The first time I was introduced to the concept of "intersectional feminism" I had a bonafide "ah ha!" moment. The idea that the same and complementary systems that oppress women also marginalize other groups, and the interplay of those various oppressions are at once unique and intertwined, really clicked for me — something I innately knew but didn't have the language to articulate until that moment. Since then, I've really challenged myself to consider intersectionality in my own feminism and to
raise intersectional feminist kids.
That's not always easy, though. Not because I'm not well-meaning, but because
I have oodles and oodles of privilege. I'm white, middle class, and, though not straight, am in a relationship with a man, so I get a lot of straight privilege. (Counterfeit straight privilege, if you will, which is another topic for another day.) My hope is that I can leverage my privilege in order to help others and, in the process, help myself as well. This is a core value and moral imperative for me, so it makes sense that it's a principle I want to instill in my kids.
So while it's not always easy, it is always worth the effort. And some of that effort, in part, must be focused on pitfalls to avoid, too. With that in mind, here are just a couple of things that I will
not be doing:
Believe Feminism Is All Pink Hats & "Girl Power"
Some people have a problem with both of those things, which I can understand. For many,
they epitomize "white feminism." I don't personally have a problem with them in and of themselves, but I do recognize that if you leave it at that then they are peak white feminism. Because if your feminism can fit on a t-shirt or the top of your head, then it's not particularly good, complete, or useful.
Equate Gender With Genitals
Not all boys have penises, and not all girls have vaginas. This isn't actually super hard to convey to kids. At one point one of my kids said something about how boys have penises and girls have vaginas and I was like, "Most of the time, yes, but not always." This was followed up with a quick conversation about how sometimes girls have penises and sometimes boys have vaginas and sometimes people don't really feel like a boy or a girl and that's cool, too. It was not confusing for them and it was a non-issue.
Teach Them "Not To See Color"
First of all, unless you are
literally colorblind, not seeing color is not a thing, so stop. (And, spoilers, even people who are colorblind understand racial differences.)
Look, I get what one is
trying to get at with "I don't see color" thing, and that's "I treat everyone the same, regardless of color." But that's ignoring two really enormous things that you absolutely cannot ignore if you actually want to treat people equally: implicit bias and other people's "differences." Chances are, even when you don't mean to, you're going to treat people differently based on race. The other aspect is, if you don't see color, just think about all the awesomeness you're missing out on. Differences aren't something to be brushed aside or ignored: they should be appreciated.
Perpetuate The Bootstrap Myth
I'm not saying we should downplay the virtues of perseverance, tenacity, and fortitude. I'm just saying let's not tell our kids that people just need to
want something to get it. Because, very often, hard-work alone isn't going to cut it. As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "“It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”
De-Radicalize Martin Luther King, Jr.
Growing up, I only ever knew MLK as the "I have a dream" guy, and that was wonderful and beautiful... and woefully incomplete. As I got older, I learned about King's belief that
moderate white people were a larger obstacle to racial equality than the flagrant racist. About his anti-war sentiments. About his commitment to the working class. About his harsh and frequent criticism of capitalism. King understood that there was no racial justice without addressing these intersections of oppression and inequality.
This may feel like a very specific point on this list, but I feel like it encapsulates a lot.
Let Them Get Smug About Being An Ally
If you start to feel too good about yourself then you're doing it wrong, because this isn't about you, kiddo.
Presume Their Heterosexuality
From sexist onesies to joking about planning the wedding between your daughter and a friend's son when they've expressed zero interest in such a thing: intersectional feminist parents don't assume their child (or anyone) is straight. They don't have to make
a thing of it, but they just don't automatically perpetuate the idea by foisting it on their kids.
Ignore Issues Of Accessibility
so often overlooked, even in activist and feminist circles. Say you want to organize a protest or a rally, and everyone's like, "OK, let's meet at Mike's Tavern" or whatever. Well, if Mike's Tavern doesn't have a ramp, you're automatically eliminating everyone who needs one in order to join your movement. Parents of budding intersectional feminists encourage their kids to think about whether everyone you want to include can, in fact, be included.
Encourage Them To Lead Before They've Listened Or When Someone Else Is Better Suited For It
The more privilege your child has, the truer this is. This isn't to say that there aren't leadership positions for everyone in some way, but it is saying that maybe your straight daughter shouldn't run for president of the Queer Student Alliance five minutes after she's become aware of Stonewall. Perhaps your son should be mindful about how much time he spends speaking versus listening in feminist spaces. There's room for everyone, but let's all figure out how we can be most useful instead of insisting we be front and center.
Establish "Default Settings"
Basically fight the idea that the "default setting" of existence is white, cisgender, straight, male, and without disability and that anything that differs from that is some sort of modification instead of an equally valid way of existing. One way I push against that as a parent is make sure that when we're playing with stuffed animals (or other gender neutral toys) I make sure I don't default to "he." I try to mix in a good amount of "she"s and "they"s and if my kid corrects me that's cool.
Assume They've Ever Learned Everything They Need To Know
Everyone is a work in progress, and therefore should always be working to learn.
This isn't a scolding or a curse. It's just vanity (and not to mention the presumption that the world stands still) to assume that literally anyone will ever reach a point where they're not in a position to be learning and evolving.
Encouraged Marginalized Children To Ignore Uncomfortable Situations/Realities
A lot of the time, people are not given the
luxury of avoiding discomfort. Women and girls will experience misogyny. People of color will experience racism. Trans people will experience transphobia. A black trans woman will experience all three. I think it's important to empower our children to know that, when they are oppressed or discriminated against, it's not right and while it may be the way things are, it's not the way things have to be.
Let Privileged Children Ignore Their Position In All This
Again, the more privilege they have the truer this is. I'm not saying kids should be shamed for having privilege, because that's generally not something one has any control over. But
parents who want to raise intersectional feminists cannot tell their kid that they "don't have to worry" about something on account of their straight/white/cis/ability/etc privilege. And they should also know that, in a sense, the world has been built around their comfort levels and they have benefited (historically and to this day) from the oppression of other groups. Growth comes through discomfort, so you have to get uncomfortable before you can effect change.
Prioritize "Nice" Over "Right"
Standing up for what's right is more important than being nice, and the sooner kids know that the better.
Let Them Think They Can't Be Part Of A Positive Change
Change is possible. It can be hard, scary, uncomfortable, and even dangerous, but it's worth it.