How to challenge harmful masculine stereotypes at home
As a parent of two boys, I spend a lot of time thinking (worrying) about what my husband and I can do to help our sons become good men.
Although the conversation is moving in the right direction, the stats around the harm that outdated masculine stereotypes can cause boys, men and everyone they interact with, can’t be ignored.
Pressure to follow outdated stereotypes of masculinity – where men are depicted as aggressive, emotionally disconnected and non-nurturing – are contributing to higher rates of violence, mental health issues and suicide in men and boys.
It’s clear that everyone benefits when men break free from harmful masculine stereotypes. But what can you do to counteract these outdated ideas at home and help your son move towards a healthier sense of masculinity?
Here are 4 simple ways to start:
1. Disrupt gender stereotypes around housework
With women still doing the majority of unpaid housework, the division of chores is a simple way to challenge sexist stereotypes. Actions speak volumes and your son is more likely to question the idea of ‘traditional’ gender norms if you divide chores equally, rather than simply talking about how much you value equality.
Be aware of who’s doing what chore too – particularly if you’re part of a different-gender couple. Challenge yourself to mix it up, taking turns to cook or mow the lawn, and switch up your kids’ chores too. Boys can do dishes and girls can take out the garbage. And if your kids get paid pocket money for housework, make sure they’re getting equal pay for equal work.
2. Expand your son’s horizons
Shops, libraries, sporting clubs and mainstream media, are awash with messages about what girls and boys should do, watch, read and play. Consciously expose your son to books, games, TV shows and movies that show people in non-traditional gender roles, such as father as primary caregiver or girl as ‘rescuer’.
If you have younger kids, don’t limit toy choices to the ‘boy’ or ‘girl’ aisle and offer a variety of activities – perhaps your son would enjoy dance class or gymnastics and your daughter would prefer Lego club or karate? Seek out mixed-gender teams or classes and organise mixed-gender group catch-ups to help your son develop cross-gender friendships.
3. Be mindful of your language
Your words send powerful messages. Commenting on a girl’s prettiness or a boy’s physical strength seems harmless but, if repeated enough, sets expectations for kids based on their gender.
Professions and occupations are often stereotyped. Try to say ‘firefighter’ instead of ‘fireman’, and ‘police officer’ instead of ‘policeman’. And avoid stereotyping occupations by prefacing with genders, such as ‘female lawyer’ or ‘male nurse’. If you slip up, use it as an opportunity to have a conversation with your son about gender bias in certain careers.
4. Teach boys to value and stand up for girls and women
Help your son understand that being an ally to girls and women is not only about not demeaning girls, but is also about challenging others who do. Show him how to confront harmful or belittling behaviour by speaking up yourself and explain why specific words or behaviours are offensive and inappropriate.
If your son is worried about speaking out against his mates, brainstorm ways he could approach difficult conversations. For instance, taking a friend aside to explain why his behaviour or words are problematic could help avoid defensive response in front of peers, and might be a more powerful way to get the message across.
Following from a successful +M webinar in 2021, our friends at the Foundation for Positive Masculinity are hosting an International Conference on 1 September 2023 for educators, men’s health practitioners, teachers and leaders who are ready to help boys improve their life outcomes. Learn more about the upcoming conference.
Bec Cavalôt is a Melbourne-based writer, and mum of two beautiful, boisterous boys. You can find her at www.cavalotcopy.com. This article is about Positive Masculinity
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