‘But what do we do about the boys, Jane?’ As the founder of Girls Out Loud, a social enterprise working with teenage girls, this is a question I get asked over and over again and it’s a good question, however, I am not going to create Boys Out Loud anytime soon but as I am sure you can guess I do have some concerns about the way we are raising our boys.

My main anxiety focusses around this……

Does parenting take account of the major shifts created by feminism?  Or are we still raising boys to view girls as home makers, child bearers and sexual objects ONLY?  I wonder…..  As working women do we pass on different values now and teach boys to respect girls, work alongside them and interact with them at all levels?  I am not sure…

Are we still empowering boys to be strong, non-emotive, aggressive breadwinners and if so how does this prepare them for an equal relationship with a girl who has the same aspirations as them?  Or how would they cope if they were expected to work for a female boss?

I think we all know the answers to these questions don’t we?   Society may be changing but very few boys arrive at puberty without some negative or confused pre-suppositions about the role of women, how to treat them and what they are for?  Often they share the same views and believe their world is the same as the one their father or in some cases their grand father grew up in!  Whereas girls have very little in common with the world their mothers or grandmothers were raised in.  It feels like boys and girls are miles apart in terms of their cultural development and boys definitely need to play catch up.

In a society where the majority of boys will end up in a dual income relationship, co- owning a house, earning similar money and working the same hours as they female mate how are they going to view this as a partnership when we have brought them up to believe that everything to do with their life outside of work is not their concern?  As over protective, superwomen, guilt mothers we have done everything for them since they could walk and talk.  They understand very little about keeping house, cooking, shopping, caring for others, managing household budgets etc.  We simply expect them to move from the care of mother to wife in one seamless manoeuvre!

From my work in schools it seems to me girls are travelling along the equality and shifting identity highway either alone or with a reticent passenger and  this hampers aspiration, is confusing and will send us all backwards if we do not act now.

Just like girls, boys need more empowering role models.  Modern men who believe in and respect the contribution women make to the workplace and the boardroom; men who are already in loving and supportive relationships with women where daily chores are shared or managed as a team this includes all things domestic, life planning and childcare.  I can hear you shouting at the screen from here ladies ‘Ha!  Yeah right, where are these men then??’  Maybe this is part of the problem? Dare I say even men of our generation are struggling with this changing landscape too?

So where does this leave us?  It means the shifts need to start with our sons, now, today.  We need to go back a generation and teach them to respect girls’ brains as opposed to just their ‘hot rating’

This applies to all of us – mothers, sisters, aunties, nannies and friends.  Here are my top tips for what I think we need to do now.  I could write a book on this and I am pretty sure you have views too but for now…

  • We must encourage boys to have girls as friends so they are not afraid of encounters with the opposite sex and learn to recognise, acknowledge and respect our differences and our value as early as possible.
  • We must not allow them to opt out of all things deemed domestic and women’s work. What are we even thinking of doing this????  Keeping house is a joint responsibility; they need the basics like we do.
  • We must stop ‘over nurturing’ them ie doing everything for them as long as they live under our roof.  This teaches them nothing (other than it is what women do) sabotages self sufficiency and sets them up for a shed load of domestic conflict when they do finally leave the nest to embark on a relationship.  Sisterhood, ladies, sisterhood!
  • We must ensure they have some positive male influences from men that respect women, have some emotional intelligence and get our contribution.  These men DO exist, honest, but you may need to look outside your immediate circle to engage them.   I have many in my life including my husband, but interesting enough none in my immediate family, although I see my 16 year old nephew as work in progress!

To conclude, most girls and boys struggle to get to eighteen without a full on identity crisis at the moment.  It is no good blaming the media, the internet or the breakdown of the family.  We all need to step up and teach them the rules of the new game.

‘So, what about the boys then Jane?’

You tell me………………………

If you have a spare 20 minutes Colin Stokes latest TED talk How Movies teach Manhood is very interesting. http://www.ted.com/talks/colin_stokes_how_movies_teach_manhood.html


  1. Vanessa

    You’re very right in what you say and the teaching has to come from home but how many men and women still live in the past? I am so relieved to see my son with his wife and young family acting in exactly the way I believe is right – yes he is truly a modern man and very proud of it.

  2. Jane Barrett

    Great post Jane, I have shared with my Facebook buddies. With mother’s day around the corner this is very apt. I realise I perhaps do too much of my 9 year old! however my son has a good role model in my husband….but this post has reminded me it is his turn to cook this week. I think many women (me included) sometimes fall into the trap of …. ‘only i can do it’, ‘it easier if I do it’, ‘nobody can do it as well as me’, then wonder why we are shattered – we can be our own worst enemy sometimes. Its articles like this that remind me to be more conscious of the unconscious messages I give my son…so thanks Jane!

    1. janekenyon

      Jane – thanks for comments, one of my missions is to banish lil’ miss perfect superwoman!! I have blogged about her many times, you may be interested to read the following 2 blogs around the subject one in August I did titled Choices lead to Neurosis and one in October titled Time to Embrace the V Word – have a great day, see ya soon J x

  3. Zoe Hanks

    As the mother of 3 boys I should identify with the potential issues raised in this blog – but thankfully I don’t! As I sit here eating a homemade scone that my husband and 6 yr old son made yesterday, whilst watching my almost 2yr old make me a cup of tea in his kitchen he got for Christmas, and my 7 month old trying to grab the baby out of his big brothers toy pushchair – I wonder if I have taken things too far the other way?!! It’s not a concious decision we have made to parent our children in this way, rather a natural home environment we have created that reflects real life, or our real life at least! A lot of people tell me I’m lucky to have a husband that’s so ‘hands on’ but to me (and him) it’s completely normal. I would hope that as my boys grow and get to child bearing age, that they would raise their kids in a similar way, regardless of whether they were male or female. Will it happen? Watch this space….

    1. janekenyon

      way to go Zoe! Interesting case study I feel – love to know what happens when they hit secondary school but by then your values will be well and truly cemented in! coffee soon??


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