So mothers, teach your children well
Fact: Everyone has a mother.
You can’t argue against that, can you? Perhaps you don’t know your mother, or aren’t close to her, or haven’t been brought up with one, but somewhere along the line, everyone has had a mother. And everyone has a father too, of course, but today, on Mother’s Day, I’m going to talk specifically about mothers, which is something every human being on earth can relate to, one way or another.
So think of this: imagine a world where mothers treat their sons and daughters equally. And I mean every mother, from every culture. Imagine if mothers taught both their children to cook and clean equally. Imagine that it was equally important to send sons and daughters to school. And even on a smaller scale, imagine that the boy of the family didn’t get that little bit more spoilt than the girl, and got doted on just that little bit more. Do you think it might be more likely that the boy will grow up not to expect women to cook and clean for him? Do you think he might be more likely to have equal respect for men and women? And do you think the girl will grow up feeling that she deserved the same respect as men, and feel that she has a say in her future?
Writing this a week after International Women’s Day and on Mother’s day, I have come to this conclusion: Mothers are a vital way to promote gender equality for the next generation. Mothers who choose fathers that believe in gender equality, mothers who don’t spoil their baby boys, mothers who encourage the dreams of their children, regardless of their gender. And the sons these mothers produce will hopefully be respectful husbands or partners as well, and the daughters will hopefully be more confident about their career or family choices.
An interesting study by the University of Iowa in 2006 about educated and successful mothers/mothers-in-law and their influence on their sons showed that “successful men in their 20s and 30s today are the sons of a pioneering generation of high-achieving career women. Their mothers serve as role models for how a woman can be nurturing and successful at the same time.” In this case the mothers demonstrated gender equality through their own lives and careers, and positively influenced their sons. There have been many studies similar to these such as Sons of Feminists, in addition to a flood of others that have investigated the influence of the ‘empowered’ mothers on education and success in girls and views of gender equality in men. The results follow the predictable pattern that a mother as a role model and promoter of gender equality is definitely a step forward, and has a large variety of advantages.
More recently though, my mother attended the Sister Republic’s conference in Bern, Switzerland, where she told me that this very issue was discussed. She, in fact, first suggested this idea to me when I was a teenager, and has faced some opposition as well as some agreement when she has discussed it professionally with other women. I would say that she has some evidence of this parenting method succeeding: she has me.
Now, I am not a mother. When I write about parenting, I tend to worry that my view isn’t justified because I obviously have not experienced parenthood. But I am coming at life from the other side: as the result of parenthood. I can see how I have turned out, and my mother played an enormous role in that. I can write about how my parents have affected me, and how my life choices have been affected by my upbringing. As I wrote in an earlier blog post, I have never, not once, been pressurized to change my lifestyle or career choice because of my gender. My grandmother taught her two daughters to be strong, empowered and educated and in turn my mother has taught me the same. The result is that we all have our own dreams and careers that we have followed, and have done pretty well for ourselves. This has also led me to choosing a supportive partner who has no insecurities about smart and successful women and who thinks it perfectly normal to cook and share housework, because this is what I have been brought up to expect in a partner. I would like to mention that he was brought up to treat men and women as equals, and that certainly shows.
From case studies to anecdotal evidence, it’s obvious that bringing up your children as equals can only have a positive effect on the next generation. Sure, we might not magically create a generation of strong feminist sons and confident successful women, but it’s the first step. So, here are my final words, and they are directed to my mother: In addition to the amazing work you have done in your life, as a mother you have also changed the world. You have changed the world, because you have changed mine.