As a feminist raising a child, a lot of thought tends to go into every aspect of my childrearing philosophy. I think about things in ways that many other parents may not, and am incredibly concerned about the hidden messages I may be sending my child with my own behavior. One of the places that the messages I send my child matters most is in my home. I’m aware that I may have internalized ideas about the way a home is run that may be anti-feminist, and so my partner and I have worked hard to create a feminist home for our family.
A child’s home is where they get their first ideas about the world. For the first part of their lives, their home is their world. Your family unit is a microcosm of the larger society we live in, and the things your child observes about the dynamics at play under your roof play a big role in shaping their ideas about the world. If you want to raise a feminist child, the first step is creating a feminist home environment for them to learn and grow in. Feminism is not just about the way you treat your children, but also the way you treat your partner(s), and the way you approach running a household.
1. Have An Equal Division of Labor
The work it takes to maintain a home is often considered “unseen” labor, and is most often done by women, even if those women work full-time outside the home. In a feminist home, the labor is divided equally among everyone who lives in it. This division of labor takes age and ability into consideration, too. Some families have one adult, others have two, and some have three or more. The number of children varies greatly, too. And everyone’s bodies can do different things.
In our home, I take on the bulk of the childcare while my husband does the majority of the housework. We do our budgeting together, and I’m responsible for scheduling payments. As our daughter gets older, she’ll help, too. Right now, we’re still working on what it means to clean up toys after you take them out. Work to create a system for your family that works for you, that values everyone’s labor equally, and allows people to contribute to the house in ways that align with both their age and ability.
2. Treat Everyone The Same
This doesn’t mean that a 13-year-old and an 8-year-old have the same rules or the same chores. But it means that there are no double standards, like allowing boys to do things that you don’t allow girls to do. It means shattering gender stereotypes by allowing your son to take ballet if he wants to, or encouraging your daughter to play soccer if she loves it. It means none of that “boys will be boys” talk when boys are mean to girls. It also means demonstrating that in the way you talk about gender with your partner and your kids. Rules are determined by age and family values, not gender.
3. Keep Diverse Books On Your Shelves
The lack of diversity in children’s books is well-documented. While I was still pregnant with my daughter, we began the quest to find diverse, inclusive books to fill her shelves with. We are a white family, so it was important to me to have books full of characters of color. We sought those out, as well as books that were inclusive when it came to gender, sexual orientation, and culture, too. We’ve also started to collect books for when she’s older. Equally important is that our own bookshelves are diverse. As a child, I remember flipping through the books in my home, and hopefully my daughter will do the same one day. Books are a great way to introduce kids to different ideas, particularly if they’re not ones that they experience or witness on a daily basis in their own home or community.
4. Allow Room For Gender Expansiveness
Imposing gender on children can be really harmful, particularly when that gender doesn’t align with their actual gender identity. Allowing room for gender expansiveness means throwing out the gender binary and letting your child express themselves in ways that feel true to who they are. It means, when they’re old enough to understand, explain pronouns and let them pick their own. For us, it meant giving our child a gender neutral name, so if she ever decides that she’s not cisgender, there’s room for her to explore without feeling like her name doesn’t fit who she is. It also meant choosing gender neutral nursery decor and clothing until she was old enough to start choosing her own clothes (she’s into all things pink and feminine). In a feminist home, children are given the right to self-determination and the support to be the truest version of themselves they can be.
5. Get Rid Of Body Shame
There’s no room for body shaming or shame about bodies in a feminist home. This means no derogatory comments about a child’s weight (or anyone else’s weight, either.) It means demonstrating for your child that you love and accept your own body, too (even if you don’t fully feel it). Focus on the things their bodies can do instead of the way their bodies look.
Getting rid of body shame also means not acting like bodies themselves are inherently shameful things. That means talking about anatomy with small children from the beginning — using anatomically correct names. It means not being afraid to be naked around your kids (in age appropriate ways), and talking about sex openly and honestly.
6. Offer Counterpoints To What They Learn In School
The history your children learn from school will be whitewashed and colonized. Offering alternative perspectives is an important part of undoing the oppression that still exists in our world. Explain the truth about Christopher Columbus, tell the real Thanksgiving story, and let your children know that racism did not end with slavery. Make sure they learn the things their teachers won’t tell them so that they can be part of ensuring that history never repeats itself.
7. Practice Consent With Everyone
Teaching consent is the cornerstone to curbing sexual assault, and it starts from before kids can talk. In our house, we ask my toddler permission before changing her diaper or washing her in the bath, and we always explain why we’re touching her genitals. As kids get older, you can help them learn consent with other kids, too. This starts by practicing it with everyone you encounter. Ask your partner(s) if you can kiss them before leaning in. Ask a friend if you can give them a hug when they arrive for a visit. All these behaviors help solidify the idea that our bodies our own, and will help your child not only internalize that for themselves, but to practice it with other people, too.