Feminists understand the importance of language. From recognizing the need to use and embrace the word "feminism" to striving toward building vocabularies that are free of ableist, sexist, and racist terms, language is continuously a feminist issue. After all, the feminist movement is responsible for the spread of terms like "slut-shaming" and "body positivity." And when one is a feminist parent, it’s like getting a fresh start at teaching someone how to think and speak from an intersectional and more compassionate point of view. Your perspective on all the aspects of being a feminist that you, thought you understood inside and out, take on completely new meaning when you apply them
It seems like most parents consider how language influences what they're teaching their kids to some degree; They decide to stop swearing around their kids, fearful of what society will think if their children say “sh*t," but it often seems like they don’t really think about all the other ways in which our language affects our children. When I first found out I was pregnant, I knew right away there were several things I would teach my son and several things I never planned to say to him. Violent discussions, hate speech, negative comments can all influence the way our kids feel, think, and even behave. I work hard to avoid these types of conversations around my son’s still highly impressionable ears. I also work toward using inclusive language, toward breaking down stereotypes, and even correcting others’ harmful words around my son. As a feminist mom, here are some of the things many of us would likely agree not to say to our sons:
Anything Transphobic, Including Not Using Proper Pronouns
Most feminist moms work toward being inclusive of all persons, including transfolk. We do our best not to misgender folks, and would ask our kids strive to do the same. My son will never hear me say, “what’s the difference?” or “who cares?” or any other insensitive thing if someone should inform me I have misgendered them (as can sometimes occur). We will also not laugh or “joke” about someone’s trans status, or use the t-word, or say that someone is “biologically” anything. And should he someday tell me that he should be addressed with a different pronoun, I’ll be sure to do as he asks as well.
And beyond and beneath all of this, feminist moms want to make sure that their kids understand that gender identity is not an "either/or" situation, and that it absolutely is a thing that every person gets to define for themselves. And honestly, when we establish those things as the baseline reality from a young age, it becomes their normal, their starting point, and then being inclusive just kinda comes naturally.
“That’s For Girls,” And Anything Else That Reinforces Gender Roles
So, the gendering of inanimate objects — clothing, toys, etc. — for kids is nothing but a marketing structure with the horrifically detrimental side effect of making kids feel "wrong" (at best; teased, mocked, shamed, self-hating at worst) for liking something that's labeled for a different gender than the one they identify as (or have been assigned). And as feminist moms know, it's all so damn arbitrary and dumb and is the first of many ways in which our kids are told which pre-established gender roles they're supposed to contort their personalities and preferences in order to fit into. So encouraging them to select toys and clothing from any aisle in the store isn't just about supporting their exploration into whatever truly interests them (although, yes, that too), it's about empowering them to self-identify in as many ways as possible.
While my son has yet to be able to verbalize what particular toys or clothing items he wants, once he is better able to show preference, I will never suggest that something he wants or likes is only meant “for girls.” I’ll never prevent him from playing with or picking anything out that might be traditionally for girls. If someone around him suggests otherwise, I’ll correct them and discuss the matter with him. Feminist parents would likely never say things like, “All girls are princesses,” or “Only boys like cars,” unless used as an example of things not to say to a child. You can like what you like, kiddo.
...That Includes Statements That Reinforce Homophobic Stereotypes
It’s bad enough we have people out there who still think, “You throw like a girl,” is a bad thing. But then there are those who would tell little boys that, “Play with dolls means you’re a [insert homophobic slur here],” or would tell young girls that, “You play football? What are you some kind of [insert homophobic slur here]?” Feminism means being accepting and inclusive of all, including being supportive of all LGBTQ folk.
Anything That Can Be Construed As Slut-Shaming
“Her shorts are too short.”
“She was asking for it.”
“I heard she’s pretty loose.”
“He’ll sleep with anything.”
Slut shaming women (or anyone, really) is an on-going problem. Feminist parents fight this patriarchal nonsense by not making these kinds of fallacious statements around their children.
...Including Statements That Are Not Sex-Positive
My son will never, ever be told that sex is a shameful act. Or that masturbation is evil. He will never hear my or my husband say that sex is dirty or wrong, or that those who have it should be punished. Feminism is all about sex positivity. Have sex, don’t have sex, enjoy sex with men, or women, or both. As long as it’s safe and consensual, it’s all good, right? Feminist moms will want to maintain an open dialogue with their children about sex, and that starts with how we talk about and act around the topic of sex. No need to make it taboo.
Things That Promote A “Boys Will Be Boys” Mentality
All too often, boys are allowed to get away with negative behaviors by simply stating that, “boys will be boys,” as though they just can’t help themselves. But boys are not wild beasts by any means, and they have the same capacity for kindness and compassion than anyone else. I’ll never utter these words about my son because I don’t believe he, or anyone else, should be given a free pass to behave in inappropriate, insensitive, or unkind ways. The idea behind “boys will be boys” is a major factor in the prevalence of rape culture in our society, where we give boys a slap on the wrist for “not controlling themselves” when in reality those that rape are simply rapists, and should be labeled and brought to justice as such. Nope. Not in a feminist mom's house.
Feminist parents don’t comment on the bodies or the eating habits of others, because really, why does anyone feel a need to do this? I plan to avoid ever saying negative things about my own body as well, both for my son as well as for myself. Commenting on wishing for a “better body” or even just a “different body” can be taken by him as cues that there is somehow something wrong with the way my body looks or functions. Commenting on someone’s eating habits, such as saying, “Are you really going to eat that?” and “You don’t need another piece of pie,” can be damaging to young ears and could even potentially lead to an eating disorder.
“Man Up” And Other Statements That Attempt To Hurt And Silence Men And Boys
There is absolutely no way in hell I will ever tell my son to “man up” or to hide his emotions or not to cry. These are statements that spread the false notion that to “be a man” is to be completely stoic, to lack in compassion or to ever visibly experience pain or grief. These things hurt men and boys, who often bottle up their emotions inside. It’s no wonder men experience higher rates of suicide than women. A culture that does not allow men to ask for or seek out help, that pushes them to push their own feelings aside, that encourages bully behavior is not a healthy one. I do not want my son to feel as though his emotions don’t matter, or as though he must hide them in order to be accepted or to be successful, because it just isn’t so.
“Jokes” That Are Actually Bigoted Comments Hidden Under The Guise Of "Being Funny" Or "Just Kidding"
I absolutely hate the comments many of us are supposed to endure in the name of “comedy.” Some people (let's be honest, usually cisgender, heterosexual, white men) talk about how there should be no censorship in comedy, that anything goes. But personally I have no patience or stomach for misogynist or racist or ableist or other hateful words, no matter whose mouth they come out of. Fortunately, comedy has evolved over time (for a reason) and these days there are plenty of comedians who are funny as hell while being real about things like sexism and racism. And just as it is in every other form of communication, feminist moms teach their sons that if they can't effectively be funny without employing hateful words or ideas about others, then they just aren't being funny.