Earlier this week, British actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson gave a moving speech at the UN Headquarters in New York City, speaking about the importance of gender equality. As part of the #HeForShe campaign, Watson encouraged men to take part in a larger discussion on feminism. However, the minute after I watched her speech, I started a mental countdown to the s***storm that I knew would inevitably follow.
And sure enough, 24 hours later, anonymous individuals threatened to punish Watson for sharing her feminist perspective…by leaking (alleged) nude photos of her on the Internet. That the threat turned out to be nothing more than a (seriously) misguided attempt to shut down the controversial message board 4chan is irrelevant. The message was still loud and clear: Women that speak out in favour of gender equality must be publicly punished in some way.
I wondered if I was going to have to discuss the “F-word” with my boys. At 12 and 14, I can’t “make” my sons become self-proclaimed feminists—heck, most days I’m lucky if I can get them to take a shower. However, it’s important that they realize that their reality and overall experiences as young men are not universally shared by everyone. I need them to know who can be considered a feminist (anyone!) and whom it affects overall (everyone!).
Read more: It’s time we all embraced the F-word>
So far, my husband and I have taken a “show, don’t tell” approach to feminism. It helps that we parent equally. We’ve both been a stay-at-home parent at one point or another. We’ve each played chauffeur, cheerleader, chef, chaperone. And, so far, that’s been enough to make our boys understand gender equality—but then I remember the time my 12-year-old came across a recent Buzzfeed article about a recalled T-shirt that had “It’s not rape, it’s a snuggle with a struggle” plastered on the front. I took this moment as another (uninvited) teachable moment.
I’m a mom, and I rock at being awkward, so my sons and I had “the talk.” When I asked Callum if he believed women should be paid the same wage as men for the same job, he said “absolutely” without hesitation. When I asked Ethan if women should be able to make their own decisions about their bodies, he nodded quickly. They both want me, their mother, to receive the same respect as men do, and appeared momentarily thrown off by any other alternative. In turn, I make sure they understand that the rules that unfairly restrict women can cut both ways—and that no matter what they hear at school or in the locker room, it is OK for men to express their feelings and opinions openly.
Read more: Traditional gender roles: Boys will be boys>
And yet, when this tired mama hits the pillow at the end of the night, I question if I really can talk about feminism with my kids when it’s something I struggle with myself. I don’t always feel like I’m doing feminism “right.” Wading into these waters feels complicated and messy, and I don’t always know if I’m making the right choices. Even worse, sometimes I knowingly make the wrong ones (my flirty obsession with certain misogynist actors is gross—I get it). But I don’t believe chats about feminism should be reserved only for females. So, I stick my little guys in the car for forced family outings and capitalize on the captive audience factor to address, consentually (always!), stuff like Internet porn (um?), masturbation (go for it!) and everything that is wrong with the TV series Two and a Half Men (everything).
I used to hide my feminist agenda the way other parents hide veggies in their pasta sauce. But I now realize now that my kids are smart enough, mature enough and old enough to handle conversations about big issues like gender equality—even if they still turn up their nose at my lasagna dish.
Marci O’Connor, a Montreal-based editor and freelance writer and mother of two, spends her free time with family and friends. You can follow her on Twitter @BeingMarci.