How I’m talking to my son about #MeToo

The conversation is importnant.
The conversation is importnant. Photo: Shutterstock

When the #MeToo movement started and women all over the world shared that they too had been a victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault, I didn't join in even though I could have. Like many women, I could write #MeToo dozens of times for all of the crap I've had hurled my way.

At the time I wondered if I could really make a difference. It felt like the movement was well and truly happening, and I assumed every woman who has ever interacted with society could write #MeToo. I still do.

What that movement did do was inspire me to talk to my children about sexual harassment. At first, I started speaking about it with my daughters. We talked about what they should do if someone makes them feel uncomfortable. We talked about what is okay and what is definitely not okay, and what to do if you think something is borderline.

But then I realised I also needed to talk to my son. In fact, that conversation is equally – if not more – important to have. Not just one conversation, of course, but many over the course of his lifetime. Because if we can stop boys growing into men that behave like jerks, we won't have to teach our daughters how to deflect a man in power making a comment about her boobs – or much worse.

My son is only seven, so the conversations have been pretty light so far, but I know it's important to start early in teaching boys how to treat women.

The Australian Government is running a campaign to educate the community about how violence against women starts with disrespect in young boys. "Violence against women doesn't just start," says the website tagline. "It grows."

The site goes on to say, "We all have an important role to play to ensure future generations know what disrespect really is and how it starts, and that children grow up in a culture that promotes respect."

I like to think I encourage my son to respect women in my house. He has me and his two sisters to keep him in line, and so far I haven't heard a sexist comment come out of his mouth, but I'm ready to educate him if I ever do.

But what else can I be doing?

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Dr Sasha Lynn, a clinical psychologist at the University of Queensland, says it's never too early to teach boys about respect.

"It should be something we model and teach from a young age," she says. "Young children soak up the world around them, including attitudes and behaviours. The way we treat others is then what they internalise as normal. So modelling good behaviours, talking about how we treat all people with kindness and repsect, practising being gentle and using our words and not our hands – these can all be done really early on."

Sasha says talking about harassment can be done as soon as you think your child is old enough to understand.

"Using movies, images or TV shows as talking points can help you reinforce respect, and role playing with sons so they feel able to handle any situation can help give them a way to feel confident they know how to behave," she says.

Of course, our boys don't live in a bubble, and they'll be exposed to behaviours outside the home that can demonstrate a less acceptable approach. This is where Sasha says teaching resilience can be useful.

"Building his resilience up to walk away from behaviours he's not comfortable with and to stand up for those who are being treated poorly – not being a bystander – that's where he can find his strength," says Sasha.

"If we can work together to create a culture of respect, then the majority will band together over any archaic 'culture'."

So we're working on resilience in our house. I'm teaching my son it's okay to disagree and it's okay to walk away from behaviour he doesn't like. And I'm teaching him to stand up for what he believes in.

Right now he believes he shouldn't have to make his bed, which is annoying, but I know that by letting him state his case I'm sowing seeds that will grow into something much more important.

He still has to make his bed though.