As the mother of three kids, I know that how I raise my teenage son is just as important as how I raise my twin daughters, especially when it comes to promoting gender equality. A major goal of Lean In is to empower women to achieve their dreams. While that's incredibly important, it isn't the only piece of the puzzle. A lot of the conversation about gender equality has been dominated by how gender stereotypes negatively affect women and girls. It's undoubtedly true that they do, but they also have a tremendous impact on men and boys.
Sheryl Sandberg has spoken a lot about the importance of men leaning in at home, enabling families to strike a more equitable balance of responsibilities for both professional work and home duties. It's about making sure that men and women are equal partners, so everyone is doing their fair share. Like Sheryl, I believe that when everyone is encouraged and supported in their aspirations, everyone benefits.
I consider myself well-informed about gender equality issues, but even I struggle with how to integrate the values I believe in with the day-to-day life at home with my children. I grew up in a very traditional family, where gender roles were clearly defined and adhered to. My father was the head of the household, and chores varied based on gender -- girls helped cook and clean and boys took out the trash and mowed the lawn.
Today, with my own family, it can sometimes be difficult to challenge the traditional thinking I grew up with in favor of the progressive thinking I know is better for my children and their futures. I hope that when they all grow up and get married, they will be able to cultivate successful and equitable relationships with their partners. But I know that the mindset that makes that possible starts when they are young, especially for my son.
Promoting gender equality at home is a daily practice, and it isn't always as easy as you think. The power of stereotypes is strong, and it takes more than wishful thinking to overcome them. Fortunately, there are steps you can take every day to promote gender equality. Here are five ways I encourage my son to #LeanInTogether:
1. Have kids do all kinds of work. I make it point to stress how important contributing to household chores is for my kids. When it comes to my son, I think it's important he learns to cook for himself (and others) and cleans up after himself. It's important that he understands that his contributions in the home are valued just as much as his sisters', but also that household chores are an expected part of life.
2. Ban "man up." I loved Lean In's "Ban Bossy" campaign. As someone who was criticized for "being bossy" as kid, I know how hurtful it can be. That's why I encourage my daughters when they show leadership qualities and feel compelled to speak their mind. In that same vein, it's important that I defy the opposite stereotype for my son. I try to never tell him to "man up" and make sure to let him know that showing feelings and emotions is a good thing.
3. Diversify media. One of the major ways that gender stereotypes are reinforced is through television, books, and movies. And today, with smartphones and computers, it's almost impossible to take a break from the media. As must as possible, I try to encourage my kids to watch and read materials that promote gender equality. When we're watching a movie together, pointing out ways that the characters are problematic can be a useful exercise. Diversifying the media my kids are exposed to challenges their perceptions about gender stereotypes and allows them to broaden their perspective of what men and women can do.
4. Encourage pursuit of passions over gendered subjects. This one hits close to home for me. When I wanted to leave home as a teen to pursue finance, there were a lot of people who were skeptical of my ability to succeed, including myself. Why? Because "girls can't do math." It's so sad that even today, those stereotypes are still present. And the worst part is, they make a difference. In fact, studies have found that when women are reminded of their gender before an exam, their scores for math and science were lower than when they were not asked! I want to encourage my children to pursue the subjects they love, no matter what society says they should or shouldn't be good at.
5. Keep an open mind about their futures. When it comes to leaning in for men, that means valuing taking on a role at home. So when I talk to my son about his future, it's just as important to include family in that conversation as it is for my daughters. I want to make sure he knows that valuing spending time with family isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's part of what makes a successful relationship.
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