Parenting is hard. Duh, right? Parenting as a feminist can be even harder, because you're adding another layer of principles onto the basics of the already daunting notion of, "OMG I am morally and legally obliged to keep this completely helpless and absurdly reckless child alive and well-adjusted for the next 18 years minimum." If your partner is a feminist, consider yourself lucky, because you've found someone to back you up in this glorious struggle (or at the very least share a bottle of wine with and rant about the sexist crap your kids are bombarded with on the daily).
So what happens when kids are raised by not one feminist but two feminists? The honest answer here is "nothing to terribly out of the ordinary." While I think it's human nature to simultaneously faction off and then unify within those factions, creating countless subgroups beneath the parenting umbrella, when it comes down to it, most parents operate in pretty much the exact same way as anyone else: We exert absurd but necessary amounts of time, money, and energy caring for our kids. So, most of the time, feminist parents aren't really thinking about how they can incorporate the writings of Audre Lorde into their next dinner conversation. They're thinking, "How am I going to get this kid to eat something other than peanut butter and jelly?" or, "Why the hell is daycare so goddamn expensive?" When it comes to parenting, any adjective you place in front of it represents probably about 10% of the actual parenting you're doing. The rest is just the same old ordinary "parenting" everyone else does and has in common.
But sometimes, that 10% difference can yield some interesting and positive results. Something that distinguishes the mini-feminists from other kids.
They Don't Have A Clear Concept of "Men's Work" and "Women's Work"
My mom was a big ol' feminist, but she was still the product of a very traditional Italian-American household of the '60s and '70s, where gender roles were clearly defined and strictly adhered to. As such, the division of household labor in my house was imbalanced and very much gendered. For example, I have never shoveled snow or mowed a lawn. That was something my brothers did. Yet at big family dinners, my brothers were never called upon to set or clear the table. The concept that there are chores for boys and chores for girls was so ingrained in us that it didn't strike me until I was in college that it was not only not feminist, but not particularly typical. So when my husband and I had kids, I was determined to end this ridiculousness once and for all. We've both worked to make sure the chores are as evenly distributed between the two of us as possible and that our kids see us working together and separately on all kinds of tasks. Considering when my son has informed me that "Daddy needs to do laundry," I'd say "so far so good" on that front.
The Arbitrary Rules Of Sexism And Gender Expectation Confuse Them
Try explaining Mulan, a movie whose central premise revolves around a woman overcoming society's assertion of her basic worthlessness to children who have been intentionally shielded from the idea that women are inferior to men. It was really hard.
"Why is she pretending to be a boy?"
"Because girls aren't allowed to fight."
"Because the boys in this movie think girls aren't as good as boys."
Four is a bit young to get into the concept of the Patriarchy, so I just kinda let the conversation settle and we kept watching, answer other questions to the best of our ability as they popped up.
They Don't Always Recognize Their Own Subversions As Such
When my son puts on a tutu, or his pink sneakers or coat, or asks for "beautiful rainbow toes," he's not thinking "I want to dress like a girl today," he's thinking "Pink is cool!" I know this because on the very few occasions he has been confronted about any of these items (for example, if someone says he's wearing girl shoes), he replies "No. These are my pink and purple sneakers." His tone is that of gentle correction. He's only been pressed on it once, by an older kid, who insisted they were girl's shoes (and, hey, to be fair to that kid, we did get them in the "girl" section of the shoe store), my son looked at him the way I look at Obama birthers, held up his hands and said, "Whoa. That's your idea." Then everyone shrugged and went off to play.
I truly don't think my son's confidence in there being no boy or girl things could have happened if my partner weren't on board the feminist express. We both reaffirmed this concept to him. So when our little dude wanted to paint everyone's toenails, this is what my husband's feet wound up looking like...
(Adorably, they stayed that way most of the summer. We found the light green accent nail especially charming.)
They Know They Can Do Or Be Anything
They're all like little Mary Tyler Moores, tossing their hats up in the air, full of feminist confidence that nothing's going to stop them and that they are not limited to prescribed jobs, hobbies, or dreams on account of their gender. Because their parents haven't swayed little Michael away from ballet class or little Sally from rugby.
Their Play Gets Super Creative
"Is that a dinosaur playing with a My Little Pony?"
When kids aren't boxed into "boy toys/games" and "girl toys/games" and are encouraged by both parents to just go with the stuff they like, you get a triceratops playing with Fluttershy. Or at least you can; Some kids conform to gender tropes when it comes to their preferences and that's completely fine, too. And I don't just mean that in a begrudging way — it's really totally cool. The important thing is that they're given every opportunity to be exactly who they are by being open to anything. If a princess in a flouncy dress who plays with dolls and wants to wear make-up is exactly who your daughter is then power to her. Ditto a son obsessed with cars and rough-housing.
Speaking Of Play, Their Toys And Books Are For More Interesting
Given that feminist are overly analytical killjoys (not really... but still...), feminist parents tend to carefully vet the entertainment and media that comes into the home. This means stories with positive female role models, racial and cultural diversity, and themes that do not promote harmful stereotypes. In short, stuff that you tend not to see within mainstream children's entertainment. As a result, the content they are consuming is way cooler, more thoughtful, and fun.
When They Do Or Say Something Sexist And Crappy, Both Parents Cringe
Hey, we try, but we are but a few of the many, many, many voices our children will hear throughout their lives. Teachers, daycare workers, other kids, other kids' parents, grandparents, coaches, and strangers will all have your child's ear at some time, and they may not share your and your co-parent's feminist sensibilities. That's to say nothing of TV, movies, and other media your kids will be exposed to. So it's totally understandable that, despite instilling your children in only the most egalitarian, Gloria Steinem-approved truth, they'll come home and build a pillow fort with a sign that says "No Fat Girls Allowed" or some such nonsense. Of course, it can be discouraging to see the chauvanist bullshit of the universe reflected in your children, but the important thing to remember is that, as parents you're up against a whole lot of voices, but yours has the most opportunity to be the loudest.
Images: Bill Selak/Flickr; Jamie Kenney (3); Giphy (5)