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Thursday, March 2, 2017

Women's History Month: Lessons to Teach Our Sons

March is Women's History Month.  The United States, United Kingdom, and Australia celebrate this month which highlights the contributions of women throughout history.  Each year follows a specific theme about Women (Wikipedia gives a great list of past year's themes) and 2017 has been dubbed Honoring Trailblazing Women in Labor and Business.

This theme honors women who have challenged the role of women in business and paid labor.  An interesting component of this theme is the highlighting of the fact that while women have always worked, their work has been undervalued and under paid.  A topic which has also been highlighted by the recent Women's March and women's activists.

I saw an article yesterday about the 2017 contract renewal for the cast of the popular TV comedy Big Bang Theory.  I love the Big Bang Theory, partly because I love the quirky characters (whom I can related to personally given my own nerdness) but also because the cultural impact of the show's themes.  A recent article out of the UK actually suggested that enrollment in college Physics programs has increased 10% since the premier of the show.  With the rise of popular books becoming cult followings (like Harry Potter fans, Hunger Games die-hards, Lord of the Rings and all the subsequent spin offs, and a re-invigoration of the Star Wars franchise) the age of the geek has been fueled by TV shows like The Big Bang Theory.

Not only does the show highlight women in scientific fields (thereby giving our young generation current scientific women to look up to) but it highlights that the new "cool" of popular culture is actually being a smart, educated, geek!  This is GREAT!  Girls are encouraged by new cult followings to read more, be involved in science more, and are embracing a part of themselves that movies like Mean Girls and Clueless tried to stifle in my generation.  This is a trend we need to embrace and encourage.  Individuality and self expression of interests is pivotal for young women to find their niche and excel in it!  I only wish that watching Star Trek and wearing those silly 1980's wolf shirts had made me "cool" in high school!

The stars of Big Bang have done something that I believe will start a trend and make a huge political "Pro Women" statement.  A show that started out featuring 4 seemingly ignorant all-be-it well educated men, has blossomed into a show featuring 4 men and 3 strong, smart, and witty women.  But the actors pay scales do not reflect their now mostly-equal screen time.  In their new 2017 contracts, Jim Parsons (Sheldon), Johnny Galecki (Leonard), Kaley Cuoco (Penny), Kunal Nayyar (Raj) and Simon Helberg (Howard) have all agreed to take pay cuts (they each make roughly 1 million per episode) so that fellow stars Mayim Bialik (Amy) and Melissa Rauch (Bernadette) who now only make roughly $200K per episode can get a raise (see FOX News or The Huffington Post for details).  

While clearly Bailik and Rauch have been in fewer episodes (around 160 each) and the other stars have been on the show since the beginning (roughly 230 episodes each) the pay disparity is striking and disproportionate.  Sure, Kaley (the lead female role of Penny, a sometimes ditzy previous actress/waitress with a slew of boyfriends in the early episodes) makes as much as her male counterparts, but it wasn't her role that brought the show into the lime-light for women's activists.  It was the role of Bailik and Rauch (a neuroscientist and microbiologist, respectively) that issued this show into the era of intelligent and well educated "nerd" women.  It was arguably these two characters that expanded the shows base to include geeky women who could relate to their quirky charm and ambition.  Certainly, these women deserve a pay equal to their influence on the show!  And thankfully their male co-stars are standing up to make that happen.

This brings up the point of this post: its going to take more than strong women to fight for equality (especially in terms of equal pay), it is going to take men and boys standing up beside us and demanding that we be seen as equals.  As a parent to a girl, it has been second nature for me to show her how to be a strong woman; how to be an independent, intelligent, and brave women.   I lead by example and I expose her to other women who can be her inspirations.  I take her to events for women and involve her in women-centered politics.  She's never been afraid to stand up for herself, her friends, or her beliefs.  She is a Feminist that I am truly proud of and respect. 

But this issue cannot stop with parents teaching our daughters how to be Feminists.  We HAVE to teach our sons to be Feminists too!  In fact, they may need MORE help becoming women-empowering men than our daughters.  We have to teach them how NOT to become part of the problem.  We have to teach them to respect strong empowered women and see them as equals.  Yes, we still need to lead by example and have our husbands lead by example too.  
But here are 5 more ways we can teach this to our sons: 

My son's birthday cake featured pink frosting
and pink shimmery chocolate balls
1.  Teach them that Gender isn't Monochromatic.  This is actually simpler than it sounds.  We all know that boys like the color blue and girls like pink or that boys like trucks and bugs while girls like barbies and painting their nails, right??  NO! WRONG!  There is no clear dichotomy between likes and dislikes of boys and girls.  My 3 year old son's favorite color is purple, my 5 year old son likes camo (no seriously, that's what he says his favorite "color" is), and my daughter adores lime green.  There is nothing wrong with these differences and it's totally natural for them to have preferences that don't meld with stereotypical gender roles.  When my daughter was young she adored Pirates.  Think: dirty grungy Pirates of the Caribbean with rotting teeth and grimy clothes.  She even had a Pirate 4th birthday party.  My son, who loves all things dirty, violent, and loud wanted a pink birthday cake for his 5th birthday.  My other son spends hours lovingly caring for baby dolls in a pink crib.  He will adoringly feed them, change them, and spend time reading books to them.  Girls like superheros, boys like to cook, girls like the color blue, and boys like playing with baby dolls.  Its natural to be a spectrum, our gender can't be black and white.

2. Encourage them to have a variety of Friends.  Friends of different genders, friends with different likes, friends who come from different socio-economic back grounds, friends who show him the wide spectrum of life.

3. Let them see your Feminism.  Yes, I took my sons with me to the Women's March with me.  It was important for them to see the strong moms, sisters, wives, friends, other men, and other boys working together towards a common goal.  It was important for them to witness first hand the solidarity of people who believe the same thing.  It was important for them to feel the empowerment in the air and to want to be part of it.
My two boys at our local Women's March.
It was a rainy day, but we all had a blast standing up for women!

4. Teach him about Consent.  This might seem extreme to teach a young boy, because let's face it sex isn't on a 4 year old's mind.  But the reality is that children are taught from a young age to force physical contact or allow physical contact whether they want it or not.  This is not ok.  A 3 year old who doesn't want a hug shouldn't be forced to hug, the same as a young woman who doesn't want to have sex shouldn't have to have sex.  Teach your sons not only to ask first, but teach them to respect the answer they are given.  Also teach them that they should be asked and respected too.

5. Use Pop Culture to teach lessons about life.  Yeah, I don't like this one (mostly because I have a hard time myself keeping up with pop culture), but they can relate to pop culture so it's a useful tool.  When you hear songs on the radio, use them as an example.  Talk to them about what they hear and why it is or isn't ok.  Find for them pop culture icons that they can look up to who exhibit Feminist qualities.  But mostly, be a part of their pop culture world so that you know who their influences are and so that you can help shape those influences.

My youngest son meeting his idol: Elsa.
Because who doesn't love a powerful woman who can
shoot ice out of her hands?!

Is my daughter a Feminist? Absolutely yes.  Will my sons be Feminists?  I certainly hope so.  While I hope that wage disparities no longer exist 10 years from now when my sons get their first jobs, I'd like to picture my sons (in all their nerdy glory) right there with Jim Parsons, Johnny Galecki,, Kunal Nayyar and Simon Helberg demanding that their female counterparts get equal pay.

What are some ways you teach your son(s) to be Feminists?  Like what your reading here?  Check out my post on March 8th for a reflection on International Women's Day and the Day without Women.  Your RESPECTFUL comments are appreciated below.


  1. I enjoyed reading your post and agree we should raise our children to help and stand up for everyone. We raised our boys and girls to do everything there were no only girl chores or boy chores. We don't call it raising them to be feminists. We call it raising children to be upstanding adults who help and care.

    1. Great point about chores! There are no "boy chores" or "girl chores" at our house either. Everyone participates in all aspects of house/yard care and everyone does their part to contribute to the family :) Thanks for your comment!

  2. This is such an interesting topic. I love how you use The Big Bang Theory as a reference. I too am a nerdy geek Mom and I love this show. My husband collects comics and talks superheros and comic con with so much of this in the show I see my husband in each of the characters. It is inspiring to see smart women characters on tv, although I relate myself more of a Penny when it comes to the intelligence levels of these women. Reminding our sons that women can be anything they want just like men, that it is ok to a women be your equal and that no one is better than another is still lacking today, but it will get better is we teach a youth more of this. Thank you for an inspiring post and for entering it in the #allformamas link party. I have pinned it and google+ it