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Wednesday October 2, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Wednesday October 2, 2013 MYT 7:48:37 AM
by chester chin AND michael cheang
Teaching them right: Jimmy Ding shaving with his sons Joel, Gabriel and Adriel.
Some families are consciously teaching their sons to be respectful of women, and to treat them as equals.
A TEN-YEAR-OLD boy was recently rushed from school to the hospital to be with his mother as she drew her last breath. Her husband had set her alight and she had burns on 70% of her body. It was the culmination of many years of abuse, and despite lodging many reports, no one could protect her from her husband’s violence.
In another case in Johor, neighbours found a woman who had been beaten unconscious by her husband on the porch. She later died in the hospital.
There have also been many videos of men beating up their wives or partners on Facebook — from the veterinary officer who battered his wife in the lift in front of their children to the man going at his former partner with a hammer, to the husband who attacked his pregnant wife in a shop.
These cases are but an indication of Malaysia’s domestic violence problem. Official statistics show that cases of partner abuse have increased markedly in the first quarter of this year, with 1,353 reported compared to about 800 in the same period last year.
Elsewhere, pictures of celebrity chef Nigella Lawson throttled by her then husband Charles Saatchi also made the news. He dismissed the episode as a “playful tiff”.
Former Australian prime minister Julia Gillard also recently opened up about the sexism she faced during her time in office.
With such news highlighting more and more cases of sexism, chauvinism, bigotry, discrimination, gender inequality and sexual abuse against women, it begs the question: how do we teach men to treat women equally, if not better.
The issues of gender imbalance and violence against women are complex. But it is essentially rooted in inequality and lack of respect for women.
Some people believe the change in gender relations should start at home, and we need to reevaluate how we are bringing up our children and the values we are inculcating in them. Realising this, some families are consciously raising their sons to be respectful of women and mindful of treating them as equals.
Setting good examples
According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, the definition of the word “sexism” is “prejudice or discrimination based on sex”. For Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO) executive director Ivy Josiah, sexism is when you use any form of language or image to put the other gender down by belittling their role or importance.
“Respect and equality go together. We need to instil in children the idea that we are all equal,” she said, adding that educating future generations about sexism should begin at home.
According to Josiah, adults need to be active role models to children and teach them to be respectful of everyone, including domestic helpers.
Jasbeer Singh’s family lives by that principle.
“When we used to have a maid, the first thing my dad told us was to call her kakak (big sister). Dad insisted we treated her with respect. She ate the same food as us and joined the family when we watched television,” he said.
Jasbeer grew up with six sisters, and he regards men and women as equal. His wife Sukhvir Kaur and him actively instill the concept of gender equality in their two sons — Manveen Singh Tiwana, 24 and Ashvin Singh Tiwana, 15.
“I have always said this to my sons, ‘Although you don’t have a sister, you have many cousins and aunts’. That is why it’s important they treat women right,” Jasbeer said.
While Jasbeer takes a direct approach when it comes to teaching his sons gender equality, Jimmy Ding chooses to lay down the foundation for treating people well.
Ding thinks his sons — eight-year-old Joel, five-year-old Gabriel and four-year-old Adriel — are still too young to grasp the concepts of gender differences and equality. But he certainly believes it’s never too early to teach them good manners and a positive attitude because those are the foundations for treating others right.
“There are two ways to learn: through reading or following an example. The most receptive age to learn is when you are young and the most influential people are parents. Thus parents play a pivotal role because the examples they set at home will have a huge influence on how their children view sexism.
“The way we act and behave will have a significant influence on how our children behave in the future. So, it’s really important for parents to watch what they say and do.
“We need to give our children a good example to follow as a base platform during their formative years,” says Ding, the head executive at a multinational company.
Doing your part
Josiah thinks that parents must practise equality at home and create a “genderless” environment in which household chores are shared among all family members, be it the father, mother, son or daughter.
“There’s this fixed notion about what boys should do or how they should behave. These notions have to be eradicated, and there should be an equal partnership between mother and father,” she said.
Ahmad Fakhri Hamzah said that in the past, house chores used to be divided by gender, for example, the kitchen was considered a woman’s domain.
“Those kinds of norms and traditions are all in the past. In our house, everybody does their share of work — the boys even do the cooking and enjoy it!” he said.
Ding also takes this approach with his children, encouraging them to help their mum Eileen Cheah do household chores, clearing plates after dinner, making their own beds and cleaning up after themselves.
“I hope these acts of helping around the house will teach them that household chores are not solely the responsibility of mum, or women for that matter. Men should help out whenever the opportunity arises,” he says.
Just doing the task is not enough, said Josiah – acknowledging your child’s good behaviour is equally important.
“Parents should also make it a practice to value good behaviour by thanking their child every time he does something good such as helping to clean the tables or sweeping the floor.
“Respect and consideration also come from sensitivity. Thus, it’s good to instil in him the value of volunteerism,” she said.
Josiah also thinks that certain traditional mindsets need to be changed in order to instil these values in one’s sons, including that old saying that “boys don’t cry”.
“We always see families saying ‘Eh, don’t cry! You’re a boy, toughen up!’, but it would be better to teach boys how to express emotions instead,” she said.
“Teaching your sons to develop empathy is also equally important. Let them know it is all right to cry and feel fear. Teach him that weakness is not a permanent thing, and that he’ll become stronger after you overcome your weakness.
“Boys should be taught how to listen, be helpful and be respectful. Instead of teaching them to solve conflicts through a physical act, teach them how to negotiate instead.”
Josiah suggests that parents should start by taking note of the language that is used around the home. “Language is often the most recurring thing when it comes to sexist remarks, so it’s very important for parents to monitor the language that their children use as well as the kinds of languages that they’re exposed to.”
Parents also need to be mindful of their children’s consumption of pop culture.
“A lot of music these days contains imagery that depict girls as being very servile, especially in rap music,” she said, while stressing that instead of merely saying ‘No, you shouldn’t listen to this or watch this’, parents need to take this opportunity to talk about it and discuss the messages in the media with their kids.
“As parents, we tend to panic when we come across all these songs or shows, but that shouldn’t be the scenario. Parents need to confront the situation and see how that situation allows for conversation, and when a child opens up, the reaction cannot be: ‘Oh you’re too young (to understand)’.”
Jamilah Samian, author of several parenting books including Cool Mum Super Dad and Cool Boys Super Sons, believes that in this age of information overload, parents need to be open towards talking about the differences between men and women (be it mentally or physically), and that such subjects should not be considered taboo.
“Everything is so highly sexualised, and there is so much sexism all around us these days, so you can’t not talk about it. In fact, you need to be even more intentional and deliberate when it comes to talking about these things,” said the author, who also runs the Cool Mum Super Dad parenting resource site (coolmumsuperdad.com) with her husband Ahmad Fakhri.
The couple have six children – sons Ahmad Saifuddin, 28, Ahmad Salahuddin, 25, Ahmad Safiuddin, 20, Ahmad Syarifuddin, 17, Ahmad Sirajuddin, 14 and daughter Alia Nadhirah, 22.
Ahmad Fakhri added that his family has no issue talking about differences between men and women, even the physical aspects.
“We don’t ridicule it or laugh about it. For us, it’s more important to celebrate these differences and try to complement each other’s strengths and weakness,” he said.
“When you see articles about the abuse of women, you need to discuss it with the family. You have to try and express your own views so that they know your standpoint and they can make their own value judgment. When you consciously make that effort, both verbally and in your actions, then it will help shape the boy’s view about women.”
“It all starts from home. Your children will leave home one day, and you won’t be there to guide them. So, they have to build their own internal value system,” said Jamilah who believes that 50% of the problems amongst the younger generation, be it juvenile delinquency, sexual discrimination or others, can be solved with the pro-active presence of the male figure in the family.
Ahmad Fakhri concurred, adding that one of the most important key roles for a man is that of a key role model that kids can look up to.
“Boys like to look up to someone, a role model. If they cannot find it at home, they would look for it outside,” he said. “Other men whom they respect may or may not have treated women the way they should, and that goes a long way towards shaping their values.”
Like most fathers, Ding hopes the legacy
he leaves behind for his children will be a positive one.
“We all try our best to be the best we can to our children. Honestly, I wouldn’t know what they will learn from me through all the lessons I teach them until they are adults. However, I do hope they will grow up believing in themselves, appreciating others and never look down on anyone,” he said.
Pointers on raising sons
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Lifestyle, women, sexual discrimination, sexual abuse, upbringing, sons
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