Informed by the author’s work as a professor of journalism specializing in social-justice movements, How to Raise a Feminist Son will resonate with every feminist hoping to change the world, one kind boy at a time. From teaching consent to counteracting problematic messages from the media, well-meaning family, and the culture at large, we have big work to do when it comes to our boys. A beautifully written and deeply personal story of struggling, failing, and eventually succeeding at raising a feminist son, the advice in this book all comes from first hand experience and learning from trial and error.
From taking on internet trolls to dealing with real life hurdles, Sonora Jha shows us all how to be better feminists and better teachers of the next generation of men. Here’s a look into this electrifying tour de force.
In India, when a mother has a baby, she is given post-partum massage to soothe her from childbirth and help her regain her strength and shape. Then, when the baby is around a month old, the mother is encouraged to massage her baby. It is said to help bond the baby and mother while also removing toxins from the baby’s system. When done right after the baby’s bath, it eases the baby into a deep sleep—and we all know how badly we want that.
For my baby, I would use a mixture of olive oil, coconut oil, Ayurvedic oil, and Johnson’s Baby Oil. I would coo to him and he would gurgle. He would blink at me with his huge, longlashed black eyes as if wondering if this feeling rushing over him was love. Yes, it is, I would whisper as I folded his chubby left
leg over his right and gently pressed them into his tummy, the way the woman who had taught traditional Ayurvedic massage for generations had instructed me, to aid baby’s digestion and promote suppleness in his joints.
In those early months, I looked at my baby and knew he was the most beautiful thing in the world. I thought I would die from this love. This was in the days before Facebook and Instagram, so I couldn’t share it with the world. And so I could just quietly believe it and bask in our moments of gurgle and coo.
I also had time to wonder how to turn this beautiful, doughlimbed, ink-pool-eyed miracle of mine into a mighty warrior of feminist revolution.
I wanted nothing but the best for this boy (thus the combination of massage oils). A part of me then paused to wonder if my plan to raise him as a feminist would be good for the world, yes, but perhaps set him back? Why not let him stay in a deep sleep instead of using his tender heart and limbs and
brain for a cause that didn’t celebrate him?
Fortunately, I started to read everything I could find about feminism and its benefits for boys. I sought out both poetry and research that would help me stay the course. I talked with friends. Over the years, as Gibran grew and grew, I kept all of that close.
Twenty years later, when my friend Julie found out that she was pregnant with a boy, she went through somewhat similar emotions. This was going to be fun, she concluded. (And, of
course, the boy would grow up to be a feminist.)
Perhaps your friends are cheering and buying cute onesies for your baby shower that say, ‘This is what a feminist looks like.’ Or, after too many Trump years and in the reckoning of the #MeToo movement, perhaps they can barely manage a steely ‘Yes!’ and a grim nod. Either way, we know that more and
more of us are on board and aching to raise feminist boys.
This desire doesn’t span merely the twenty years between Julie’s boy and mine, of course. Feminists have been imploring men to be allies for centuries, actually. Let’s harken back to Britain’s ‘first feminist,’ Mary Wollstonecraft, when she wrote in her essay A Vindication of the Rights of Woman:
Would men but generously snap our chains, and be content with rational fellowship instead of slavish
obedience, they would find us more observant daughters, more affectionate sisters, more faithful wives, more reasonable mothers—in a word, better citizens.1
Centuries later, a little bit has shifted in that we are now trying to convince men—and some women—that we’d like to be characterized simply as human, rather than appeal to men as daughters, sisters, wives, and mothers; but yeah, Mary, I get you: feminism will help my son be in a rational fellowship. To this reasonable mother, that means that he will be given permission to be wrong sometimes—to fail, to fall, to cry, to be protected rather than always be protector, to be provided for rather than always be provider, to seek and receive wise counsel, to be chastised as much as he is cheered, to be led to wild fun, to be held and to be held responsible, to get schooled and to get laid.
I greedily, reasonably, wholeheartedly want all these things for my son.
Is this even possible? Can boys be feminists? Are they doing it for the greater common good, in selfless solidarity, or is there something in it for him?
A pertinent and eloquent response to this question came from a gentleman on Twitter, when I shared an essay about raising a feminist son. ‘Raise a feminist son? Why didn’t you just cut his dick off at birth?’ his tweet said, blinking at me in rage. I didn’t respond at the time. I imagined his question was rhetorical.
I realized soon that the man was addressing an important and rising question in the universal zeitgeist. Boyhood, especially in America, has become some sort of battleground. An odd battle, this, in which boys are both the soldiers and the spoils. Tweet- Man has his finger on America’s pulse, perhaps better than I. Tweet-Man demands a response.
So, dear Tweet-Man: I didn’t cut off my baby’s dick because that would be sexual violence. (Feminists are sort of opposed to sexual violence.) And, to be a feminist, my son would need his brain, his heart, his hands, his feet, his tears, his voice, his breath, and definitely his dick. Make no mistake—he would need his dick to ‘fuck like a feminist,’ a call put out to our men by political commentator Samantha Bee in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
I can see why Tweet-Man wouldn’t want to trust me on all this. To understand why the time has finally come for boys to be raised as feminists, I’d point him to the opinions of someone with a dick. To be precise, I’d like him to hear what Pope John Paul II said in a letter he sent to women back in September 1995 as they gathered for a United Nations conference in Beijing. It was a letter he wrote on 29 June, less than a month after my son was born:
There is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area [of women’s personal rights]: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights . . . The time has come to condemn vigorously the types of sexual violence which frequently have women for their object. [emphasis added]
This love letter from the Pope was more widely published than the words of any woman saying the same thing, whether in whispers or in clear-eyed articles or in screams. And it was certainly never said by any Catholic woman priest ever, because even the Pope couldn’t go so far as to heed his own call for fairness in career advancement and, gasp, ordain a woman priest.
Enough about dicks. In the same year the Pope wrote his letter, as my baby was fattening himself on the milk of my human kindness, I first heard of American journalist and activist Gloria Steinem’s suggestion that men should embrace feminism because it could add four years to their lives by reducing the stress associated with traditional masculine roles. All right, then. Breast milk would turn my baby strong and feminism would give him a long life. Jiyo, mere laal.