Feminist parenting is in my DNA. Not only is my mother a feminist, who raised me to constantly push for gender equality, but her mom was also a passionate advocate of equal rights. Being surrounded by intelligent, politically switched-on women had such a strong effect on me, and when I had my own daughter I knew I wanted to raise my child as a feminist too. And in order to do that, I had to find ways to talk about feminism with my daughter.
Teaching girls about feminism has never been more important. Right now women across the world are being subjected to female genital mutation, slavery, rape, and denied education. It’s easy to believe we live in an equal society, especially when like me, you are married to a feminist man, but the reality is the gender pay gap shows women are still earning significantly less than men over their careers. True equality means the end of pink and blue pay checks and, sad as it is to admit, we are still a long way from that being a reality.
It’s not just workplace misogyny that needs to be challenged, though. Our daughters will be subjected to subtle sexism every time they turn on the TV or flick through a magazine. Sexism is alive and kicking, and counteracting these messages with a dialogue about feminism, can never start too young.
Where to start? Books on parenting will offer endless tips on socialization, how to teach children right from wrong, the importance of group play, but look for the chapter on how to teach your child to be feminist and it’s sadly lacking. This is why it’s important to devise easy ways to talks about feminism with your daughter. Here are some ways I have introduced it into the conversation.
1. Use Their Clothes As A Starting Point
Simply getting your daughter ready in the morning can be a great teachable moment. Pink is one of my favorite colors, but I resist dressing my daughter in it all the time. I want her to know that clothes in shades of blue, brown, and green are for her too.Gendered clothes send out such a restrictive message to children. My girl rocks blue jeans and sweatshirts beautifully, and thinks her dad look's cool in his pink shorts. She still adores very girly clothes, and I encourage her to enjoy those too. Feminism is about making choices based on personal choice, not prescribed notions of what it is to be a girl.
2. Exhibit Equality And Discuss It
In my house I put up shelves, my husband does the best braids, and we divide the childcare and money earning responsibilities equally. The simplest way to instill feminist values into your child, is to live your life according to them. When your daughter see’s chores and responsibilities split evenly between the sexes, this becomes her normal and will help form her own habits.
3. Think Before You Speak
Using expressions such as “you need to man up” when encouraging resolve or “he throws like a girl” when watching a sport played badly, reinforces gender stereotypes. The use of these terms subtly schools your daughter into the idea that females are weak, while males are strong. The same goes for when you find yourself about to criticize someone for not being “feminine”. It’s not a woman’s duty to be feminine or beautiful, so let’s stop perpetrating this idea.
4. Challenge Stereotypes When You See Them
When watching TV with my daughter, I will often challenge the life view it presents her. Scenarios which automatically place men as leaders or programs depicting girls undermining each other, are great places to start meaningful conversations about feminism. Encouraging female solidarity is a useful tool to offer your daughter as she grows up in a patriarchy. Strong women inspire each other, not compete against one another, and men don't always have to be in charge.
5. Point Out Sexism In The Toy Aisle
When buying toys for your child, think carefully about what you choose. My daughter adores dolls and stuffed animals, but she also owns Lego, science kits, and monster trucks. Not only is it important to show her that she is free to play with whatever she likes, but a lot of toys aimed at little boys, help develop problem-solving skills and hand-eye co-ordination. Dressing up Barbie won't encourage her to be an engineer, but building a model plane kit might.
6. Teach Your Daughter To Check Her Privilege
It’s important from the outset to introduce the concept of intersectional feminism to your daughter. When discussing female equality, The idea that no one size fits all isn’t actually that hard for kids to grasp. My daughter knows that her experience of feminism, as a white, middle class, able bodied girl, will be entirely different to women from a different race, gender, class, ability, or ethnic background. Unsure how to break this down to your daughter? Talk to her about how some girls face the threat of violence just to go to school, be open about how some people judge others simply because of the colour of their skin. Using examples which relate to a child’s experiences will help them process it easier.
7. Encourage Non-Gender Specific Activity
When the notes come in your daughters school bag about after school activities, it’s so easy to automatically choose the ones aimed at girls. Consider encouraging your daughter to try a few hobbies that are traditionally targeted at boys. My daughter attends a karate group and each lesson makes her feel totally kick ass in a way that cheer-leading never did.
By introducing feminism to your daughter, you are encouraging a world view that challenges sexist notions of a woman’s place. Dispelling limitations based on gender. Once she realizes that she, along with every other woman, deserves fair and equal treatment, it will inform so many positive life choices. Not only will your daughter grow up demanding equality for herself, but also for others. And that is a totally awesome legacy.