Raising a Son to Believe in Gender Equality in a Trump and Brock Nation

I have long believed in equality. Every human being should have the same rights and privileges, regardless of race, gender, ability or sexual orientation. So here I am raising a son in a time where our country is watching a politician rise to power despite his racist, bigoted, misogynistic and narcissistic views. I can't help but wonder if somehow a time machine took us back to the 1950's? How have we let this man run for office? How is it even legal to allow this kind of worldview in our present day government or in a place of power or authority in our country? And then when reports of Brock Turner's lenient sentence of six months in county jail with probation for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman came to light, it compounded what I have been feeling as a citizen, mother and human being for the last few months.

My head is spinning, my blood is boiling and I want to vomit in disgust at what we are allowing in this country. I have been quiet long enough, and it's time for that to end.

Right now, the mainstream and overall perception that seems to be prevailing is one that rewards hate, aggression, power, and reinforces the traditional alpha male. I am outraged and overwhelmed with my emotions. I feel helpless to make a positive impact in our government and like I want to somehow revolt. My Facebook friends keep talking about moving to Canada with this current election, and I truly wonder how we got here as a country or United States? Because the term "united" doesn't seem to fit right now, does it?

There are days, as a mother, when I wonder if I am ruining my children's lives because I let my son play on the iPad for too long, or let my daughter play on the Little League softball team instead of the baseball team, or gave them some lemonade made with a powdered mix of artificial ingredients including yellow lake 5. And then I have moments like the one pictured below and it reassures me that I am doing something right. I am making an impact, even if it seems small right now. I am teaching my kids real life lessons about responsibility and respect. And teaching my son that he is not entitled to anything. In this house you are treated as equals. 

And when my emotions subside over the latest news or Trump rant, I can begin to see clearly again that I am not helpless or powerless to make change.

The change must begin with us, and at home. As parents, we must change the dialogue and we must lead by example. Complaining will get us nowhere. We need actions and solutions so that way we can rest easier knowing that our children will (hopefully) never have to experience the same kind of hatred, aggression and a backwards worldview that we are seeing right now.

We need to continue to evolve, and to teach ourselves and our children the following lessons...

  • Penis and Vagina are not bad words. Talking about sexual organs (and our anatomy) and using their proper names will help us embrace linguistic respect which will help to improve our overall respect for these body parts (at home, at school, everywhere!). These body parts make us human, and it's important for our children to learn how to be kind, gentle and respectful to their bodies and others. It's time for us adults to show dignity for the human body and not shame.
  • Gender and the family dynamic are changing. We need to discuss (when the time is right) the many ways in which people can be born as unique individuals, how this can change over time, and share our knowledge and compassion around the subjects. It is also important to discuss our history, and how things have changed even between men and women as their property, the omission of women as role models, and how our rights have evolved over time.
  • We do not control other people. This is a harsh lesson to learn as a parent, and yet it is the truth. Children make mistakes. They fall and fail and (if we are lucky) get back up again. We have to let them learn to be accountable and to right their wrongs (that includes punching their bus mate, cheating on a math test, shoplifting at the mall, and yes even rape). We can't fix everything, although we can try our best to teach them right from wrong from the very beginning of their lives.
  • Following ethical and moral guidelines (or The Golden Rule) isn't just for school. If everyone took those rules and applied them to home, work or beyond than imagine what our society or world would look like today.
  • We are not entitled to "things". If you want something, you need to provide it for yourself and not take it or expect that it is owed to you. Providing for ones self is an essential part of life, and for all human beings.
  • Expressing emotions is a vital part of life. We need to show our sons that it's okay to cry or to feel vulnerable and that hiding or suppressing our emotions only hurts us. Being emotional is not something that is feminine or for girls only, just like enjoying sports and Star Wars is not just for boys. We all need to learn how to navigate through our feelings, and when to act on them, communicate them or when to listen.
  • Feminism and Gender Equality are words that we should embrace. Modern day feminism is not feminine and it is certainly not about being a bitch. A feminist desires equal rights for all human beings. Feminism is a movement towards equality for all. Gender equality is just that; equality in rights, status and opportunities regardless of one's gender. Let's unite on the two movements and stop shying away from them in fear of how we'll be perceived. When gender equality is achieved, everyone wins!
  • It is time to end the phrases, "like a man" and "like a girl". I believe that we can all agree that no man wants to be told to "act like a man" and do XYZ equally as much as no girl wants to be told that she does XYZ "like a girl". We simply need to treat each other with respect and decency.
  • We should appreciate our privileges, whether they are educational, racial, financial, cultural, health related or more. Instead of taking these gifts for granted, it is imperative that we use these to fight for the rights of others who have not had these same opportunities and who do not find themselves enjoying the same benefits.

  • Chivalry isn't dead, it's just called something else… kindness. And I'm not alone in thinking that our society needs more of it. I love it when a man holds a door open for me, and I love it when a woman holds the door too. Extending common courtesy, showing generosity, and having respect for all humanity is something that each of us can benefit from.
  • We all belong... at work, at home and everywhere else. This includes every race, gender, ability or sexual orientation. Women don't belong in the kitchen anymore then men belong in the board room. We all are living, breathing, human beings and as long as we are alive than it is our responsibility to learn basic life skills like how to cook (using something other than a microwave), clean (ourselves, our homes, our clothing) and work (for equal pay). These skills will sustain us while we are here on this earth. And as parents, our job is to make sure that our children can do these things (in time) for themselves. In some cases, we may need to teach our own parents how to do these things as well. Times have changed and this is no longer a single race or gender's effort. It is a human effort. He can change the diapers, she can take out the garbage and we can all make the bed, do the laundry or bring home the bacon.

So, I ask all of you now. Who is ready to join me? Who is ready to lead by example? Who is ready to be the change they want to see in our communities? Because we deserve better. Our country deserves better. Our children deserve better.

And to the Stanford University Rape Victim, I am with you. Every part of me was shaking while I cried reading what you experienced. I feel your pain because I too have known this kind of human betrayal. I stand with you and the village of survivors who have been dismissed and told that they were lying. You are not alone. I support you and I applaud your courage and strength. I believe in you and just as you have stated, "we will not be silenced". We will use our voices to speak for those who cannot, and we will encourage those who need it. We will fight to right these wrongs and to make a positive impact. We will own our truth and we will remind ourselves that we are enough. We will not be defined by our struggle or our circumstances. We will be remembered for how we chose to respond and to rise.

Every obstacle is an opportunity. We have an opportunity here, as parents and citizens of the Unites States of America, to act on these lessons and to be change-makers. I wasn't born a teacher. In fact, I'm still learning as I go. And that's life folks. It's a journey. We have to continually be ready to learn. We can confront the people and the things that scare us, and look fear in the face. We can shape our future, and the future of our children's children. Let's pull together to UNITE and to change a country that so desperately needs it!

Let's be the role models and heroes that we needed and that we were born to be. Each of us has it in us. I'm ready. Are you?

Sarah Lehberger

Easton, CT

Sarah Lehberger is a photographer based on the shoreline of Connecticut, just 90 mins from New York City, in the small town of Easton. She specializes in photography that celebrates working Moms and their families. She is also a Co-Founder of She Will Thrive, providing business coaching, retreats and workshops to women entrepreneurs, creatives and small business owners.

Sarah's career started in the news and entertainment industry. A storyteller at heart, she began photographing weddings in 2003 while also working full time at Getty Images, NY in their editorial department. Sarah enjoyed the fast-paced and glamorous events she would collaborate on, yet deep down she was craving more purpose driven work. In 2005 she decided to leave the corporate world to launch her full time wedding business, which received numerous awards and features throughout the industry.

In 2013 Sarah rebranded her business so she could continue her mission to celebrate women, with a new focus on mothers. She feels strongly about empowering women and creatives to succeed, and has been a speaker at conferences such as ShootDotEdit's Unlimited Happiness Tour, Inspire Photo Retreats, as well as a past coach and mentor for Team X Academy.