The top five ideas for raising a feminist son in the Middle East
Women are the only minority group who are not a minority in number. Lack of equal rights, of power and autonomy, not a deficit in numbers, are what make certain groups of people a minority, excluding them from the dominant mainstream.
Consider the medical profession, which has always been political and power-laden, as discussed in “The Birth of the Clinic” by the social theorist and philosopher Michel Foucault. Until recently, patients were not given much voice concerning treatment options in many parts of the world. Medical doctors are often portrayed as larger than life, paternalistic, invariably benevolent—and yes, male. “Doktor amca” (an older, male doctor) is a phrase spoken to babies and young children to calm them when they visit the hospital. Children internalize these metaphors and may grow up to discriminate against women or other minorities.
This brings us to the idea that in order for feminism and women’s rights to succeed, we need to start with our own children.
Raising feminist daughters will not suffice. We also need to raise feminist sons. If we are not a parent, we can also share some of these ideas with our best friend.
How can we raise a feminist son in the Middle East?
Life in the Middle East can be beautiful, inspiring and steeped in a rich human history, culture and geography. It can be full of deep, passionate conversations with friends, neighbors and strangers in homes, cafes and on the streets. Sadly, the identities of the oppressed and the oppressor are often fluid. Perhaps the Middle Eastern saying: “No good deed goes unpunished,” has something to do with there being so many contrasting identities all within single people.
Women or other minorities are advised to have “erect body posture” (“dik duruş” in Turkish), thinking body posture alone will solve the challenges that come with being a minority. However, we also need to broaden the rigid norms that condition boys.
Here are five suggestions on how concerned parents can speak with their sons in order to raise them as feminists in the Middle East.
Idea 1: Know the history of the global fashion industry and correct the socially constructed misconceptions and the false color codes for gender.
• “My dear son, did you know a century ago, girls and boys did not have separate colors for baby clothing? Pink and blue were colors used interchangeably for both boys and girls. So if you want to wear a pink shirt on some days, then go ahead do so.”
Idea 2: Take the initiative as parents to create a “doll diversity museum,” with diverse dolls who have equal rights, regardless of gender, disability, color, or other characteristics.
• “My dear son, please know not all dolls are like Barbie doll. A doll can have missing arms or legs, be thin or stout, of any color, with or without hair and yet all are very beautiful. You should visit the new doll diversity museum.”
Idea 3: Teach your son that women’s rights are a part of universal human rights.
• “My dear son, equal rights between men and women and between boys and girls, are part of universal human rights. This is why in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the word ‘universal’ was used, instead of ‘international’ human rights. That means women’s rights apply everywhere in the world.”
Idea 4: Be consistent with your son regarding ALL equal rights.
• “My dear son, for universal human rights and solidarity as global citizens, we need to be consistent and support women’s rights but we also need to take a principled stance against racism, xenophobia, homophobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia, or other faith-based discrimination, Orientalism and other types of discrimination.”
Idea 5: Teach your son to be empathetic and not to be a NIMBY (an acronym for “not in my backyard” i.e. someone who agrees in principle but not in practice)!
• “My dear son, actions are as important as words. Walk the talk. Support universal human rights but do not be someone who says women’s rights are OK but ‘not in my backyard.’”
Dear readers, these ideas can be further expanded on or placed in a different order of priority. They offer a useful framework for raising a feminist son, embracing equal rights, social cohesion and solidarity.