What are We Teaching Boys About Successful Women?

Laurie Hollman, Ph.D. has an upcoming book,

Unlocking Parental Intelligence: Finding Meaning in Your Child’s Behavior,

to be released October 13, 2015.

What Do Boys Think About Successful Powerful Women Today?

I was watching Hillary Clinton give her presidential launch speech with a bunch of adults. The children seemed to be playing while the adults listened. However, when I said to a seven-year-old as I pointed to Hillary Clinton on the screen, “she may be the next president of the United States,” to my surprise he turned immediately away from his toys and looked me straight in the eye and said, “a girl?!”


I felt immediately worried that he thought there was something wrong or at least confusing about that.  But that was my own defensiveness, because then he raised his arm and put his little hand in a pumped up fist and said with a determined look and strong clear voice, “Yeah!” affirming this was a great thing.
So it seems that when adults have conversations about women’s rights including the right to equal pay for equal work, these young boys are listening even if they appear focused on little boy play. They are also watching their hard working mothers both at home and going off to their jobs. They also see their mothers are going to college and getting advanced degrees. They are noticing and forming opinions of their own.


A four-year-old told me the other day that his mother used to be a physical therapist but now her job was being his mother. She has a job, he told me seriously. I added that she did have the important job of being his mother and still, at the same time, knew how to be a physical therapist. She still had that knowledge without doing that particular job right now. He listened carefully and seemed pleased and proud of his mother.


What Are We Teaching Our Young Boys?


So when we don’t know that our youthful sons are listening, we are teaching them by example and by our words. Even at ages 4-7, they are political! They just don’t know what political means. Their feelings, thoughts, opinions, intentions are growing quickly as they absorb what they hear. And they hear everything! So it’s very important that we pay attention to what we say in their presence even when we are not talking directly to them.


When we take our boys to the pediatrician, she is often a woman. When they go to school, not only their teacher but their psychologist and principal are also women. Their soccer coach might be a woman and their swimming teacher might be a woman. They are noticing that women do everything men do and they do it well.


In fact the particular mother of the four-year-old and seven-year-old mentioned above has resided her house, landscaped her yard, painted pictures for her kids’s rooms, and put in all the insulation in her huge attic! Believe me, they’ve noticed. To them, this is what a woman does as well as the laundry, elaborate birthday parties, and helping with homework. She is fortunate because her husband does these things, too, and chooses to be the breadwinner right now so his wife can be a stay at-home mother. But she worked when he went got his graduate degree full-time years before.


I’ve described a rather ideal household with my example, but my central point remains: What are we teaching young boys about what girls and women can do?