There are all kinds of moms out there: working moms, stay-at-home moms, “cool moms,” alternative moms, crunchy moms, homeschooling moms, helicopter moms... Honestly there’s probably a group of moms out there who base their core parenting principals on the wisdom of Dr. Who or something, because why the hell not? In every case, each is parenting in the way she feels works for her family and best serves her children. Today, I want to talk about one special kind of mom: the feminist mom.
The Feminist Mom is near and dear to my heart, probably because I identify as one and, if I had to define how I view myself as a mother, this would probably be my category. Feminist moms are not a monolith. In fact, any of the other moms I mentioned above can also be feminist moms. But what sets feminist moms apart is that they parent in a way that is keenly conscious of and interested in the ways sexism and the patriarchy pervade every aspect of our culture. Feminist moms try to raise children who are not only aware of this, but are empowered and equipped to shatter the existing paradigms.
Put another way: Feminist moms are badass mamas who raise badass kids, and there are some things they do a little differently than most.
So your son wants to play with dolls and wear pink sneakers and your daughter wants to play with trucks and wear a dinosaur costume everywhere? Awesome! Feminist moms know gender is a construct, so we’re not going to limit our little ones to “their side” of the binary or freak out when they don’t conform. (And in my humble experience, it’s not a big deal at all. My son legit started a fashion trend among the boys in his class when he started wearing nail polish to school.)
There’s nothing wrong with calling your daughter beautiful and your son brave, but feminist moms know that the way we’ve been subliminally trained to talk to girls focuses more on their appearance than their accomplishments or interests and that focusing on a boy’s bravery or athleticism can come at the cost of encouraging him scholastically. We learn pretty quickly that praise can often be a balancing act.
We don’t criticize anyone’s body for not fitting arbitrary beauty standards. Certainly not our children’s bodies, but also not ours, not a celebrity’s, not the woman's walking down the street. There is no wrong way to have a body.
We don’t make our children hug or kiss anyone they don’t want to. Because if we want to get everyone on the same page about consent, that conversation needs to start young. Obviously talking to your toddler about sexually explicit scenarios and situations wouldn’t be appropriate (or particularly helpful, since they really won’t understand what you’re talking about), but laying down the groundwork with concepts of bodily autonomy and empowering them to speak up when they are hurt or uncomfortable can start as early as two years old.
It’s not “pee-pee” and “tu-tu” — it’s “penis” and “vagina” (or “vulva” if you’re being more general). We don’t have to use euphemisms for genitals, because they don’t need euphemisms any more than arms, legs, or toes do. They’re nothing to be ashamed of, and we’re not going to indicate that by refusing to speaking their names as though they’re Lord Voldemort.
Feminist moms trust in the judgment and choices of other women, and that includes their right to choose to be working moms or stay-at-home moms; to breastfeed or not; to be Justin Bieber fans or not. We do not judge. We recognize the Mommy Wars as manufactured crap that preys upon insecurities and hopes to drive a wedge between natural allies.
Whether we are carrying on about the latest attack on women’s right to choose what happens to her body, a sexist comment made by a pundit, or about how awesome Notorious RBG is, a feminist mom is sometimes a ranting mom. We own the fact that we have a lot of thoughts that just need to be expressed, and we know that our children seeing us passionate, thoughtful, and opinionated will help them to be passionate, thoughtful, and opinionated, too. (This will most likely bite us in the asses in the teenage years, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.)
We know that only about 30.9 percent of named or speaking characters we see on screen are female and even fewer will be lead characters. Media (not just TV and movies, but books, comics, and video games) will not provide equal representation, so we often find ourselves making a special effort to find and promote children’s entertainment that acknowledges that women and girls exist, and not just as stereotypes and girlfriend characters. We also know that despite the fact that entertainment executives believe that boys will not watch films that skew more “female,” this just isn’t true.
We’re not necessarily against princesses as a rule (though some of us are), but at the very least, we treat Cinderella a bit like we would a strange dog at the dog park: We feel it’s best for our child to keep a wary distance, but if they really want to pet it, we make sure to carefully guide and contextualize the interaction. Like the dog in the park, it’s probably not going to do any damage. In fact, it might actually be a lot of fun! But we know the potential for harm is there.
If your goal is equality between the sexes, you’ve got your work cut out for you as it is. Trying to raise a child with feminist values in a world that has made “feminism” a four-letter word is even more daunting. But the good news is that even if very few people identify as feminists, most nevertheless espouse feminist values.