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I find that the older I get (and perhaps the older my son gets), the more feisty I become when it comes to gender equality. Basically, my inner feminist doesn’t let a thing get by her. I am a feminist. I want equality between genders. I feel that the bits we were born with shouldn’t be used to confine us. I look at the absolute scourge of domestic violence in our country and I just know in my heart of hearts and my brain of brains (ha – brain of brains – what a writer!) that the key to creating change and preventing the spread across generations, is to change the culture of sexism that we seem reluctant to address, and raise our children to be champions of equality and compassion for others. To break down stereotypes about gender and talk to/about each other with respect.
Here’s what feminism means to me as a parent…
Boys can be raised as feminists too.
There is often the misconception that males cannot be feminists. WRONG! You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist. You can champion the rights of women, whatever gender you identify as. In fact, it’s essential that both genders do this for progress to be made. I want to raise my son to fight against gender based injustices (or any social injustice really). If he has a female partner when he grows up, I want him to champion her rights and treat her with the same respect he’d expect for himself. If he is ever blessed with a daughter, I want him to raise her to believe she is more than an object or someone who is required to toe a certain line only because she’s female. If he has a son, I hope he will continue the work I am trying to do with him. I won’t tolerate archaic, sexist stereotypes and I won’t enable him so much that he equates females with existing only to cater to his needs.
Now I know that makes it sound like I am preaching to him every day and have him picketing on a front line at the tender age of 4. That’s not so. We can role model good behaviour in so many more subtle and every day ways.
Which brings me to my next point…
Parents can be powerful role models – what we say and what we do makes a difference.
How we talk around our children has such an impact. If we’re heard talking non stop about a girl’s/woman’s appearance (when it has no relevance to the discussion that we should be having), we are reducing her to nothing more. When we devalue the role of a stay at home parent. When we say that a woman is not there for her children enough because she works full time, without batting an eye lid about men who do the same. When we behave like a woman should feel guilty for every second she spends out of her child’s sight, while her husband/male partner can take time out and everyone champions his right to. When we turn a blind eye to domestic violence or sexist, abusive language instead of standing up against it and saying it has no place in our society.
When we say that a man must be ‘gay’ (used as an insult) because he doesn’t care about cars or sports. When we use derogative names for men who we don’t like, such as ‘pussy’ or ‘throwing like a girl’. When we say that something is not ‘ladylike’. When we talk about boy’s toys or girly things. When we roll our eyes and say, “Ugh. Typical man.”
When we tell a boy to ‘man up’ because he’s crying. When we tell a grown man to ‘man up’ because he’s ‘pussywhipped’. When men feel pressured to act like having a female partner they actually love and care about and respect equally is weird and should not be tolerated in social situations.
When we excuse our son’s behaviour as ‘Oh he’s just being a boy – boys will be boys’.
When we call a girl/woman a ‘troublemaker’ or ‘bossy bitch’ (and sadly MUCH MUCH WORSE) if she stands up for herself, but a man is considered ‘powerful’ or ‘commanding’ for doing the same thing.
When we laugh at dads who say they aren’t letting their daughters out of the house until they’re 30. When we talk about girls/young women as if their sexuality doesn’t belong to them, but to their fathers or other men in their lives (am I the only one who finds that creepy?). When we talk about women in the headlines who are attacked as though they brought it on themselves for being in the wrong place at the wrong time or by provoking someone, and say nothing about how the male offender was 100% responsible for their despicable actions.
When we write disgusting things online, of a sexual or threatening gender based nature…while we raise children and have partners who are listening to what we say every day.
It can be hard to push back against years of conditioning, but I am trying all the time to watch how I speak to my son, and how I speak about gender when I am in his presence.
Not embracing feminism doesn’t just confine women to a narrow stereotype and expectation of behaviour, but it hurts men/boys too.
Dads are not just babysitters (or paedophiles).
My husband is a parent – not a babysitter. It is expected that if both of us are present and able, he must pull his weight just as I must. If he does the housework, he does not get a medal. Same goes for me. If I am not around, he covers me and vice versa. He is not ‘babysitting’ to do me a very special, exceptional favour. He is doing his job as a dad and doing it well. If I feel that perhaps the scales have been tipped a bit too far on my side with child caring duties (it happens), we talk about it and work towards restoring the balance. Just as we would if things went too far the other way. I do not just pick up the slack and let him get away with it until it just becomes the norm. Yeah, he really does not get a free ride around here haha.
I know that his relationship with the Little Mister is going to thrive and I am glad. I refuse to talk about men as babysitting their children. I refuse to insult them by acting like they’ve just found the cure for cancer when all they did was have their kid for a half a day or changed a nappy or put them to sleep. I will celebrate the men who are a proactive part of their children’s lives just as much as I celebrate amazing mums who do great things. I just won’t celebrate them MORE for doing the SAME thing a woman does for her children.
On the flipside, I also think it’s obvious we need to stop believing that every dad at the park is a paedophile. Mr Unprepared once got stared down by a woman because he took our (then) 2 year old to the park and dared to play with him and show a reasonable level of affection – a kiss on the chubby cheek. Another time, a dad we know entered a parenting room at a department store to change the dirty nappy of his very young daughter. He talked to her lovingly, wiped her clean and gave her a clean nappy – things a mum does all the time without anyone looking twice. He got dirty looks. Thinking that men who spend time nurturing and playing with their children must be freaks (or worse sexual offenders) is disgusting. It shows that we expect so little of men as fathers that anyone who actually does the right thing must have an ulterior motive? Yuck.
See what I mean about sexism harming men too?
No one gender holds the monopoly on a colour or a type of toy.
Isn’t it crazy how much power we give a couple of colours? That’s all they are. Colours. Yet some parents shrink away in fear or become enraged if their child picks up the ‘wrong’ one. I LOVE seeing little girls in blue, playing with trucks in the dirt. I think it’s great when boys want to play with baby dolls and prams (we are raising future dads – yay). What I don’t understand is why all of those things are PINK and there’s this societal ‘rule’ that it means those things are JUST FOR GIRLS. Pink is just a colour. Blue is just a colour. JUST A COLOUR.
If my son wanted to wear pink and was passionate about toys that are aggressively marketed to girls, I would let him have them. Would I feel concerned that the world isn’t ready for that? Yes. But I couldn’t crush his spirit. How would that bring change to this world and teach him that who he is and what he likes is great?
Basic life skills should be taught to all children.
Long before the Little Mister leaves my home, I will be teaching him a bunch of life skills to prepare him for life in the real world. It’s my job (and his dad’s). He won’t just know how to change a tyre or mow the lawn or use a screwdriver (insert stereotypically ‘manly’ duties here) etc. He will learn how to cook. How to iron. How to use the washing machine and dryer. He will probably have to be shipped off to my mum’s to learn how to sew (haha – I’m a big fail). He will know how to do ALL the things he needs to know to keep a home running. Same would go for if I had a daughter. She would learn ALL aspects of home keeping. Now that’s not saying that the kids will be interested or motivated in every single area, but I would like to prepare my child for an adulthood where he can survive on his own or he can bring his strengths to complement another person’s so they can live with an equal partnership around the house. There’ll be no, “Oh that’s the wife’s job” just because she’s female. And vice versa with “the husband”. For example, there are several so called ‘manly’ tasks in my skill set, even if I admittedly do not enjoy them or have to do them as often. Also, my husband is great with an iron and can cook and has no problem fixing Mt Fold-or-hang-more for me. He doesn’t always do them either, but we cover each other and the division of tasks is not based on gender. It’s based on who has the time/energy or what works best for our household routine. It plays to both our strengths and weaknesses (and what we like doing more haha). We try to complement each other. I hope the Little Mister will notice this as he grows up.
I hope that this will mean that no-one will get out of here with a sexist sense of entitlement or expectation of what should happen in a household.
BOTH genders should be raised to express their feelings healthily without violence (or threats of violence).
In my family, violence will NEVER be the answer. To anything. Not on the playground between boys – not even if someone attacked them first. Not in our home. Not when a child is being naughty. Not between adults. Not between girls. No-one will threaten anyone with physical violence. Not online. Not even when they talk about awful people who do horrible things (“someone should break his legs for what he’s done” etc). Because logic says that violence/emotional abuse as a means to discipline or control somebody (adult or child) is idiotic. Sorry. I’ve said it. You’ve got no moral high ground when you resort to that. We can’t teach our children that we need to physically hurt or emotionally damage someone else when they ‘just aren’t getting it’ or we’re ‘having a bad day’. Using violence to ‘solve’ violence just logically seems like a stupid idea. For example, how can we raise our hands to our children, threaten to smack them to keep them in line and then expect them to abhor threats or physically controlling tactics when they are older?
And yes, I know a lot of people were smacked as children and turned out OK, but it doesn’t mean it’s a great idea. It just doesn’t make much sense to me moving forward knowing what we know now – times change.
If children grow up being told that violence or physical bullying is OK in many situations – especially as something boys/men are normally expected to partake in so that they are considered tough or ‘manly’ (for example on the playground or if a fight breaks out on a sporting field), then they will fall back on that when challenged and will lack the emotional tools to resolve conflict in a healthy way.
We can pledge to never turn a blind eye if our children show bullying behaviours. Not to be THAT parent who is in denial and thinks their child is an angel while red flags fly everywhere. We can hold ourselves and our children accountable. It can be a great learning/teaching opportunity for all.
Children of both genders should be taught that they are amazing and worthy of respect – that their unique talents and strengths should be treasured. That EVERY person deserves to feel safe – emotionally and physically. That violence is not acceptable to inflict on another and it is not something that they should accept if it happens to them. We should teach them to resolve conflict in healthy and respectful ways.
We all need to raise caring people by being caring people. Because nobody with an intact sense of empathy for others would even think to hurt somebody else so viciously as we know happens with all forms of domestic/family/online abuse.
I feel really hopeful because we all have this opportunity to start a revolution in our thinking and being – to improve our culture, with a new generation. It can start with us. I feel an absolute sense of responsibility in being a part of change for the better. I hope you will join me.