Improving male attitudes, depends on how we raise our sons

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
Sons, and daughters, see and absorb how their father treats their mother and how they talk about women in general, writes parenting columnist Ian Munro.

Ian Munro
Ian Munro
Earlier in the year I wrote about the difficulties boys face growing up in the 21st century world - the confusion about how to be male, the growing mental health issues, and a growing intolerance of those seen to be threatening them, particularly if they are women.

This male need to be dominant is embedded in the very essence of any heavily patriarchal and tribal-based culture, and in those cultures, such as ours, that have patriarchal origins. It also shows in male gangs and other groupings where sexual power is used to keep women in their place. The Taliban government in Afghanistan shows this operating blatantly at the very highest levels of the power structure.

In New Zealand, we have women in the top power structure positions of Governor General, Chief Justice and Prime Minster. But even holding the latter leadership position has not spared Jacinda Ardern, or indeed Judith Collins, from sneering, sexist attacks.

Men who feel that they’re at the bottom of the heap are also prone to using violence against women to assert themselves and prove that they’re somebody. And it can be a bit of a laugh among mates about how you put the [any of many derogatory terms] in her place.

Attitudes may be slowly changing, but if we want real change it has to come from the way we, both fathers and mothers, bring up our sons.

It is imperative that we provide a loving and respectful family life and model the respectful behaviours and attitudes towards others we want to see in them. Sons, and daughters, see and absorb how their father treats their mother and how they talk about women in general.

We need to talk frankly and early about sexual matters and, as they get older, we need to know where they are, what they’re doing and what they’re saying. We need to monitor how they treat their mother and their sisters and call out unacceptable behaviour.

And if we find any of that too hard, then we need to try harder.

The following are the sorts of conversations we need to have with our sons. Conversations about:

• learning to be sensitive to the feelings and needs of a partner; learning to see that person as a person whose company you enjoy rather than treating as an object of sexual gratification over whom you exercise control.

• sexual activity and masculinity not being one and the same.

•  being aware of stereotypes and understanding that advertising is about selling products, not helping make good decisions.

•  pornography being generally abusive. More often than not, it’s about using others, about power, control and self-satisfaction and not about love, kindness, sharing and respect for others.