WOMEN
05/06/2016 10:32 am ET Updated Apr 10, 2017

10 Powerful Women On Raising Feminist Sons

The future is bright. (And feminist.)
These women are raising the future generation of feminist allies.
Getty Images
These women are raising the future generation of feminist allies.

As feminist icon Gloria Steinem famously said: “We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons ... but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.” To teach those sons, in other words, about what it means to be a feminist who not only supports equality, but who helps to move the cause forward. 

But how do you actually raise an enlightened, feminist son when misogyny is still such a potent, inescapable force in our culture? In honor of Mother’s Day, here’s how 10 amazing and powerful mothers of boys are making it happen. 

  • 1 Jillian Michaels, Trainer
    It’s most important to lead by example and show my son that women are just as strong, just as smart, just as capable. M
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    It’s most important to lead by example and show my son that women are just as strong, just as smart, just as capable. My son has an older sister, and two moms. Yes, he has strong men in his life, but he is surrounded by women. Sometimes he wants to do the things his sister does sometimes. He wants to wear our heels if she’s wearing our heels, he wants to have a doll if she wants to have a doll. And we let him. We don’t want him to think, “Oh no. That’s for girls.” We want him to appreciate that the things that are traditionally “feminine” are not less than, or off limits.

    He’s four, so I haven’t thrown the word “feminism” at him yet, just because he can’t necessarily understand it, but it’s not something I’d shy away from in the future. We do talk a lot about equality. We’re a bi-racial family and we’re a same sex family. We make the concept of equality a very, very big deal in our household.

    We’re also teaching him, right now, that no means no. So if I’m tickling him and he says, “No, stop!” I stop. I don’t keep playing. And I reiterate, “If you say stop, I’m going to stop, because I respect your boundaries.” I’m not quite sure how it will translate, but I think it's important that men begin to learn at a very young age that it’s OK for them to have boundaries, and that they need to respect other people’s boundaries. -- Jillian Michaels, trainer and author
  • 2 Emma Straub, Author
    I will often change words in books. For example, there&rsquo;s that Dr. Seuss book,&nbsp;<i>One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue F
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    I will often change words in books. For example, there’s that Dr. Seuss book, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, where there's a picture of a little girl brushing the hair of this funny creature, and it says, "All girls who like to brush and comb…" When I read it, I always change "girls" to "kids," because I don’t want my son to grow up to be a sexist moron.

    In our family, my husband is far better at household stuff than I am, and I have a job and earn money, and I think my children will understand from day one that it's not really an option whether you're a feminist or not. -- Emma Straub, author of The Vacationers, as told to Cup Of Jo
  • 3 Feminista Jones, Writer/Activist
    It is important to raise a feminist son because it is important to instill values that include respecting the humanity, digni
    Getty
    It is important to raise a feminist son because it is important to instill values that include respecting the humanity, dignity, intelligence, and capacity of women. Feminism declares that women are human beings worthy of equal access to resources and opportunities and it is important for my son to grow up not only knowing it, but embodying it. I talk to him about the amazing things women have done historically and point out things we are doing now. When he says things that uphold oppressive social norms re: women, I immediately correct him.I know he picks up a lot of stuff at school, but I do what I can to counter it. My son knows who I am and what I do, so I think he has taken it upon himself to be more vocal and supportive of women. He is proactive in his approach to learning and picks women for school projects. We have great conversations about how to treat girls at school with respect. We talk about consent and respecting people's wishes. These are the ways I think I can raise a feminist son. -- Feminista Jones, writer, activist
  • 4 Amber Rose, Model/Activist
    Having [my son] was like, you know what, I have to be stronger than I ever have been in my whole life, for him. He needs to l
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    Having [my son] was like, you know what, I have to be stronger than I ever have been in my whole life, for him. He needs to look at his mom as Superwoman. I'm raising him to be a feminist. Women are getting sexually assaulted. I've been sexually assaulted hundreds of times, just walking through the club. 

    When my son goes to school and his friend calls a girl a hoe, I want him to be the first person to say, "Man, that's not cool. You don't talk to women like that." That's very important to me. -- Amber Rose, model, actress, activist, as told to People
  • 5 Lisa Belkin, Journalist
    I asked my boys about [whether they feel they were raised to be feminists], and both of their reaction was basically, "Yeah,
    Getty
    I asked my boys about [whether they feel they were raised to be feminists], and both of their reaction was basically, "Yeah, sure. Why?" I've decided that's the goal, for it to be a no brainer. I was determined to raise feminist sons, mostly because I was determined to raise smart, caring, respectful children. That includes the very simple, basic understanding that all human beings are equal.

    I would love to be able to tell you we talked about it explicitly, but mostly, it was just me walking the walk. The goal was osmosis. They saw me in a marriage that was a partnership of equals, doing work that I loved in the same way as any of the men in their sphere, and it was pretty clear that this was my worldview. So it became their worldview. -- Lisa Belkin, senior national correspondent, Yahoo News, author of Show Me A Hero
  • 6 Ilyse Hogue, President, NARAL
    We impart what we know. I am a feminist. My husband is a feminist. Our family benefits from the equal partnership we have tri
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    We impart what we know. I am a feminist. My husband is a feminist. Our family benefits from the equal partnership we have tried to build in creating a better world around us both at home and in our work.

    I'm raising my son to be a feminist because he will be a better person for it. Instilling the value of gender equality from birth means that he will support his twin sister, his friends, and his daugthers should he ever have them. Raising my son a feminist means he will be better equipped to operate in a world where women are increasingly and rightfully in positions of power, and he will relish the benefits that brings to everyone. It means he will never be threatened by strong women; rather he will be emboldened to be a better him when challenged by an equal of the opposite sex. Raising my son to be a feminist is critical to him being all he can be, contributing positively to the world, and working for all human rights. And hopefully, in the next year, he’ll celebrate the first -- but not the last -- female president of his lifetime! -- Ilyse Hogue, president, NARAL Pro-Choice America
  • 7 Reshma Saujani, CEO
    As my 9-month old son gets older, I will expect him to support greater inclusion of his female peers in the classroom, on the
    Getty
    As my 9-month old son gets older, I will expect him to support greater inclusion of his female peers in the classroom, on the sports field and in the workplace. I'll want him to learn to have a broader sense of what it means to be "masculine." I will teach him that it's normal for a boy to dress up as Elsa for Halloween or for a girl to play with superhero action figures. I will tell him that "playing like a girl" means throwing like Mo'ne Davis or serving like Serena Williams. I will make sure he knows it is OK for boys to cry and help him redefine "strength" if his instinct is to clench his fist. In my household, we'll show him equity: Daddy can do laundry, and Mommy goes on business trips. -- Reshma Saujani, founder, Girls Who Code, as written in The New York Times
  • 8 Geena Davis, Actress
    If you wanted to only show kids gender-balanced movies, you'd see very few movies. Only 11 percent of movies could be classif
    Getty
    If you wanted to only show kids gender-balanced movies, you'd see very few movies. Only 11 percent of movies could be classified as gender-balanced. Fifty percent of movies are seriously imbalanced, meaning 75 percent of the characters or more are male. But my kids see every animated movie that comes out. I don't say, "That seems imbalanced, we're not going to see it." They watch the shows that other kids watch on TV. But I try to watch with them, and I have from the very beginning. It's really important when they're really young. I can be their media expert.

    Parents can teach media literacy. I'd say, "Hey, did you notice that only boys are in that scene, or doing that activity? Don't you think that girls could do it, too?" Or, "Why do you think there are more boys than girls in that show. Is that fair?" You can comment on how female characters look, and say, "Why do you think she's wearing that if she's going to rescue somebody? Does that make sense?" -- Geena Davis, actress, as told to Working Mother
  • 9 Lori Leibovich, Journalist
    I started talking about feminism early on, probably when my son was 5 or 6. I explained it as plainly as possible -- that fem
    Lori Leibovich
    I started talking about feminism early on, probably when my son was 5 or 6. I explained it as plainly as possible -- that feminism meant that men and women were equals and should be treated equally under the law and in all aspects of society and culture. But I don't think it really resonated for him until we started reading books together about people like Amelia Earhart or Harriet Tubman and he was able to understand how challenging things have been for women historically. 

    I use the word in many different contexts, but this election season especially. When my kids ask me why I'm supporting a certain candidate (or not), I say "Because so-and-so is a feminist and believes in women's equality." When the hearings about Planned Parenthood being defunded were happening, I talked to both kids about why it was important for women's health, and why it was essential that, as a feminist, I support Planned Parenthood. They got it -- and wore the Planned Parenthood T-shirts I gave them.

    Pop culture is a roadblock. So much of what my son consumes has subtle misogyny, shows unhealthy images of women's bodies, or just presents women as accessories. He's into old James Bond movies -- he loves the action and the '70s cheese -- but in almost every film the female characters are just bikini-clad babes without much substance. So we talk about why, and I try to give him some context. I talk to him very directly about how distorted media images of women tend to be, and I've specifically explained Photoshop, air-brushing, and plastic surgery. I really want him to understand that what he sees is fake, and that those "ideals" are damaging -- to his sister, to me, and to all the women he loves and respects. -- Lori Leibovich, editor in chief, Realsimple.com
  • 10 Anne-Marie Slaughter, Author
    I don&rsquo;t think of it as raising feminist sons. Now I think of it as, we need to raise boys who are as excited about chal
    Getty
    I don’t think of it as raising feminist sons. Now I think of it as, we need to raise boys who are as excited about challenging traditional masculine stereotypes as our daughters are about challenging traditional feminine stereotypes. Our boys have to feel not that they are feminists supporting women, but that they are doing something for themselves. I was thinking about Emma Watson's He for She, and I'm all for that, but I don't think that's going to do it. I think it's got to be He for He. -- Anne-Marie Slaughter, President and CEO New America, author of Unfinished Business: Women Men Work Family, as told to New York Magazine
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BEFORE YOU GO

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10 Women On Why Feminism Still Matters
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