As a child and adolescent clinical psychologist who identifies as a feminist, I feel committed to using different platforms to showcase ways in which mothers and fathers can teach their children about equality.
Whether it’s explaining that fighting for gender equity is more than just wearing a “The Future is Female” t-shirt. Or re-tweeting a famous person’s view about the topic. Feminism starts at home. And if we want an equal society –one that treats all of its members equally, provides opportunities for all, and takes care of them all– we need to start with an equal home.
This is precisely what prompted Julie Merberg to write her book “My First Book of Feminism (For Boys)”. With illustrations by Michele Brummer-Everett, My First Book of Feminism is one targeted for boys from 0-3 years old. “It felt like my children’s generation could be the one to grow up simply knowing that women and men are equal,” explains Merberg, “now it feels like there is an urgency in letting little boys know before they can even talk that as soon as they can form words, they’d better be kind words.”
Let’s start with toys
According to Let Toys Be Toys, “children don’t pop out of the womb with expectations about their future careers, or beliefs about what their work is worth, but the stereotypes we see in toy marketing connect with the inequalities we see in adult life.” This is one of the many lessons found in the book: there are no “girl toys” and “boy toys”. Just toys.
Julie Merberg feels the same way. “In general, there are no girl toys and boy toys. Playroom furnishing or gift buying with any preconceived notions you’re closing up opportunities,” she explains. Merberg recommends challenging your preconceived thoughts (typically filled with stereotypes) to engage children in a variety of activities. Julie recommends, “just like we are focusing on getting girls more interested in STEM activities, we should do the same to boys with arts and crafts, cookbooks, and a variety of toys.” Her message is one about exposing all children to toy diversity.
Act out what feminism looks like
The book is full of rich examples on how to “walk the walk.” Some of which can be used to play out a variety of scenarios, such as:
- Mothers and sons going to peaceful protests – Playing out this scenario can be a way to explain the importance of using their voice of allies to make a change. This can be particularly helpful before or after a protest, in a way that your child can play out their feelings through play.
- What self-awareness and helping around the house looks like – It’s a well-known fact that girls do more chores than boys, which has a direct impact on important subjects like emotional labor. Playing out scenarios about why it’s important for boys to look after themselves is a way to lay the groundwork for these important conversations as they grow older.
- Re-defining toxic masculinity – Use play to teach your son that it’s ok to feel angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, heartbroken, among others. Use the playing scenarios to reflect a variety of emotions, to enrich their emotional vocabulary and minimize the effects of toxic masculinity.
- What consent looks like – The conversation about consent should be taught early and often. Using play to show your child what consent means, how to respect other people’s bodies, and listen when a girl (future woman) says no.
Feminism needs allies, and their work is important
Julie wishes for this book to be a tool for parents to open this conversation for boys. She says, “the message to parents who aren’t scared by the word feminism is that there are subtle ways every single day that we can do better and show our kids to do better. We don’t want to put men down, we want to be treated as equal. The way to do this is by raising our kids to be good people.”
With so much going on around the world, we need to teach our children – the future generation of citizens – to not leave it to other people to speak up. As simple as teaching them “when you see wrong, you must speak up.” We must encourage them to do so, but also give them the tools to open this conversation constantly. And tools like books, toys, and play and help us do precisely that.
My First Book of Feminism is available to order here.