What I told my boys about #metoo #amInext and being a woman in South Africa

My son saw the #metoo #amInext march in Cape Town last week on the news. The conversation went like this:

“Why are they marching Mom?”

“Because violence against women in South Africa is like an epidemic my son”

“But why Mom?”

“Because there is something fundamentally wrong in our society?”

“But why Mom?”

“Because my son, there is something fundamentally wrong in our hearts.”

I stand behind that protest 100%. But a protest is like a volume button, it get’s your attention. but making something louder doesn’t make it better. It is certainly no substitute for action (Yes this is actually also something I’ve spoken to my kids about). But action by whom? As a mom raising boys, I find myself at the coalface of where I believe the change must happen. Graca Machel was right as she addressed mourners at the memorial service of tragically slain student Uyinene Mrwetyana, when she said: “it is in our families”. The correction needs to happen much closer to home than in a courtroom or a police station or via some system or law. At home is where the shaping happens, make no mistake. Your home is the frontline where mutual respect (yes, boys should respect girls and yes girls should respect boys because people should respect each other. Bottom line ) is modeled or distorted, where we either uphold or disregard, instill or destroy the fundamental truth of our shared worth, value and humanity. We don’t need governments and systems to change. We need people to change. And we are people…raising people. That is actually why I wrote The Mommy Diaries, because we are raising kids in a complex world that is only set to become more so. But there is a way to live and lead in that complexity with courage and wisdom. 

The hashtags of #metoo and #amInext and #femicide is a call to a higher standard of engagement. But as parents we must call ourselves to it if we are hoping to call our kids to it. And so I believe it is above everything not a call to governments and leaders, but a call to action directed at families, a call to parents. 

It’s all of our responsibility to raise the kind of kids who appreciate the uniqueness, equality, dignity and value of the opposite gender. That doesn’t just happen.

It has never been more important to engage with our kids in a new and focused way around these things and to be intentional about it. So this is what I told my boys:

The way women are treated is an atrocity:

This is not limited to South Africa or certain communities or cultures. It’s true everywhere. And women have had enough. Our breaking point has been centuries in the making and now it’s here. And I want my boys to know why. It is based on certain misinterpretations of biology and theology, that didn’t take into account a full set of facts or context.  Misinterpretations (i.e the “glasses” through which people “read” these things) that have been accepted as truths, but that are in fact lies. And I have no problem in calling them lies because the idea that women are somehow “less than” has no biological, cultural or scriptural basis. These lies have informed everything from how women are treated and paid, to where they are and aren’t allowed to be/ serve/work/play and have snowballed into the utter disregard with which they are hurt, abused, spoken of and to. These lies are present in homes, in businesses, in churches and in cultures. I know this first hand.  

But the problem is not in how women are treated:

The true problem lies in the way women are viewed. The problem is deeper than history, than a culture of patriarchy, than biases and blond jokes. Because all of those things find their origin in one place, in the way one person sees another person. In that sense racism, xenophobia (another evil that rocked our nation again this week) and femicide/ gender based violence is not that different. Because at their root they all find their origins in the way one person sees another person. And as is always the case, the way you see someone else is most often based on how you see yourself. If you see someone as less than, it’s because you see yourself as “more than”. If you see someone for some reason as less deserving, it’s because you see yourself as more deserving. 

So yes, it’s important that we address equality, pay equity, femicide and all those good and essential things, but lets make no mistake, real change happens in a different direction. 

I don’t want to raise boys who know how to behave in a way that honors, values and respects women. Having the good manners to not tell blond jokes and not hit girls is not the same as holding firm to a fundamental believe that all people are worthy of honor, value and respect.

Because ultimately if we wish to see changes in our society, in legislation, in our communities, there can be no fundamental change effected on that level if we don’t dig down a little deeper and try to affect change at a heart level. 

Change will not come through laws and loudspeakers if it doesn’t first come in hearts and homes

Always fight lies with truth:

This is the definition of truth in our house: God’s opinion about EVERYTHING. And if God sees everyone the same so should we. His opinion is that we are all equal (Gen 1 v 27/ Deut 10 v 17/ Rom 2 v 11/ Gal 3 v 26 – 29) and have equal standing with Him. 

In God’s eyes we are endowed with worth not because of this or that attribute but because of His likeness in us and His love for us. It is not dependent on status, race, gender or culture. This is something that is true of every human person.

God gives us a different lens through which to see the world. In fact Jesus in word and deed was an example to us in how women are to be regarded and treated in society, in defiance of the social, judicial and religious customs of His day. In all things He is the embodiment of what loving others should look like. Jesus shows us that our lens must never be culture, or history, or tradition or popular opinion. The examples that proves that there is no “less than” attitude in the bible when it comes to women are too many to mention, but I like to throw some at the boys from time to time just to make sure they know: “The first person Jesus told He was the Christ was a woman, the first person He appeared to after He rose from the dead was a woman. Oh, and just incase you were wondering what God thought about women consider this:  none of you would even be here if it wasn’t for us”.

The call on all of us is to regard everyone not by what we see on the outside, but by the truth of them as spiritual beings (2 Cor 5 v 16) and image bearers. Misogyny (and yes, my kids know what misogyny is because they understand prejudice. Thank you South African Public schooling) is based on a skewed idea of worth that we can only correct by acknowledging a higher truth.

Consider carefully, don’t consumer carelessly or accept mindlessly:

When we say things like “the problem is in society or culture or whatever” what we are often trying to communicate is that something has been “normalized” over time to a point where it is accepted. If we do not pinpoint those “accepted lies” and reveal them, they will hide in our hearts forever. That is why I encourage the boys to look and think a little deeper whenever I get a chance. 

At a recent school prizegiving, a Gr 7 girl in The Elder’s class received an award for taking the most wickets in a cricket match at provincial level. Even though my kids attend a wonderfully integrated and dynamic school, there was still that ripple of suprise that went through the audience, and it made me chuckle a little. But it also presented a great object lesson for the boys. Why shouldn’t a girl perform well on the cricket field, or any field?  Look, I’d be the first to tell you I don’t enjoy watching women play rugby, for example! Because frankly if I wanted to watch women shoving and bumping at each other aggressively I’d much rather just go to the Woolworths Quality sale, am I right? But that doesn’t mean women shouldn’t play rugby, or go to space. I don’t want my boys to just mindlessly go along with what societal pack thing dictates as the “norm” and so I look for opportunities to challenge that thinking and to put forward this truth: 

Roles, jobs, positions and participation should be based on gifting, not gender! Always. Everywhere.

Our words reveal our attitudes and so I am pretty brutal when it comes to blond jokes, the use of phrases such as “women driver” and I strongly discourage the boys from listening to music that objectifies women. As an Afrikaans speaking female I am deeply horrified at how often in my culture songs contain those types of messages, but they serve as great object lessons to explain to the boys: 

Make sure that even to the level of the content you consume and the jokes you tell you are reflecting the honor and respect that you yourself would like to be on the receiving end of.

Recognize and respect:

I tell the boys to pay attention to the contributions of not only the women in their lives (there are some epic ones!) but also the women in our world. Reading female authors, watching female athletes and considering the specific strengths and traits of the girls and women in their world that they admire. Not in an “anything boys can do girls can do better” kind of way, then all we are doing is swinging the pendulum the other way. That also doesn’t reflect respect or value. But in a way that sensitizes them to recognize and respect women equally in a culture and society that is possibly not set up for that to happen naturally. 

We have the power to change things.

In a world of man-bashing (mostly rightly so), we as boy-moms should try to encourage positive masculinity and chivalrous behaviour that has nothing to do with long-dead ideas about men and women, but has everything to do with the heart attitude that there is never a reason to be mean, that kindness is always the best response, and the golden rule of putting others first that helps our kids to shine a light in the world. 

When we sensitize our boys to inherent biases I believe we are actually empowering them. It equips them with an understanding of the world that helps them make sense of things, and an understanding of themselves that helps them grow. The power for real change lies not in the pressure we can put on a government or system or institution. Because at a fundamental level it’s not society, history or culture that govern what we do and don’t to, it’s what we have accepted as true, have bought into on a belief/ heart level. 

It is only change at a heart level that helps us see things differently. Only then can we do things differently. 

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