With the Harvey Weinsteins of the world getting away with sexual assault, there must be something we can do to prevent these from happening in the future. During our last Preen Sessions, we brought up the topic of rape culture and we were surprised to see that the crowd was very engaging. Women were speaking up about their own experiences while men agreed that something should be done to stop the cycle. One of those who spoke up was fitness coach and event host Hilary Isaac. In her anecdote she shared how, as a mother, she’s trying to raise her six-year-old son to be a feminist. This might seem like a new concept to some people so we thought we’d ask her some questions on how she does it and what people think about her parenting style.
For you, what does it mean to raise a feminist son?
It means that he grows up with a deep intentional appreciation and sense of protectiveness of girls and women—that he sees them as worthy of respect, that they should be cherished, protected at all costs, and loved. That women are not seen as merely “belonging in the kitchen” or meant to automatically be a housewife or stay-at-home mom unless it was her choice to do and be so.
Was there a specific event that made you decide to raise him as a feminist?
I’m a single parent; I have been since the beginning because, quite frankly, upon learning of the conception, his father didn’t want me to keep the baby, so I took it upon myself to step up to the plate and brave this chapter alone. It’s been a long and hard road, replete with negative reactions, social stigma of being a single mom, etc, and nothing has made me grasp the truth behind the importance of teaching feminism to sons and daughters than the firsthand experience of being a mother. People like to judge especially when they know next to nothing about a person or their circumstance. Having come forward about a sexual abuse that was done to me, some people automatically think, “Oh that explains why she’s a single mom.” It’s a total non-sequitur and a grossly unfair judgment on me and other women in my situation.
As a child, how do you explain to him what feminism is?
As a bright, precocious, and extremely perceptive six-year-old, my son is quick to understand context. He has seen how hard I work; I have always explained things to him as though he were an adult so as not to limit his ability to comprehend. I told him that because mommy is also daddy, I have to work and it’s totally normal. I inculcate in our conversations things like, “Everyone is good at their own thing, some girls are better at certain things than boys, and boys are better at certain things than girls—but it doesn’t mean that either one is BETTER than the other.” When he hears other kids or people say things like “You hit like a girl,” or “Don’t cry; only girls cry,” I’m very quick to nip it in the bud. Feminism is a complex thing for a child to understand simply by definition, so the best way I can teach him, is by example and by living it, by fighting for and standing up for feminism as we go about our daily struggles.
How do you make sure he understands the meaning of feminism and consent?
Oh I’m very strict about making sure he does not insist when a playmate or friend says “STOP.” He’s had several experiences where an uncle was roughhousing too much and he got scared and he said stop but the uncle did not listen. I go back to that moment and ask him how it felt when he said “STOP” but the person didn’t—he says it was awful. So I remind him, “That’s how it feels for others when they ask you to stop and you don’t.” Although, we’ve never been in that situation where he was persistent because my son’s character has always been that of a more introverted child. He needs his personal space and has no problems articulating it to others, so thankfully, he also understands that about other people’s personal space and boundaries.
How do you try to raise your son as a feminist?
I just live it out. When I see a certain behavior that I feel makes me concerned, I call it out immediately. When he hears someone say something demeaning, I am quick to explain things to him and why it’s wrong. I ask him what he thinks and why it is wrong—it’s a good way to check that he understands it and is able to process the idea on his own.
Do you know other parents who are doing the same thing?
I do! I have a friend who is a blogger and mom to three boys, Frances Sales, and she’s amazingly vocal about feminism and is raising her three sons in a way that they grow up understanding that, that they become men who respect, protect, support, and empower women. I have other single mom friends who are doing the same thing with their sons and daughters.
Are there people who have ever questioned your parenting?
Oh yes, many times! I think culturally, we just feel entitled to impose our opinions on others—I especially get this from older people. But I do my best to politely thank them and tell them that while I appreciate their advice, I have my own way of parenting.
How does media affect the way you want to raise your son?
It makes it more challenging. So much of pop culture is so demeaning to women so it’s definitely an uphill climb. It frightens me how much worse things have gotten over the years in terms of the way women are seen and treated, but it’s a cause worth fighting to the death.
Is his school doing something to teach students about feminism/gender equality/respect?
I have chosen to homeschool him for many reasons and benefits, one of which is that I get to choose what influences his life. Many parenting articles say that the first six years are especially crucial to effectively instill the right values into our children because by the time they’re seven years old, their character is pretty much what determines the kind of adult they become. School is important, but values are formed in the home and if we aren’t teaching our kids, then we are entrusting that tremendous responsibility, whether flimsily or boldly, to someone else who may or may not have the same principles and values as we do.
What advice would you give parents who want to raise their children in a similar way that you are?
It will be tough! It will feel like a constant uphill climb and there will be countless days where you’ll feel like you’re getting nowhere, but DO NOT GIVE UP. When it matters the most, you’ll hopefully see all your hard work manifest in the way your child treats others well, respects, protects, and empowers girls and women. Don’t let societal pressure get to you—even when it comes from your own family. You are the parent, you know your child best. Trust your instinct, trust the process, and trust your child.