Every now and then your friends inspire you to think differently. One day, a bunch of my girls and I got together (OK, it was women from my online moms group, because of course it was) and asked one another the best lesson our mothers ever taught us. I said that my mom always told me that you should maintain your own identity outside of motherhood, and moreover to let your kids see it. Another friend said that her mother told her that, for some women, having a career made them better mothers. But the piece of advice that always stuck with me came from my friend whose mother always said:
Never let anyone cut ahead of you in line.
This simple rule really spoke to me. I was raised by a fierce feminist mama, but in spite of that I've always been unusually adverse to anything that might be perceived as confrontation. (I blame being raised in New England.) This includes, among many things, someone cutting in line. Why rock the boat for something that's not really a big deal? It's one more person ahead of you. It's going to be more unpleasant to call them out than to deal with the extra wait.
But is it?
For one thing, they're not just cutting you — they're cutting everyone behind you. So one could see calling them out as a public service. For another thing, it's not rude of you to point out that they've committed a faux pas (you can inform them very politely as to where the end of the line is). And lastly, you should always feel empowered to stand up for yourself. Even if the person in question has only cut in front of you, you're worth defending. And yes, part of this is the principle of the thing, but what I like about this life rule is this: If you can get it into your head that you are "allowed" to tell someone not to cut the line, you can extrapolate that into bigger, more important situations. So thanks, friend of mine, and your mom, for this game changer.
While standing up for yourself is good advice for everyone, let's keep it real here for a second: As a group, girls and women need to be encouraged in this area more than boys and men because #patriarchyproblems. So how can feminist parents encourage their girls to stand up for themselves when society will often discourage such behavior? Here's how.
Teach Them To Know They Are Loved
Because if a girl (or any person) doesn't feel they are loved, or that they have no one in their corner, they are not going to feel empowered or entitled to stand up for themselves. As always, these bigger movements are going to have to start on a fundamental, personal level.
Teach Them To Know They Have Inalienable Value
While we're busy loving them and telling them how important they are to us, we have to make sure to let them know that it's not other people's love of them that creates or sustains their value. Their value and self-worth and entitlement to dignity and respect isn't something anyone can dictate or take away.
Talk To Them About Their Thoughts And Ideas
Asking a child what they think is pretty much always a good idea. YES, it means you might get trapped in a day-long conversation on why Rainbow Dash is the best pony (when you know it's Pinky Pie, duh) or the different ways you can use the Force, but ultimately you're not only instilling the idea that their thoughts and opinions matter, but also helping them develop those thoughts and ideas.
Teach Them That The World Is Full Of Bullsh*t
Because they should know what they're up against.
Teach Them That They Can Be Polite AND Assertive
There's this pervasive and damaging idea, especially among women, that being assertive is somehow rude. (I think we're all becoming more familiar with the idea that women apologize when they don't have to.) But it's more than possible to be both polite and assertive. Polite doesn't mean subsuming your own need or desire to be heard — It means treating someone else in a respectful, friendly manner.
Teach Them That Being Assertive Is More Important Than Being Seen As Polite
Always try to be polite first. It costs you nothing. But if someone is not treating you with respect, their right to politeness has been forfeit. Certainly I'm not saying that you go all reality-show fisticuffs on someone because they looked at you funny (unless you're on a reality show, in which case shine on, you glorious, entertaining wackos). But it's OK to let our girls know that it's fine to drop social niceties when the situation calls for it. Your being polite is not more important than your dignity or rights.
Teach Them That They Deserve To Be Heard
Sort of the marriage between all the aforementioned points, really...
Highlight Successful Women
Because seeing other women up there doing their thing will help to encourage our girls to do the same.
Ensure They Have Female Role Models In Their Fantasy Life, Too
Because I'm pretty sure Merida from Brave is far more influential on my daughter at this point than Aung San Suu Kyi. Children learn through play, and if the books, music, shows, and movies that will make up a lot of their play doesn't not contain assertive women and girls they will learn complacent silence through omission.
Stress That They WILL Have To Stand Up For Themselves
This is true of everyone, but especially girls and women, whom society has largely been trained to either not take as seriously or ignore.
Encourage Them To Stand Up For Others
And not just other women, but any oppressed or silenced person or group. When you encourage them to think that everyone's voice deserves to be heard, and to think of themselves as being a part of something bigger, they will realize that "everyone" includes themselves.
Tell Them That It's Worth It
Sometimes it's going to be hard to stand up for yourself. After a lifetime of this it may even feel exhausting. But in the end, standing up and demanding respect for who you are is well worth the effort.