The nation is engaged in one of the most important dialogues of the century. The recent Jian Gomeshi story has been unfolding just as we hear news reports of a 16-year-old Winnipeg girl, sexually assaulted and left for dead. And now more accusations against Bill Cosby are surfacing.
These events have forced Canadians to take off our collective blinders and exam just how misogynistic our culture still is in these so-called modern times. Now change is afoot and every person is being called to make his or her contribution towards creating a more egalitarian, safe, respectful society for Canadian women.
For parents, that includes making efforts to raise a new generation of boys who reject old stereotypes and instead come to respect girls and women. What pragmatic steps can we take to accomplish this?
Modeling respectful relationships
Children learn about gender relations largely by watching the important adults in their lives, namely mom and dad. How would your child see your relationship?
How does mom get treated by dad?
Is he respectful in tone and attitude? Does he talk down to her openly or privately? Does he make categorical comments like "you must be hormonal" or "women can't make up their minds"?
Does mom have power in the family?
How does mom get her voice heard and manage to get her way in matters? Are differences handled cooperatively or must she act out or sneak around to get her way? Who acquiesces to whom at in impasse? What behaviours would stand out if the roles were reversed?
Break the "Boy Code"
Have you ever caught your self saying "boys don't cry" or "be a man"? Have you commented "boys don't wear that -- that is for girls"?
All these small statements re-enforce old stereotypes of what it is to be a boy or man.They coach a boy to be tough and unemotional. It's demanding conformity to their gender identity. Once that lesson is taught, fast forward to high school. Now your boy is a senior and still trying to obey the man code. Does that include whistling at women? Objectifying them? Not respecting "no"?
The depiction of women in the media (movies, TV shows, magazine pictures, Victoria secret ad campaigns) reinforce gender stereotypes that encourage the degradation of women and promotes their lower status. Women are largely shown as having only value for being sexual objects to men. They are given few lead roles, few lines and are depicted as weak and needing men to help them. Most conform to a narrow beauty stereotype that men desire. Be sure to talk to your children about the characters in their story books, the casting of characters and the roles played by women in sitcoms and movies.
Skills to speak up
It's not enough to tell a child: "don't do that." Instead, we must teach them what to do instead. Raise a boy who is willing to speak up against their peer groups' degrading jokes and taunting. This is a challenge because they risk social exclusion and harassment themselves. These are scary tasks we are charging them with. It's similar to teaching children to not be a bystander when someone is being bullied. Doing nothing is actually going along, or as my father taught me "If you are not part of the solution you are part of the problem."
Teach your boys some lines they can have at the make ready when they witness misogynistic words or actions. Have them practice these lines so they feel natural. Have them overhear you using similar sentiments. Here are some examples: "Hey, that's not cool, that could have been my sister, dude." Or: "Hey, you don't have to impress us with that macho stuff;" "Have you been watching too much Mad Men? Wake up, it's 2014!"
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