Raising girls is hard. Yes, raising children in general is hard, and raising boys is hard, too, for different reasons, but there's a particular kind of difficulty that comes along with raising our little women. Attacks on women's reproductive rights and access to family planning and medical care are mounting by the day. Adolescent girls and women receive an estimated 5,260 messages touting the importance of physical attractiveness per year from network television commercials alone. Remember the wage gap? That's still a thing. The list is as long as it is depressing, and at times, efforts to raise a self-assured, happy, empowered girl feels like swimming upstream. So I guess, in that sense, feminist parents are like salmon. Only smarter. And less slippery. Also less likely to be devoured by a bear dozens at a time... I hope, though I guess you never know where the day will take you sometimes. I don't know where this is going anymore. Let's walk away from this paragraph and never speak of it again.
We spend a lot of time thinking about how to counteract all these problematic messages being pound into our daughters' brains. We tell them that they are capable, and smart, and worthy of love and respect. But the Patriarchy is a wily bastard, and has done a great job of nestling itself in innumerable aspects of our culture, from entertainment, to government, to language itself. So sometimes, without realizing it, we are reinforcing the status quo without realizing it or meaning to!
So it becomes necessary not only to think about the things we actively need to tell our daughters, but about the things we should never say to our daughters.
"Should You Really Eat That? It's Going To Go Straight To Your Thighs."
In a logical world, food is a source of nourishment and pleasure, consumed to sustain our bodies and, in the case of a particularly delicious plate of sushi, our souls. But I have encountered few places and cultures where food is not political to varying degrees: what you should eat and why, when you should eat, how much you should eat... it's just not that heavily contested. In American culture, the foods that earn people (especially women) high marks for virtue and moral fiber are low calorie, or low fat, or low sugar, or low happiness. Before people (especially women) eat foods with higher fat, calorie, or sugar content, they go on about how "bad" they are being. Why? Because the former foods are perceived as keeping you skinny and the latter as making you fat. Now, of course there are foods that are more nutritiously complete than others, and there are foods best enjoyed in moderation for the sake of lasting health and wellness. But being fat should have absolutely nothing to do with it. Fatness is not a personal failing.
While this issue is relevant to everyone, male and female, it has reached critical mass among women and girls. 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance. 42% of first to third grade girls think they should lose weight and 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. 10 million American women struggle with eating disorders, most between the ages of 12 and 25. A minority of them will ever seek treatment or help.
As parents, we want to instill healthy eating habits in all our children, of course. But feminist parents know healthy eating habits do not revolve around the fear that we want our children to conform to a completely arbitrary beauty standard.
"I Am So Fat/Ugly."
Children identify with their parents. They look to their parents for guidance on so many things, not the least of which is how to treat themselves. They learn this — no shock here — by watching how you treat yourself. So if you're staring in a mirror, scowling at your belly and talking about how gross you look, not only is your daughter going to pick up on the idea that this is how women should value themselves, but insofar as she sees herself in you, she may well begin to think she too is fat/ugly/whatever horrible descriptor you have used to define yourself.
"Look At HER Thighs/Boobs/Stomach/Outfit."
Just as we don't want our daughter's to internalize the negative messages we may say about ourselves, we don't want them to do so by smack-talking others based on physical appearance. It also does nothing to encourage the kind of sisterhood necessary to one day radically overthrow the Patriarchy and establish a Feminist Utopia, but I've already said too much...
"That's For Boys."
Feminist parents don't take away the dinosaur monster truck toy their daughter is playing with because she should be playing with dolls instead. They don't even automatically take her down the Barbie aisle when they go to the toy store because they just assume that's what she'll be attracted to. We don't even really question when she wants to play with a Power Rangers action figure instead of her toy vacuum, because even the questioning could indicate that you think, "This is not normal, are you sure you want to do this?"
Ever since my four-year-old suddenly started talking about "boy toys" and "girl toys" (alas, my husband and I aren't the only influences in his life, which happens), a common refrain in my house has been:
"There are no boy things and there are no girl things. Everybody is allowed to make their own choices."
"That Outfit Makes You Look Trashy/Fat/Frumpy/Etc."
Feminists know "dressing for your body" is a lie, so we're not going to spout body-negative, critical garbage at our girls. We also know that our children's bodies belong to them, and so what they choose to do with them is also their call, including how to clothe themselves. Now, of course, if they want to wear a bathing suit in a the middle of a New England winter we're going to have to step in as responsible adults and insist otherwise. Perhaps we could even compromise by merely insisting upon a knitted turtleneck and long johns underneath said bathing suit? Your body is yours, sweetie, but no daughter of mine is succumbing to hypothermia on my watch.
"Boys Don't Like It When Girls..."
First of all, feminist parents aren't going to presume their daughter's preference for boys over any other gender. Second, we're not going to dictate her behavior based on its attractiveness to men and boys, and beyond that, we're not going to instill the idea that a girl's worth, or her body's worth, are determined by how pleasing they are to men, based on standards that men get to decide. Not only is that diminishing, but it encourages female subservience to male opinions. Above and beyond all that, it is creepy AF. I mean honestly people! I've heard this and variations of it all over the place to girls of all ages and it's like, "What are you doing?! Why does that matter to an 8-year-old, and more importantly why are you indicating that it should be? Go away. Shoo. Shoo!"
"You Can't Do That! You're A Girl!"
Nope. I mean, it's pretty obviously a big ol' nope, but I really can't stress this enough. Because it's said to girls, overtly and in coded language all. the. damn. time. Feminist parents? We're keen to this bullsh*t, and we're getting it out of our language and our parenting. Our little queens are going to do whatever they damn well please and, before you know it...
And we shall all bathe in the tears of the whiny and angry people who lost their power and privilege and it shall be glorious.
Image: Kelli Patterson/Kelli Patterson Photography; Giphy(7); Gifsoup; Tumblr