Teaching Our Sons to Respect Women

Father showing respect to his wife
Tom & Dee Ann McCarthy / Getty Images

One dad blogger recently shared an experience he said that he will never forget about how as a boy he should respect women.

My dad was a law enforcement officer and one morning as I was getting ready for school, Dad returned home from a long graveyard shift. He was hanging up his coat as I made a snide comment to my mother. He wheeled around, took that wooden coat hanger and broke it over my backside as he reminded me forcefully that I was never to talk to my mother the way I had. It was a lesson that I have remembered my whole life and that taught me unmistakably the importance of respecting women.

First, we don't generally advocate breaking wooden coat hangers across a child's bottom, but it is critical that as fathers we find effective ways to help our sons learn to respect women. In so many ways, it is an uphill battle. So much of popular music, especially in the rap world, is all about disrespecting women. Even popular television programs and video games degrade women or paint them in single dimensions. But we all know that nothing is further from the truth.

So, in a culture where disrespecting women seems to be accepted and even embraced, how can fathers effectively teach their sons to respect women?

Model the behavior you want to see repeated. There is no substitute for a father's example in teaching the importance of respecting women. As you interact with your son's mother and sisters and other female family members, treat them with respect. When he sees you actively listening to them, when he sees you open doors for them and offer to do things that make their lives easier, he will want to model your behavior. Your example counts far more in the lives of your sons than anything you can ever say to them, and this maxim holds true for respecting women as well. 

Correct popular impressions that disrespect women. If your son listens to music or plays video games that make women into one-dimensional objects, correct the impressions that he might form. You could say things like, "I know Kanye West raps about women as 'hoes,' but we know better, don't we? You know how much I love your mom, right? I would never say something like that about her." Help your son see that entertainers and game designers sometimes say and do things for shock value and they don't reflect the way most people feel and act.

Help him learn to communicate his feelings without violence or threats. Young men frequently have a hard time reacting to things that are going wrong without resorting to violence or threatening language. What might work among friends or on the sporting field does not usually work well with women. So help your son learn to express his feelings and opinions verbally and respectfully. And help him see that violence in a family situation or with women or children is never acceptable.

Teach him to avoid pornography. Pornography in any form is dangerous for young men in many ways. But one of the insidious messages in pornography is that women are first and foremost sexual creatures. Once again, the one-dimensional view of women, whatever that dimension, teaches disrespect toward women and devalues them as individuals. So teach him to avoid pornography and put good parental controls on his access to the Internet on his computers and smartphones. If he has had some issues with pornography, offer to be his accountability partner and help him find healthier outlets. 

Use respectful terms when referring to women. Derogatory terms when talking about women seem to abound in our language, and they often come out in casual conversation. So avoid calling a woman a "skank" or a "bimbo," even if she dresses or acts provocatively. Talk about the behavior and why it is inappropriate rather than using a shorthand derogatory term to describe the behavior.

Cultivate positive friendships with girls. Often, boys tend to have friendships only with other boys until they start to develop the hormonal attraction to girls. Helping them develop friendships with girls at young ages can get them comfortable around girls and help them see through the stereotypes that teenage boys often have about girls. Early and positive friendships between boys and girls can help breed respect later in life.

Teaching our sons to respect women, particularly within their own families, is one of a father's most important roles. As our sons learn to deal respectfully with the women in their lives, they will develop the needed skills and attitudes that will help them interact effectively with women all through their lives.