Toddlerhood is the perfect time to begin setting some progressive (and probably feminist) roots for your child. Sure, most of them probably don’t know how to say “progressive” much less understand the concept, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t at the perfect age to start learning. Toddlers are like little sponges, and if you start by repeating simple statements about respecting everyone, and about how they can do anything, it’ll stick. Another way to raise progressive feminists is by keeping certain statements out of your conversations, and there are plenty of things progressive moms shouldn’t say to their toddlers.
Of course, there are some basic things all parents try not to say to their kids in the first place. Most of us try not to bad mouth others (or ourselves) around our kids. We never encourage our kids to be violent. We try not to speak negatively of our kids, refusing to ever call them dumb or slow or ridiculous just because they aren’t understanding something outright. We try to be inclusive and expose our children to diversity because, you know, duh. Still, as progressive parents we also try to make sure to keep other things in mind, like statements that might perpetuate the gender binary or rape culture or a lack of autonomy.
While it's important that we do say certain things to our children, I would argue that it's equally (if not more important) to make sure we don't say other things to our children. So, if you're a progressive parent who believes in feminism (and a few other things, of course) you'll probably make sure to never say the following things to your kids:
“Those Are Boy/Girl Toys”
We’re fortunately living in an era where major stores like Target are finally beginning to recognize that toys don’t have gender, and that we don’t need our toys segregated as if they do. That said, if you’ve walked down a Target toy aisle or the like, though the signage is gone, the toys are still more or less separated by “girly” pink boxes for girls and everything else for boys.
If your toddler wants to play with a toy, let them, no matter what it is.
“You Have To Hug/Kiss Them”
The case for why kids should never be forced to hug or kiss someone has already been made, but in case you missed it; it’s all about teaching your child to have bodily autonomy. Hugging or kissing anyone they aren’t comfortable greeting in such a way is wholly unnecessary. Forcing them to do so teaches them they aren’t (or shouldn't be) fully in control of what happens to their bodies.
“You Better Eat That Or Else”
Healthy eating habits start early with kids. Not allowing kids to choose what and when to eat can create problematic eating later in life. Stress around mealtimes can cause them to have disordered eating, and so long as they are healthy and gaining weight, meals should be based around what your child is okay with eating rather than threats.
“Only Boys/Girls Wear That”
Just as toys have no gender, clothing doesn’t either. It’s difficult for many feminist parents (in the beginning) since clothing aisles are also so heavily segregated and friends and family will often buy your child gender-specific clothing.
Still, even if you raise your child as a certain gender, if they should ask to wear something different, as a feminist parent, your only response should be, “Go for it, kid!”
“You ______ Like A Girl” (As A Put Down Rather Than Praise)
These days there are plenty of campaigns and ads in popular culture that are fighting against the antiquated idea that doing things “like a girl” is somehow a bad thing. Girls can be and are just as talented and strong and skilled and creative as anyone else. If you want to fight against this outdated ideology, keep the negative connotations out of this statement.
“Boys Don’t Cry”
Unless the particular boy lacks tear ducts, chances are he cries. In fact, everyone cries at one time or another, but boys tend to be taught from childhood that it’s somehow weak to show emotions that our culture had determined are "feminine." Yet we allow girls to cry and often expect them to, or even ridicule them for it. No need to perpetuate this chauvinistic ideology.
Only Complimenting Little Girls On How “Cute” They Are
I’m not sure how this all got started but folks tend to compliment little girls on their looks or clothing more often than anything else. Hell, I’ve caught myself doing it too, with my nieces. Then I catch myself and remember to comment on their strength, their intelligence, and their fearlessness, because they need to hear that, too.
“You Have To Share”
While you want to teach your toddler to share, at this age, the concept is still pretty shaky. Instead of forcing your kid to give up their toys because another kid wants them, simply ask if they’d like to share, or trade toys, with the other child. They’ll often start sharing on their own, and you won’t be forcing them to do things they don’t want to do.
“That’s Just How Boys Show That They Like Someone”
Pulling hair, throwing dirt or toys, screaming. All unacceptable, yet people make some ridiculous excuses for the behavior of a large section of the toddler population by saying that this is how little boys show little girls that they like them. This is, of course, total bullsh*t and only perpetuates a violent stereotype that adds to the issue of rape culture later on.
“You’re Doing It Wrong”
Toddlers need to learn to do things on their own. This isn’t just a feminist concept, but as feminists, we understand the importance of fostering independence in our kids. Telling your toddler they’re doing something wrong cuts into their ability to figure things out on their own. Instead, stand by if they ask for help, and encourage your child to keep trying until they get it.
“Boys Are Better/Girls Are Better”
The gender binary statements really start to bloom around the time your kids turn two. While this isn’t one that is as common in a serious sense, some will often “joke” that “boys are better than girls” or “girls rule, boys drool.” While I get that it’s not meant to be taken seriously, making statements about one gender being “better” than another aren’t necessary.
“Boys Will Be Boys”
This is another common statement that perpetuates rape culture. Most people start saying it around toddlerhood because this is when kids are most likely to start being rambunctious. However, gender has nothing to do with whether your toddler is wilder or more laid-back, and giving boys a free pass is problematic for a number of very serious reasons.