Nothing truly prepares you for being a parent. I read the books and soaked in advice, but in the end, none of it really served me as much as my gut did. I looked inward, at what my and my partner’s values were, and used those as a guide when shaping our parenting choices and beliefs. In hindsight, now that my daughter is eight and my son is six, I realize that the one guiding principle in my approach to raising children was feminism. Being a feminist prepared me for raising a daughter (and a son) in a way very few things can.
As a post-third wave feminist, I was raised with the idea that women could have careers and families (though I don’t think society has yet caught up and actively works toward making that possible, given the sad state of working families in America). Our mothers and grandmothers had forged a feminist path through American culture, so the next generation of girls wouldn’t have to battle the same injustices. Still, there is so much more work to be done. Now that the feminist torch has been passed down to our generation, it is up to me to demonstrate to my daughter why being a feminist makes the world a better place for her, and everyone else.
There are plenty of resources to tell us which diaper creams to use, or how to swaddle a baby or what to expect when we bring our kid starts crawling, but when it comes to raising a daughter, I’ve found that nothing prepares you for the journey like being a feminist.
You Practice Inclusiveness
The brand of feminism I subscribe to is inclusive, meaning it’s for "girly-girls," and "jocks" alike. It used to make me cringe when my daughter spent so much time brushing her hair, a la Rapunzel, until I realized that I wasn’t helping her self-esteem by questioning her choices about any specific beauty routine. I also recognized that my main concern was her inability to manage her time well; that when she was rushing to cram books into her backpack, it was because she spent too much time with her hairbrush. It was never really about her appearance.
You're Not Judgmental
I really hate my daughter’s taste in TV shows. However, that is not all she watches. As long as those tween sitcoms are balanced out with other media, like Star Wars, and Michelle Obama’s speech at the DNC, I know she’ll turn out just fine.
You Teach The Importance Of Consent
It starts when they’re toddlers and that simple rule, “Keep your hands to yourself.” That’s a lesson that applies to everyone at all times. It’s important for my kids to follow that rule, and to take action if someone is not following that rule. When my daughter reported to me that boys were pulling her legs in the pool at camp, she was quick to say how she spoke up for herself, and made it clear that she had zero tolerance. Though she doesn’t want to get anyone in trouble by telling on them, I reminded her that nobody else has permission to touch her, until she overtly grants it. Little kids “playing around” are no exception.
You Give Her A Safe Space To Express Herself
My daughter has been picking out her own clothes since she was two. I take no issue when she wants to use colored chalk in her hair (as long as she cleans up after she uses it). She’s eight. She’s trying on personas. It’s the most fun a kid could have, and as a feminist, I don’t feel there is any “norm” she needs to conform to when it comes to her appearance, as long as it’s climate-appropriate and doesn’t promote hate speech.
You Know How To Listen
Listening goes hand-in-hand with inclusiveness and being non-judgmental. Feminists deeply value being heard, because if we are all just shouting into a canyon, what positive change can we possibly effect? So, even though I’m the mom and she’s the kid, she still deserves my attention and to be heard. I’ve found it really diminishes the likelihood of arguments if I let her speak her mind and refrain from shutting her down, no matter how agitated I get listening to her preposterous reasoning on why she should be allowed to stay up later.
You Truly Believe She Can Be Anything She Wants To Be
One day she aspires to be a pop star, the next, a security guard for the president Anything goes, we think. Of course, it means she’ll have to practice and put in a lot of effort and, well, that part we’re still working on driving home.
You Don’t Tolerate Interruptions
Talking over people is a big no-no in my house. When I mess up and interrupt my daughter at the dinner table, she calls me out on it, and rightfully so.
You Value Self-Sufficiency
Teaching kids to be independent is part of the parenting deal. For feminist moms, I think we make a concerted effort to show our daughters the importance of being autonomous. It’s a freeing feeling, to know you can make your own money, create your own living space, or run your own business without relying on other people. We have to be careful, though, to not overemphasize this, because collaboration is usually beneficial. However, and thankfully, gone is the practice of preaching old domestic norms of needing a partner in life to fulfill financial (or any other) goals.
You Encourage Self-Advocacy
Knowing you have a voice, and using it, is one tenet of feminism that has served me well. It took me a while, though, to get comfortable peaking up. I was extremely shy as a kid. I was a "good girl," who didn’t rock the boat. You know what, though? The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and demonstrating to my daughter that it is important to be heard is something that benefits both her and me.
You Demonstrate Body Positivity
Honestly, this one has been tough for me. However, I continue to work on my own relationship with my body, for my daughter. I don’t want her to grow up, like I did: hating her body. Thinness was the goal I could never reach when I was a child, and wishing I didn’t look the way I did used up so much of my time and energy and brain space. It took me a long time, and two pregnancies, to work past some of my body image issues. Right now, at almost nine, she seems to be completely comfortable in her skin. I know that may change in a few years as her body starts to change and she continues to be inundated with unhealthy social expectations and incredibly hurtful media depictions of "beauty," but hopefully we have laid down the ground work in helping her maintain her positive body image.
You Expose Her To Feminist Role Models
From books that put girls front and center, to movies with female protagonists, to historical figures that don’t get discussed as much as their male counterparts in school, a feminist mom arms her daughter with access to people she can relate to, be inspired by, or learn from. I would never suggest that we replace any of the male-centric media that’s out there (I mean, how does one live without Mr. Robot?), but we need to make room for more stories, more representation and more diversity. If our girls can’t see themselves on the screen or the page, how can they imagine they could ever be like them?
Because You’ll Give It To Her Straight About How Tampons Never Go On Sale
I’m psyched that the state I live in has proposed a bill to do away with taxing feminine hygiene products, and that public schools, prisons and shelters will make them available for free. However, I’m not going to sugarcoat the whole feminine mystique: it blows that we have to shoulder the cost of dealing with our periods. Feminists don't believe that women should be punished for their living in the bodies they have, and that's such an important lesson to pass on a daughter (and, you know, to anyone).