As someone who has identified as a feminist for pretty much all of her adult life, I found it easy to define how I wanted to raise my daughter when she was born; I'm a woman who's a feminist, so I know roughly how to help put together another one of those. My son? Not quite so easy. It took me some time watching him excitedly playing with my daughter's train set before I realized that the toys your children play with are not what makes you a bad feminist (or what makes you a "good" feminist... Really, looking to outside evaluative factors to "grade" one's feminism isn't the best thing to do at all, but you get what I'm saying.)
When I had my daughter, I spent a lot of time railing against the system: I bought her every color of clothing except pink; I encouraged her to play with cars and trains; I frowned when someone bought her a gift that was pink when it could have been...any other color. It made me feel good to know that her favorite color was blue and that she loved to watch Thomas and Friends as much as she loved My Little Pony.
When my son came along, it took me a bit of time to notice that the same type of gender stereotyping was happening with him as with my daughter, mostly because it's honestly something that still comes across as more socially acceptable. I started to feel nervous that my son was getting so many trucks, cars, and trains as gifts, and wondered whether he loved them because that's just who he was and what he liked, or if we'd set him up to love them.
When I watched really closely, however, I saw that his love for dolls, dancing, and the characters of Frozen was also an important part of who he was. And I began to realize that as long as our kids are exposed to toys without framing them for gender, they can just enjoy them for what they are: toys, and really, truly nothing more. Specifically, what toys our kids are into are not markers of the quality or authenticity of the feminism of that kid's parents.
For me, accepting that my son being super into conventionally "boyish" things did not, in fact, make my feminism a lie, took all of about a second to digest. In theory, it might seem problematic to call yourself a feminist and then have a son whose room is filled with trucks, but once you see it in real life, it's so obvious: Kids are as complex as adults, and what my son chooses to play with is merely one part of who he is. Plus, I now also know what an impact hammer is and what it does. So there's that. Here's why my son liking "boy" things really has nothing to do with how "good" of a feminist I am:
I Can't Control Who My Kids Will Be
Part of being a feminist parent (hell, part of just being a good parent) is about making sure my kids are exposed to as many different activities, interests, and ideas as possible, and then allowing them to make their own informed choices. And considering that respect is such a fundamental part of feminism, doesn't it make sense that I should be respecting what my child shows an interest in?
Allowing "Boyish" Things Into My Home Doesn't Preclude Exposing My Son To "Girly" Things As Well
My daughter had toy cars and a train set before my son was born, as well as a dollhouse and toy kitchen. Why do we have to refer to any of it as "boyish" or "girly?" They're all just toys that our kids love to play with, we're the ones who categorize them in ways that make it complicated.
Kids Are Autonomous Beings, And They Will Let Us Know What They Like
I have a girlfriend who grew up a total tomboy. Her mom was never "girly" and neither was her mother-in-law, and yet somehow, her daughter proved to be the girliest of girls right from the beginning. She wanted to be a princess. She wanted everything to be pink. My son loses his mind any time he sees a truck or a bus drive by. He has from the very first time he noticed that cars and trucks existed. We can't dictate what they do and don't love.
My Son Can Like Playing With Trucks AND The Dollhouse
If my son, without any sort of prompting, squeals with delight every time a truck goes by, who am I to keep those kinds of toys away from him? He can still love holding his favorite baby doll and singing her a lullaby. Also, I mean, trucks are cool as sh*t. I get it.
Teaching My Son To Respect Women Is More Important Than What Toys He Plays With
Look, the bottom line is, as a feminist mom, I have way bigger battles to fight in raising a man-child than making sure he's playing with an assortment of toys that sufficiently flouts antiquated gender constructs just so that everyone else can visibly see what an ~awesomely feminist mom~ he has. I'm here to parent my kid, and help him become a good person, not use him as a human trophy case to display my identity as I want others to see it. Like, how about instead of spending my time trying to persuade him to play with a doll as opposed to the monster truck he asked for, I put that energy into, say, sowing the seeds of consent principles by explaining to him why it's important to ask his friends if they want a hug before he gives them one?
I know men who are working in typically male-dominated industries, but their respect for women and their condemnation of misogynistic behavior prove that these men aren't defined by the industry they work in. That's how I plan to raise my son (because obviously I'm going to make sure he grows up to be a firefighter). (Just kidding...kind of...firefighters are cool.)
Feminism Isn't About Reversing Gender Roles — It's About Being Free To Create Your Own
And I'm sorry if the identity that my son creates for himself, in the course of being his authentic self, too closely resembles the prescribed male kid identity for anyone's comfort, including my own as a feminist. Raising your children as a feminist parent doesn't mean that your son needs to play with toy vacuums and your daughter needs to play with cars. It's about teaching them about respect and empowerment and not letting gender stereotypes define your children, no matter who they choose to be.