The chance of someone we care about experiencing violence is alarming. According to the Violence Policy Center, Nevada ranks fifth nationally for female deaths at the hands of men. When we think about our daughters, spouses, mothers, sisters, aunts, cousins, colleagues, and friends, it’s obvious that something must be done to bring about change.
Right now a boy may be looking to us for direction and guidance. Whether we know it or not, this boy may be watching the way we act, speak, treat women and interact with other men.
As husbands, brothers, uncles, grandfathers, or father figures, men have the ability to positively influence male family members. Promoting gender equality and teaching boys about healthy, equal relationships helps men contribute to building healthy families and strengthening family bonds.
While this may seem like a daunting task to some, these are some of the ways men can make a difference in the lives of the younger males in their families:
Educating boys about healthy, equal relationships. The well-being of the boys in a family includes the ability to develop healthy relationships with women and other men. Sharing values regarding gender equity is just as important as teaching them how to play ball or how to safely cross the road. Modeling positive behavior towards women gives boys the means to establish relationships based on respect, equality, and mutual responsibility.
Being a good role model. Our language, behavior, and interactions with women and men will have a significant impact on our sons’ values and attitudes towards women and girls. Sharing family responsibilities and chores equally with our spouses, being open with women about our feelings, or publicly questioning negative depictions of women, are ways to demonstrate to boys that we value women as equals and believe in healthy relationships. Conversely, laughing at sexist jokes, sharing magazines that objectify women, or remaining silent about violence or injustice against women are negative behaviors and values that may well end up being adopted by young family members.
Acknowledging shortcomings. It is okay to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers, that we are not experts on this topic, and freely admit when we make a mistake. We can let male family members know that we will seek the correct information to give them later. Acknowledging our feelings and imperfections is a way to demonstrate how to act constructively in building healthy and equal relationships, and it will reduce the pressure on our sons to be “perfect” all the time.
Accepting our role in promoting gender equality. Recognize that as adult males we have a role to play in educating boys about gender equality and healthy relationships. These are not only “women’s issues” but issues that affect everyone, including men and boys. The majority of violence against women (and violence generally) is committed by men, therefore it is important to educate young family members about this issue and to model positive and healthy examples of male behavior.