How to Be an Anti-Patriarchal/Feminist Parent

Throughout her book, The Will to Change, bell hooks continues to focus on how patriarchy hurts boys, especially in her third chapter, "Being a Boy."

"It is patriarchy, in its denial of the full humanity of boys, that threatens the emotional lives of boys, not feminist thinking. To change patriarchal 'traditions' we must end patriarchy, in part by envisioning alternative ways of thinking about maleness, not only boyhood" (pg 37).

She calls forth for feminist thought to widen its contribution to society by offering more alternatives for masculinity, particularly when it comes to boys and men.

She explores the challenge of being a progressive, anti-patriarchal, feminist parent because of society's gender expectations. To be a progressive, anti-patriarchal, feminist parent means allowing your child to be as open, emotional, and free as possible. Essentially, to parent in a feminist and anti-patriarchal way suggest giving your child (regardless of gender) space to explore their feelings, thoughts, behaviors, gender, sexuality, bodies, and interests, and allowing them to choose their own toys and clothing (exploring with them why they chose it, if appropriate). It also means modelling respectful and equal relationship with their other parent, or your partner; equally assigning family chores/duties, not assigning gender activities, colors, items, things or careers, and honoring and recognizing intersectionality (race, class, gender, religion, etc...).

hooks interestingly points out that little boys are really the only males in our culture who are permitted to completely express their emotions without shame, since they are young and kids and it is "allowed" and expected for little kids to show and share their feelings, freely showing their desire to be loved and to love.

Still, while these boys can be free at home, they must close themselves up again once they go outside into the patriarchal world, which is why it is important for parents to continue to reinforce the child's freedom inside the home, and to speak to them about to cope and manage outside expectations.


hooks also brings up the fear that some single-mothers may have, which is, that raising their sons to show their feelings will turn them gay, which is homophobic and ridiculous.

"As a consequence mothers in these families may be overly harsh and profoundly emotionally withholding with their sons, believing that this treatment will help the boys to be more masculine" (pg 46).

In addition, she points out that gay men can be as "masculine," emotionally withdrawn, or anti-feminist as straight men, since they too are judged by their gender. Likewise, fathers can also treat their sons harshly, for the purposes of making them more "masculine" and ready for the patriarchal world.

"Just as maternal sadism flourishes in a world where women are made to feel that their emotional cruelty to son makes them better prepared for manhood, paternal sadism is the natural outcome of patriarchal values" (pg 46).

hooks asserts that in order to enforce patriarchal ideas on their sons, "patriarchal fathers" use the practices of shaming and even competition ("ready to prove that they are real men"). The fathers see their sons as "recruits in training," hence, their use of "sadomasochistic power struggles designed to toughen them up..." (pg 47).

No Nest