You might be curious as to why I’m writing to you on International Women’s Day—a day reserved to celebrate the many incredible contributions and accomplishments of women. You are future men, after all, how does this apply to you?
When I found out I would be having sons, I made the commitment to raise you to be brave and feminist men. It’s something I work tirelessly toward, analyzing every decision and situation to ensure that I’m setting you up with the knowledge, emotional tools, and confidence to stand with the women of the world in the ongoing battle toward equality.
The truth is, that regardless of how much we women fight and march and shout, the road to equality seems endless. We cannot go it alone. It will be your responsibility to use your privilege as men to lift women up—to offer them opportunities free of discrimination, to support their choices and intentions, to treat them respectfully and without bias.
The truth is, that regardless of how much we women fight and march and shout, the road to equality seems endless. We cannot go it alone.
You ask me often, “What does feminist mean again?” I tell you that being feminist means you believe that all people, regardless of their sex, should be treated fairly. It means that we should all be allotted the same rights and opportunities as people, that we should all get equal pay for equal work, that we should be granted the things we need to take care of ourselves and our families, and that we should all be able to make choices about our own bodies and health.
It seems like a simple concept to you now; you don’t really understand why someone would not want those things for all people. You struggle when you read biographies of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Katherine Johnson, Malala Yousafzai, and the other female role models I conveniently cover your bookshelves with—just like you struggle with the accounts of Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks. Why would anyone treat people like this, you wonder.
I wish sometimes that I could hold you in this place, soak up this innocence you carry, and keep you wrapped up in goodness and hope as long as I can. It’s easy for you to grasp the concept of racial equality and feminism now; it’s simple for you to understand why it’s wrong to treat people unfairly because of their skin or sex—it’s because the world hasn’t gotten to you yet. Every night, I go to bed worrying about the day it does.
It’s only a matter of time before someone makes a snarky comment about your pink sneakers or your glittery Natives. It’s only a matter of time before you get teased for wearing an Elsa or RBG or Amelia Earhart t-shirt. It’s only a matter of time before your peers ask why you don’t cut your hair because you look “like a girl.” It’s only a matter of time before you start hearing the whispers of “boys don’t cry, be a man and toughen up.” It’s only a matter of time before you’ll feel pressure to exclude others from your social groups, or join in on people making fun of others, or comment negatively on someone’s appearance or “uncoolness.”
I know it’s coming.
Your dad and I made a conscious choice, for this reason, to not shy away from the hard conversations in our home, even when you both are very young. These injustices are real, and I respect you both enough to tell you about them. You’re children, yes, so we approach things in a very age-appropriate way; but above all, you’re people, and you deserve to know.
You’re children, yes, so we approach things in a very age-appropriate way; but above all, you’re people, and you deserve to know.
So, we talk about race regularly. We discuss discrimination. We explore sexism in conversation and work out various situations where you, even as little kids, can step up. We read about slavery to understand all of history’s shortcomings. We learn about the people who stood bravely, first on their own, and then with others—the ones who withstood incredible pain and suffering to use their one voice in order to propel humankind forward, even just a small step.
The small steps count, my loves. Small steps can make big change. And your own voice holds more power than you can begin to yet understand.
I’ll need you to remember this as you get older because it won’t be easy. It takes a great deal of courage to go against the crowd, especially in your adolescence. It takes guts, determination, and an incredibly rooted awareness of social justice and knowledge of what’s right. This is what I hope to give to you.
Your dad and I work relentlessly to give you role models from Khalil Mack to Kris Bryant to Serena Williams to Alex Morgan. We share with you stories of Gandhi and Sonia Sotomayor and Jacques Cousteau and Sacajawea. We explain to you how emotions work in our bodies and that being moved to tears at any point through the day is a gift for your soul. We try our best to support you through all of your feelings, even when we’re frustrated endlessly at your umpteenth tantrum. We tell you it’s “your body, your choice,” so you know the same holds true for every person you come across in your life. We give you the freedom to choose your clothes and your means of expression—glitter, rainbows, art, football, cooking, dolls, sports jerseys.
You love what you love, and it is not our job to police any of it.
Raising feminist boys in today’s culture is no simple feat, but it’s our responsibility as parents of future men to do the work. So, we do this again and again and again, day after tireless day for one very simple reason:
My boys, we need you in this fight.
You’re going to grow up to be courageous, compassionate men who stand for things bigger than yourselves. You’re going to be a voice for the voiceless and an ally to those who need support. You’re going to be a force for justice and progress. You won’t back down, and you will lift others up.
I know it because as your mother, I damn well will not accept anything less, my little feminists. We need you in this fight.
The article was originally published on March 8, 2020 and has been updated for timeliness.