Gender diversity

Dear Rafi: Jamila Rizvi’s Open-Letter To Her Son On International Women’s Day

'There’s seemingly endless chatter about raising girls to be brave and not nearly enough about raising boys to be kind.'

By Jamila Rizvi

Gender diversity

'There’s seemingly endless chatter about raising girls to be brave and not nearly enough about raising boys to be kind.'

By Jamila Rizvi

Dear Rafi,

The gendered world you’ve been born into is changing. It’s changing too rapidly for some and far too slowly for others. As you get older, that’s going to cause a lot of people to shout at one another in the media. In fact, it already does. You’ll read angry opinions on the internet – mostly from blokes – saying we’ve gone too far, that men are being discriminated against. You’ll likely feel confused by this. Perhaps you’ll question whether there’s truth in it. You might even wonder if the world was a better place for people like you back before feminism came along and turned everything on its head.

Right now, you’re only a little tacker. You know mummy goes to work during the day and that sometimes you see her on the telly but that’s about it. What you’re not old enough to understand is that my work is all about the pursuit of equality, particularly for women and girls. Feminism is a cause I believe in. It drives me to work harder and to do better every day. The work of gender equality remains unfinished. This has awful ramifications for people here in Australia and all over the world. I want to be part of fixing that. I doubt this work will be completed in my lifetime but my friends and I, well, we’re trying out best.

I spend a lot of time talking to parents of girls. Parents who post on social media about taking their daughters to the cricket and cheering on Elyse Perry. They worry about the number of pink clothes they buy and how many Barbies are in the toy box. They wonder what their daughters’ will earn in the future, how limited their choices might be and that they could easily become reliant on a male partner who treats them badly. They are anxious about the narrow beauty ideals our society dictates for girls and about eating disorders, plastic surgery or body-altering apps. They feel scared, overwhelmed and ask me questions about how to raise their daughters in part of a desperate search for answers.

 

“There’s seemingly endless chatter about raising girls to be brave and not nearly enough about raising boys to be kind.” 

 

Here’s the thing though: I rarely get questions from the parents of boys. Parents of boys tend to assume fighting for gender equality either doesn’t include them or isn’t their domain. Darling, they’re so very wrong. Gender equality must be the business of parents to boys, just as it should be the business of adult men. Boys like you should grow up valuing friendships with girls, being conscious and considerate of how your actions impact others and understanding that not all children share your privilege. This is how we ensure adult men will value women in the workplace, will be respectful and non-violent towards their female partners and recognise their experience of the world isn’t the only one that matters.

Teaching you this is something mummy and daddy are working hard at.

We don’t always get it right, but we remain committed.

It’s critical that you know equality isn’t something I’m fighting for only because I’m a woman. A gender equal world would benefit all people and that includes you, my boy. There’s seemingly endless chatter about raising girls to be brave and not nearly enough about raising boys to be kind. The current gender debate is rightly focused on the economic and physical security of women but should also encompass the emotional needs of boys and men. I’ve known men who struggled with their feelings and fears, and who struggled even more to talk about them openly. It’s damaged them in a way that I hope you will never experience. The narrow confines of gender expectations hurt us all.

I’m writing you this letter well before you’ll ever be able to read or comprehend it. That’s because it’s a commitment to myself as much as it is a message to you. No matter how much I write, how often I speak, or how hard I work for feminism, my greatest contribution to gender equality is always going to be you. To raise an empathetic, kind and compassionate man who is steady in his knowledge of himself and sincere in his dedication to equality… well, that’s the best way for me to change the world. Fighting for feminism and fairness cannot be only women’s work. Achieving equality will take all of us and if it doesn’t happen during my years on earth, I have faith it will happen in yours.

Happy International Women’s Day, my son.

Love Mum x