Liberation for our Grandsons

Recently, the editor’s column in a Canadian women’s magazine celebrated the fact that women in Canada have more choices than ever before. It’s true that women and girls have almost unlimited options compared to previous generations in terms of education, sports they can play, careers they can follow as well as being able to combine motherhood with careers.

We have a long way still to go in some industries in breaking the glass ceiling, but certainly the opportunities abound. Our granddaughters will have a wider path in the options they can choose as a result of the work women have done before them.

While I think men, in particular the new dads, have changed in their roles to accommodate working moms, taking on more responsibilities for child rearing, I wonder if they have been liberated too as well from the expected traditional roles of previous generations. I wonder if our grandsons will have the same wide path as our granddaughters.

I thought about this when I was in Kenya in January, visiting the Free The Children site, where the charity, in its Adopt a Village program, has helped change traditional roles, particularly of women, in a quest to break the chain of poverty.

In the Maasai Mara region of Kenya, tribal traditions have adhered to the dominance of men. Men have controlled the finances of the family. They have even been able to have more than one wife. Women, on the other hand, have been tied to a subservient role in the home, having many children, no clean water or sanitation, no health care and remaining illiterate in many cases as a result of being unable to attend school.

Free The Children (, believing as many do, that educating women will help break the chain of poverty in Africa, has made sure there is clean water and sanitation at the schools they have built, health care and alternative means of income for women. It’s beginning to work as Kenyan women are becoming entrepreneurs and controlling the family finances, becoming literate, sending their girls to primary school as well as high school – an unrealistic dream for most Kenyan girls until now. Africa has a long way to go before poverty is beaten, but women are being given the tools to make it happen.

The men, however, have not bought into the new way of life. Traditionally, they were hunters and warriors. Even a young boy entering manhood traditionally spent two years in the wild, after a compulsory circumcision. To become a Maasai warrior, a young boy had to prove his manhood by killing a lion. But killing wildlife is now illegal, and tribes are living peacefully together. Grown men do not control the family’s source of income. Many of them sit in roadside bars, drinking all day.

Like the women, they need support groups to help them adapt to new mores and learn new skills. The young boys, who have been able to advance in school, will adapt more easily and find more practical standards of proving their adulthood.

I wondered about our grandsons and their ideas of ‘manhood.’ Certainly, our society is more liberal in the roles appropriate for boys and girls, but do boys have as many choices as girls? Or are they still being taught to follow the traditional roles of being, above all, a responsible breadwinner? Are they cautioned not to cry but to be tough, to play lots of contact sports to prove the same sense of manliness the warriors in Kenya have been raised to do?

Casey, a 20-something Thornhill, Ont., man, says, “It’s tough being a guy these days. Girls want you to be a bad boy but not too bad; sensitive but not too sensitive. It’s just plain confusing.”

Janice of Whitby, Ont., worries about her teenage grandson who plays football. He confided to her after the first practice that he didn’t like tackling and didn’t like being tackled. He was playing football because his parents both insisted. “I can’t tell them what I think but I suggested he talk to them about choosing another sport he enjoys,” she says. “Besides his lack of pleasure in the game, the risk of injury is high, and I worry.”

I wonder if it would help all dads (and moms) to read the children’s book, William’s Doll by Charlotte Zolotow, still selling well after more than three decades. The book is about a little boy who wanted a doll. His dad bought him a basketball and a lot of other ‘boy toys,’ but William still wanted a doll. Finally, his grandmother came to visit and bought William a doll because, as she told his dad, William will learn to dress and feed and love the doll and practise being a father.

For more information about booking a volunteer adventure trip with Free The Children, visit or call toll-free 1.866.341.1777.