February 03, 2015
Raising a Feminist Son: Why Not?

How can we have a future where gender equality is the norm and where violence against women is non-existence? By teaching our sons to become feminists.

by Evi Mariani Sofian
Issues // Gender and Sexuality
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“Can we raise our son to become a feminist?” I asked my husband one evening.

He paused for a few seconds before answering, “Why not?”

There is an old parenting anecdote about the greater brunt parents have to bear raising daughters because they have to teach the girls how to protect themselves from bad boys.

But I beg to differ, not only because boys too can fall victim to bad people but also because I don’t want my son, now a toddler, to become a perpetrator of violence against women (or violence, period).

My husband and I talked several times (especially each time after hearing news about another rape) about how we would teach him to respect women in this still patriarchal world. We talk about this in the knowledge that growing up, my son would take life lessons not only from his parents but also from his peers, teachers, the environment, public figures and the media.




As new parents, we haven’t had a detailed plan on how to make it happen. But I promise myself that my son would be someone who believes in gender equality and who would fight to end violence against women (although I hope when my son is older, violence against women would have been a thing in the past).

So far, what I have in mind is a feminist education that starts from home.

Many Indonesian men (and, in some cases, women who grow up in fully assisted households) cannot and or can but refuse to look after themselves. They make the women in their lives do their laundry, wash their dirty dishes, cook their food, clean the houses etc. I don’t want my son to turn into a boy who is useless at home, and I plan to involve him in age-appropriate domestic chores. I know a lot of Indonesian families have done this. Many teenagers who have experienced living in a boarding school setting like pesantren (Islamic boarding school) or Catholic seminary adopt these skills, and nowadays a lot of parents of older children don’t hire domestic workers, instead assigning each member of the family certain chores.

Later, when he begins to explore his sexuality, I want him to always respect his partner and build a healthy relationship devoid of any kind of abuse (physical or emotional). I want to ingrain in him that when a woman (or a man) says no, it’s a NO. This could be tricky because peer pressure can turn a good (but perhaps stupid and weak) boy into a rapist. We heard about a group of boys raping the girl they hanging out with because they think she is a loose girl or stories from the United States about fraternity boys at universities gang-raping a girl during wild parties because they thought the girl was asking for it.

This is probably not easy but I get the encouragement I need from several movements across the globe that have started to include boys and men in the fight for gender equality.

Recently, there was a trend of male celebrities wearing T-shirts that say “This is what a feminist looks like.” Yes, there was the subsequent awkward and embarrassing revelation of the sweatshop in Mauritius where the women workers made the T-shirts, but that aside, I still love the idea. Especially when it’s Benedict Cumberbatch wearing the T-shirt.

I have also learned about “Ring the Bell” campaign by the global human rights organization Breakthrough. The movement carries the tagline: One million men. One million promises. End violence against women.

I don’t know whether my son will someday grow up into an activist like those in Aliansi Laki Laki Baru, but for a start I plan to bring my boy to One Billion Rising Indonesia to dance with hundreds other women and men to campaign for the end of violence against women on Feb. 14. In his pink T-shirt.

Evi Mariani Sofian is a journalist at an English-daily newspaper in Jakarta.