear dresses. I don’t actively try to tell or show my children (1 boy, 1 girl) that women are strong and should be respected because I think our household dynamic is already that way. My husband treats me with respect and does his share of household and childcare duties. Let’s just hope our kids aren’t anti-whatever-we-do and go back to stereotypes of our past.

  9. I think the most important thing we are doing is modeling respect, compassion, and equal treatment between my husband and I. He can cook. I can take out the garbage. We both have feelings and emotions that are allowed to be expressed. Our daughter is living this, and any other child that comes along, girl or boy, will be taught the same skills and values.

  10. One thing that really bothers me is that society in general makes it seem like boys aren’t supposed to like girl heroes, like another person said about the Avengers. My 3 year old loves Paw Patrol…which is five boy puppies and one girl. Naturally, he wants everything Paw Patrol. Every shirt or product I have seen excludes Skye (the girl). It really irritates me. When he talks about who is on his shirt (or other Paw Patrol product) I always point out that Skye isn’t there and “that’s silly.”

  11. One thing we are currently trying to teach our very cuddly and affectionate 3 year old boy is checking if the other person is happy with his cuddling or hand holding and if they say stop or look unhappy he needs to move away. Their body their choice. It’s really hard as I don’t want him to stop being cuddly and affectionate. But its still a important lesson and helps keep his baby sister happy and safe (he can be a little rough when cuddling her and knock her over ).

  12. Love this! I’m also teaching my boys that no means no and stop means stop. That also means stopping horseplay when they stay stop. And menstruation is a normal part of life.

  13. When my son was 5 and a half I took him and his younger sister and left their father because he was abusive. I’m trying hard to teach them about respect and trying to have positive influence in their life. They still have a lot of time with their father so unfortunately it’s not always a positive impact but I know at least when they’re older they will understand why I left him how he was disrespectful to me and to them

  14. I think that it’s super classy that you are teaching your son to respect women. It’s kind of become a “lost art” in society. Like being a gentleman and all. Good stuff!

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