Finding a better balance

In the lead-up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, one mum shares a conversation with her son that made her realise the importance of this year’s IWD slogan #BalanceforBetter, not only in the lives of busy mothers but also within our boys’ psyches.

Talking about feminism

A chat with my adolescent son a couple of weeks ago led me down a dark highway of the internet. He told me he was watching, on the recommendation of some mates, some anti-feminist content, and worst of all, he was finding it funny!

Knowing that my son was probably trying to get a reaction from me, I took a deep breath and asked him what he understood about feminists and what his problem was with them.

“Feminists are closing down businesses mum!”

“Which businesses?!”

“I read about them on the internet.”

As well as prompting yet another reminder to question whatever he reads on the internet, the conversation led me on an unsurprisingly futile search for any business shut down by feminists.

What I did find was a lot of vitriol against women, and an especially mindless nastiness towards physically unattractive women.

Amid all this I tried to search for tips on how to effectively talk to boys about feminism amid the current backlash against it on social media channels.

This led to no quick fixes but a better understanding about the reasons for the antipathy towards feminism against the backdrop of current economic shifts and the international political climate.

I also learnt a lot more about the different branches of feminism, which can have different approaches but have at their heart the same core aspiration: that men and women have equal rights and opportunities.

Much of this would make the average adolescent boy’s eyes glaze over faster than a talk about why he should clean up his room.

I therefore kept it simple with my son, emphasising the benefits he enjoyed thanks to growing up in a country where men and women shared a higher degree of equality than in the past:

  • His mother was able to be financially independent - and therefore buy him things that he would otherwise not have. (But I did remind him that things weren’t perfect because when I went on maternity leave when he was a baby a man was brought in at a higher pay scale to do the same work as I had been doing).
  • His mother and eldest sister were more intellectually fulfilled - and therefore happier and able to help him more with his homework!
  • His beloved younger sisters, and girls with whom he is still friends with from primary school, would be able to grow up to fulfil their own potential, just as he would. 
  • He is growing up in a society where men don’t have the pressure of being the sole breadwinner for their families, they can enjoy closer bonds with their children and don’t have to live behind a mask of being strong no matter what stresses they face.

A better-balanced sense of masculinity

On this final point, for more insights into the benefits of living with a better-balanced sense of masculinity I deliberately reached out to a male psychologist, Scott Nodwell of Claremont’s Elizabeth Clinic.He believes that Australians have sought gender equality, or balance, for decades, but each of us must carry it in our thoughts, our feelings and our actions.“My experience both personally and professionally is that true masculinity only finds its balance in connection with stable femininity - and vice versa,” he says. “Young men find their identity far more quickly when raised by a caring and available feminine presence. Young women flourish when raised with a stable masculine presence.”He went on to say, “I think the idea of healthy masculinity requires the ability to access our feminine qualities. Balance is what we find when we engage both masculine and feminine forces within us. Directing this balance outward will pave the way for greater harmony and richness in our social world.”

With that balance in mind, I circled back with my son about those videos he was watching. I asked him to remember how he felt when Instagram photos of his younger sister were met with inappropriate comments and urged him to treat and speak about all other women as he would want his mother and sisters to be treated.It’s not a lot to ask, but if more boys did this, there would definitely be more balance for the better.

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