How to Teach Boys to Respect Girls

How to Teach Boys to Respect Girls

Before my son was born, I didn’t think it was my problem to raise good men. I’d been working with raped and battered women as a women’s rights advocate for many years, and had seen my share of sexist atrocities by men-gone-wrong. My aim was to get justice for women – even though I always understood that the only solution is to prevent the violence in the first place. But until such time as women and men have financial, social, economic and political equality, how could this be possible?

I always imagined that men become assholes because either a) men have the asshole gene and there’s nothing we can do about that or b) they were raised by asshole fathers or weak mothers who themselves had assholes for fathers.

But when my son was born, I became afraid that no matter what we did as his parents, somehow he’d get infected with the virus of sexism ‘out there’ and become one of those men I’d been working all my life to protect women from. I also didn’t want to become one of those domineering mothers who emasculates their sons for loud, aggressive testosterone-driven behaviour. Boys and girls are – despite all the politically correct notions to the contrary – different in ways it is disingenuous to ignore.

Here are some of my thoughts about how we can potentially raise boys who respect girls and women:

1. Surround our kids with good men: boys who have dads (step-dads or other mentors) who are not assholes have a much better chance of not being assholes themselves. So the way a boy sees his father treating his mother, wife and daughters will have the hugest lasting impact on how a boy works this one out.

A while back I was chatting to a woman who confided that her teenage sons make sexist and misogynist comments all the time. She was confounded and deeply upset by this. ‘They just don’t respect me,’ she said miserably.

I made some suggestions about ‘laying down rules’ and ‘invoking consequences for rude behaviour,’ but she shrugged weakly and said, ‘They’ll just laugh at me.’

‘What does your husband say about this? Why doesn’t he step in and let them know that it’s not okay to disrespect women?’ I asked.

‘Where do you think they learn it from?’ she asked helplessly.
Our kids become what we are, not what we say. Lecturing and teaching them doesn’t work. They learn from us by watching what we do.

2. Kids believe what their mothers say: as mothers, our job is to love and respect ourselves and other women. Our kids listen to how we talk about our own bodies and how we speak about other women and girls. Our self-loathing and gendered criticism trickles into our sons (and daughters) and is powerfully undermining of building respect.

3. Sex talk: our kids imbibe sexual attitudes – not only from mainstream culture – but also through the subtleties of how comfortable we are with our own sexuality. If we talk about sex as something natural and mutual; if we discuss what is both interesting and disturbing about pornography, our kids will take those attitudes with them when they’re exposed to it.

4. Make it about ‘people’: sometimes we have to talk about gender differences (like the fact that girls are the ones who fall pregnant, and are likely to be physically weaker than boys when it comes to gender violence), but in many instances, respect is about ‘respecting people,’ irrespective of their gender. If we role model compassion, non-judgement and kindness to everyone, that’s the message that sinks into our kids.


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5. Speak up: some stuff is just unacceptable. If we fail to call people on sexist remarks or jokes (whether made by men, women, girls or boys) our kids learn that silence. They learn how to shut up instead of speak up. Watching us, our kids learn what is tolerable and what is not. Sometimes we have to shout ‘NO!’ At other times, we can speak up gently, compassionately and without humiliating the person. Sometimes all that’s needed is a: ‘That remark really made me uncomfortable, perhaps you didn’t intend it, but that was the effect.’ We’re all learning how to make sense of a world of confusing and contradictory gender roles. We all make mistakes. We’re all learning how to be better people.

6. Teach your kids the ‘f’-word: ‘feminists’ are not a cult of rabid anti-men lesbians. Being ‘feminist’ simply means that we’re politicized, that we know we live in a world of social, economic and political inequality. Our boys and girls can learn to say they are proudly ‘feminist’ because they believe men and women should be treated equally (which is not to say that gender differences should be ignored – in certain instances affirmative action might be an important reparative step in achieving that equality).

7. Laugh: there is so much to get angry about in our modern world that we need a sense of humour to survive it all. Laughter is the best way to build resilience. Life is serious, but we don’t need to take ourselves too seriously. We can laugh at ourselves – with all our mistakes, foibles, imperfections and failures, and in so doing, our kids learn to do the same.

Published on the Happy Parenting blog, 2015

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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Surviving Teenagers

I call my kids to come see this YouTube video of some father in the US who ends his rant against his teenage daughter’s ‘I-hate-my-parents’ Facebook post, by emptying the barrel of a gun into her laptop.

I suppose I’m hoping it’ll dawn on them I’m not such a terrible parent for insisting electronics be shut down at 9pm and they each do one chore a week. Instead they look at each other and roll their eyes. ‘Just proves what a d___head of a father he is,’ my son says in disgust. ‘Tragic,’ my daughter sighs and saunters off to continue the intricate artwork of stitches, hearts, and diamonds she’s been drawing on her left arm with a Sharpie over the past week. It’s only a matter of time before it becomes a permanent tattoo.

Now that they’re teenagers, the exhausting years of claustrophobic motherhood have been replaced with this: me left feeling a bit silly. It’s not like I want to be worshipped or anything. Just respected. I’d even settle for not being dissed. Problem is, I’m not impressive anymore. They used to ask me things and take my word for gospel. Nowadays they know more than I do about too many things. I need their help me with i-Tunes, my iPhone and Foxtel. They snicker, as if I’m some nerd who’s been under a rock and only just emerged into the daylight of popular culture.

At fifteen, my daughter is my height. My husband refuses to fold the laundry anymore after he recently held up a pair of undies and asked, ‘Yours or hers?’ and then, ‘I can’t do this anymore. The boundaries are getting too blurred.’ The other day when a TV ban was issued for rude behaviour, which got doubled for answering back, she icily left us with a, ‘We’re not Nazis, you know.’

‘Don’t come in, I’m filming,’ the twelve-year-old calls down the passage, like he’s Spielberg or something. I have no idea what’s actually going on in his room, except that later there’ll be YouTube downloads of his ‘gameplay,‘ which he then insists I watch – it gives him ‘views,’ which is currently how he measures his self-worth. We nearly came to blows over Call of Duty which I refused to allow in my home (because I’m the boss), even though I was ruining his social life in the process. I held out, through the crippling pressure. Now he’s mining and dodging zombies. For all I know, Minecraft is frying his brain, not creating new neural pathways. And he’s got friends in his room 24/7 on Skype. I miss the good old play date where kids went home eventually.


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Parenting teenagers has come upon me suddenly. One day we were in parks, eating ice creams and playing on the slippery dip, and the next my daughter was telling me to ‘give her a break, she has PMS,’ and my son, remarking that ‘roll-on works better, but aerosol is more manly.’

Time Out and Naughty Corners are obsolete and ridiculous. ‘Eat your broccoli,’ is usually met with a, ‘You eat my broccoli,’ or ‘I’ve decided to give up green vegetables.’ When I insist, my daughter quotes the Convention on the Rights of the Child where she claims her right to eat what she wants has been recognized by the UN. I’m usually too tired to argue and since no-one’s scared of me anymore, raising my voice just makes me look like I’m the one having the tantrum. I’ve had to update my parenting techniques, like a Facebook status. My kids are changing, nightly, by the glow of their computer screens, the click of a mouse, the tweet in the night, and I have to keep up if I want to stay in the game. There’s a Buddhist lesson about impermanence in there somewhere.

My daughter used to love it when people said she looked like me. Now she scowls as if she’s been told she resembles Barney the Dinosaur. When my son sinks a three-pointer, my whoops just embarrass him. ‘Be cool, mum,’ he grimaces. ‘It’s just a basketball game.’

It’s my dignity I miss.

As I search for new meaning in my role as their mum, their need for independence stretches me to breaking point. I have to trust them in the world and the world with them or else cripple them with my neurosis. They may be growing up, but I’m having to toughen up, to withstand the shame of having to ask someone a quarter of my age what LMFAO means, or what a meme is. And when they say, You remember that thing Kanye West did to Taylor Swift…?’ I just nod. Their snappy cool comebacks make me say puerile things like ‘I carried you for nine months of my life, is it such a big deal to carry two shopping bags to the kitchen?’

They’re preparing me. With closed doors, private conversations and peer-secrets, they’re letting me go. They’re shrugging me off like old skin. Right now I’ll settle for a role in their support team, and not to be de-friended by them on Facebook. But I’m slowly expanding my own horizons, and dreaming up that life they keep telling me to get. Who knew of the secret deal between us – that as they grow into themselves, they give me back to myself where I get to watch from the sidelines as they unfurl into funny, opinionated interesting people I like?



  • Never take a grunt, a death-stare or a ‘whatever’ personally. That’s hormone-tone. Rudeness is not acceptable. Knowing the difference– now there’s the trick.
  • Never be too tired, too busy or too lazy to ‘come see’ whatever it is they want to show you – even if it is another YouTube crazy cat thing or an unfunny over-your-head SMOSH video. Just be grateful you’re still show-worthy.
    Knock if their door is closed.
  • It’s okay to lie in response to questions about what age you were when you first had a cigarette, drank alcohol or had sex, as in ‘I’ve never smoked/drank or had sex.’
Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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There is a world, a ‘place of tomorrow,’ Kahlil Gibran writes, in which our children’s souls dwell, which ‘we cannot visit, not even in our dreams.’ That world of fairies and elves my daughter inhabits is a familiar, beckoning place. I delight in her lilting musings about their whereabouts and wardrobes, her wonderment at dust particles caught in sunlight, her vain attempts to keep awake to catch a glimpse of the tooth fairy at work. I mean, how offensive really, is the idea of tiny mercurial winged incarnations mischievously going about their business of harvesting milk teeth and glittering the world?

But there is a place in which my son’s soul dwells – and that is another matter altogether. It is a world shrouded in Japanese secret culture. A world based on an ancient Egyptian fighting game. In this world, my son, would you believe, is a Master. So he tells me. A Yugi-Oh Master. And he is only 4.


‘Yugi-Oh,’ Mum, he sighs impatiently, shuffling his deck.

With a handful of cards, frayed from months of being clutched in grubby paws, streaked with the odd trace of peanut butter and salami grease, my son – that tantrum-wielding, two legged, accident-about-to-happen irrational scrap of maleness – is transformed into a self-possessed, wily and secretly knowledgeable warrior.

The skill of the Yugi-Oh master is as prized as the mystery of the ancient Millennium Puzzle. And somehow, my son is part of the cult dedicated to possessing both. I do not know how it happened. One day he was belting out ‘Bob the Builder, can we fix it, yes we can!’ and the next, he had become a hustler. A dealer. Speaker of a code. Joey Wheeler. Yami Yugi. Seto Kaiba.

Apparently one of the children at his kindy who has an older brother gave him a Yugi-Oh card. Just one card. And a terrible monster was born.

Consider that, despite having been told a few hundred times, he cannot remember to flush and wash, and yet, though unable to read, he will unfailingly recite the full name of every single card in his deck of 80-or so cards. And mind you, the names have not been designed with a four-year old’s slight lisp and semantic ignorance in mind. Forget ‘Tinky-Winky’, ‘Dipsy’, ‘Laa-laa’ and ‘Po.’ No. Try ‘Helios Pterosaur,’ ‘Ryu Kishin Powered,’ or ‘Darkly Big Rabbi.’ Try ‘Mobile Castle Alive Cogwheels with Gear Golem.’ Or ‘QJ Dragon of Cyan Eye.’ Or ‘Polymerization.’ ‘Humanoid Worm Drake.’ ’Nobleman of Extermination.’ ‘Rabid Horseman.’ He rattles these off with the same deft proficiency as the rhymes from Cat in the Hat and with the blurry indistinct enunciation of a little person’s tongue.

The images on the cards are nightmarish. Ghouls, monsters, boars, fierce and furious beasts. My personal worst is ‘Ultimate Sacrifice,’ with someone’s head being cut off, resplendent with exaggerated gushes of blood in gory Japanese comic book style.

Okay, I won the ‘no-guns-in-our-house’ battle. I would even go so far as to say I am close to victory on the ‘we-don’t-torture-the-cat’ battle. Time will tell whether or not I have succeeded in the ‘war-is-evil’ indoctrination. But somehow, under my very nose, these evil, wicked, ugly, violent (my words), cool, powerful, magical (his words) cards have found their way into our home, and into his heart. I have to reign in every shred of my instinct that wants to say, ‘You cannot have them.’ They are his beloved cards, and with them in his hand, he is The Man. How can I deny him?

‘Let’s dool,’ he instructs me.

And so duel we do.

I sit opposite him and wait to be handed my deck of cards. Somehow he always manages to manipulate events so that – as if by sheer luck – all the dragons, the block attacks and the other powerful cards end up in his deck, not mine. I can never win.

Not that I would know how.

We sit facing each other. I follow his lead.

‘I meet you with Mystical Elf.’

I nod solemnly and turn over a card.

‘Yes, and I have Trap Hole.’

‘As you wish,’ he says. ‘Now prepare to meet your doom,’ and he turns over Uraby. ‘It’s all over for you,’ he reflects.

In a few cards time, he has unilaterally consigned a number of my cards to The Graveyard.

‘Good dooling, mum,’ he says. ‘Better luck next time.’ And off he saunters to wallow in yet another victory.

I want to hold him from ugliness, keep him innocent just that little bit longer, before he releases my hand and dissolves into the crowd of his peers, into a tyrannized world at the mercy of media, misguided politicians, the price of oil and terrorism. But I watch over him, even from a distance. And from there I observe that the four corners of his life are ruled by the artistic creations of Japanese cartoonist Kazuki Takahashi who began to draw the Yugi-oh series in 1996 following a weekly comic series. My son’s soul and pocket are owned by Konami, the same Japanese company that marketed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. What chance do I have?

I log onto the internet to find out more. What is Yugi-Oh?

It means literally, ‘King of Games,’ and he is king who can use his fighting monsters each with different abilities and traits to defeat his opponent. Skill and strategy determine the outcome (forget Pokemon, a game of collecting and training a set of rather cute little monsters – that’s way too tame). In Yugi-Oh, each monster has a number of attack and defence points as well as an attribute: earth, water, wind, light, dark and fire. Each has a strength depicted by the number of stars on the card. Some monsters can fuse together to create a new and more powerful monster. Some monsters have magical effects – either by making monsters stronger or weaker, or by altering the conditions of the battle field. Dueling is regulated by a strict code of conduct: declaration of a move in a loud, clear voice before play; truthful answers to opponents questions about cards in your graveyard and an injunction against touching an opponents’ card without asking permission. Somehow, my son has absorbed this complex world of a war waged with a deck of cards, and like a language it has seeped into his pores, and become his interpretive grammar.

On the Yugi-Oh website is a page called The Parents Guide to Yugi-Oh. Included there are questions like: is the content appropriate for my child? Is it a good use of my child’s money and time? Is there any educational value in these cards?

The answers are surprisingly candid: the content of some of the cards may be ‘a bit racy’ and ‘may include concepts that might not be appropriate for some children.’ And ‘we do not think it a great idea to have your children spend every waking hour doing any one thing…’ and ‘..overall, its value as an educational toy is probably minimal.’

I’ve done the research, and I’m still none the wiser and still a pretty lousy dueler. I’m not convinced it’s good for my son, it may even be bad for him. All I know, is that a secret contest was raging for my son’s soul, and Yugi got there first. I have to accept defeat.

I am not a gracious loser. I take a strategic approach: there must be something in it for me. Yugi-Oh is now part of my arsenal. I can get my son to do just about anything with the threat of Yugi-Oh deprivation or a reward of new Yugi-Oh cards. And holy yami-yugi, they now make Yugi-Oh toothbrushes, and so endeth the battle of Getting-Teeth-Brushed. I’m thinking of starting a campaign for Yugi-Oh sunblock (a Block Attack against Ultra-Violet Poison), Yugi-oh branded broccoli (Anti-oxidant Defence against Microscopic Cell Destroyers) and Yugi-oh bubble-bath (Soap Attack to strip Dirt Invaders from Hard-To-Reach Places).

If there’s anything I’ve learned from Yugi, it’s that sometimes, a sacrifice is the only way to transform into an unbeatable monster.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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