Remember when feminism was all about voting and equal pay for equal work? When it was that thing you learned about in history class, not on social media? Well that social movement has come back in style, and it’s making a big impression on Generation Y. From our status updates to our blog entries to our spending habits and career choices, regardless of gender, feminism is bringing about some very real changes in the largely uncharted gender equality waters. Movements such as #HeForShe—a hashtag employed to allow men to show support of the feminist cause—are getting unprecedented attention as a result of celebrity ambassadors such as Emma Watson. With this uprising of male support, feminism has a new audience: parents.
Parenting is hard. You wake up, spend your day doing activities that revolve almost entirely around your offspring, get a few hours of “you” time—if you’re lucky—and then rinse and repeat the next day. Baseball, chess club, tutoring, swim class, doctor’s appointments, schoolwide lice epidemics; with so much packed into a parent’s schedule and brain, sometimes intentional parenting—proactively instilling ideals into your children—gets tossed aside in favor of simply surviving the chaos of the week. (Guilty!) But with all the social change going on, it’s crucial that we make an effort to teach our kids how to process what’s going on in the society that inevitably will shape them.
I am distinctly feminist, which means my non-feminist friends think I want to work 90 hour weeks to be the CEO of a huge company and make my husband wear an apron while he does the dishes. So, so false. There’s not really one rigid set of feminist goals, but it all boils down to equality, not domination. I don’t want women to be better off than men, degrading men, just equal to them and respectful of them. I’d love to be a teacher, but to also have the option of being a CEO if I wanted to ride that train. I want to do as many dishes as my husband has to do, apron-free, because I make as much mess as he does. I want our daughters to walk down the street in broad daylight without fearing repercussions of turning down unwanted attention, but I don’t think our sons shouldn’t be allowed to harmlessly gauge interest!
With so many different facets of feminism, how can we introduce the movement to our kids—especially young kids—in a way that gives them a foundation for the future? I sneak my ideals into my daily interactions with my kids where they least expect it. My fundamental parenting philosophy is simple: treat them like the tiny, yet capable, person they are. When my two-year-old runs through our living room belting “Let it go! Can’t hold it back anymore!” for the umpteenth time, I gently remind her that “her brother is sleeping, and it’s important to let people sleep so they can be healthy.” (Read: “I’m speaking to you as an intelligent person, simultaneously asserting that newborn brothers are, in fact, also people.”) We stock her toybox with bright wooden blocks, jigsaw puzzles, princess dresses, Thomas the Tank Engine, and toy food ‘til the cows come home. Some days she wants to go fishing, other days she wants to make cucumber-pineapple-tortilla soup while dressed as Queen Elsa. My son is only a couple months old, but he won’t get any different toys than the ones we have now—I want to encourage both my kids to explore the world as equals in intellect and opportunity. Natalie has to respect Eli, and Eli has to respect Natalie, and they both have to respect others.
One of the big ways I encourage subtle feminism in my daughter is by encouraging sharing. Oh, but we ALL encourage sharing! That’s nothing special! Well, you’re right. We are all already teaching our children to share with their peers; it’s a perfect opportunity for you to add some feminist flair to the parenting you’re already doing! If Natalie isn’t sharing, I ask her to come over so we can “have a chat.” Instead of just telling her something along the lines of “We NEED to share with other kids. It’s not nice if you don’t share. Go let her have that train.” I’ll ask her something like “Does Bella want to play with that train?” and she instantly opens up to me for a conversation. I’ll expand: “Why do you think Bella wants to have that train? I bet it’s super fun to play with! Since you had so much fun with it, how about we let Bella play with it so she can have fun too! She’ll love that!” Almost without fail, she’ll tell me what a brilliant idea that was (okay, maybe not) and return to her friend and offer to share. I let her know that Bella having fun is equally important as her own fun. I make sure to keep the same expectations regardless of the gender of the kid she’s playing with. I make sure to always let her see the other person’s side of the fence, because I think that true equality will come when our kids learn to fully place themselves into another’s shoes and make decisions based not only on their own interests, but on the interests of others.
Will my subtle hints at promoting equality pay off? In a world that has a lot of room to grow in bringing real equality to its inhabitants, every effort is worth a shot; I’m always looking for ways to tweak my dialogue to promote confident expectations of equality in my kids. Watching a two-year-old break up an argument between older kids by asserting that “everyone deserves to be treated with kindness” shows me that she really understands and applies what I’m trying to teach her. Watching her remember every single please, thank you, excuse me, and I’m sorry without needing a reminder tells me that she recognizes the importance of treating people with respect. Hearing her tell me she wants to be a doctor like Mommy when she grows up (I don’t know how to break it to her that I’m not a doctor—currently accepting advice on that matter) lets me know that she doesn’t have any concept of gender restrictions, and that’s exactly the way I want her to view her opportunities: unrestricted.
This article was written by Victoria Himmelberger, a writer for dusk magazine.