At The Dawn Chorus, Mel Campbell asks “How Can Feminist Mums Avoid Being Humourless Childhood-Ruiners?” (Without, it seems, a hint of satire):
Are you going to be the kind of humourless, daggy mum who interferes in everything that’s cool and is a source of mortification to your children (”You just don’t GET it, Mum!”), or are you going to be a hip mum who helps your kids navigate pop culture rather than trying to restrict their access to it? […]
Do we ‘know better’ than our kids or should we perhaps try to find some middle ground with them, rather than being the inflexible person banning things?
One of my main worries as a feminist is that feminism is so often about being angry and disapproving; it rarely seems hip unless it concedes something to raunch culture. Just last week I was thinking, “No wonder people say feminists are unattractive; nobody likes hanging out with angry people.” Perhaps we should also consider what we’re teaching children about feminism if their main experience of it is telling them what they’re not allowed to do.
I’ve responded, including this, and realised this really should be a thread of its own.
As a feminist mother, I’ve chosen not to mock and belittle my son when he’s played with dolls or chosen pink or dressed as a ballerina.
I allow and validate and discuss his emotions, instead of silencing him and yelling at him “boys don’t cry” and “harden up, be a man”.
I encourage him to read widely, including books with a variety of protagonists and genres.
We’ve talked about the variety of possible family structures, the fact that boys can fall in love with boys and girls with girls, that some people don’t end up the gender they started out as, that some people have children and some don’t, and that it’s their choice and nothing to either sneer at or be ashamed of.
I’ve emphasised to him that his body is his, and that the same goes for others, and that you don’t touch people when they say “no”.
I’m “angry” and “humourless” enough to not egg him on, indulgently amused, when he succumbs to peer pressure to denigrate others for acting “like a girl”.
Guess I should be like all those other fun parents, eh? I’m condemning him to a lifetime of therapy and resentment with my evil feminist ways.
– Offer a wide variety of toys and clothes, instead of 101 variations on Guns, Bombs, and Camo.
– Talk about his toys and drawings with both “he” and “she” pronouns, instead of assuming they’re all “he”.
– Teach him to cook and clean and craft, as well as to garden and fix things.
– Discuss disability issues honestly and openly, using positive language.
– Answer all of his questions about bodies and sex, offer space for more, and provide resources.
– Decline to call him a “nancy boy” or a “sissy” or a “crybaby” or a “mama’s boy” when he engages in a stereotypically feminine activity or shows his feelings.
– Talk about food and nutrients and they ways they build up and supports various body systems, instead of talking only about how some foods will “make you fat” or “kill you”.
– Refuse to body-shame him, or to body-shame others in his presence. Nurture the idea that a body is a powerful, useful machine that can move and stretch and feel and live, not a dangerous, fragile, shameful timebomb.
– Discuss race, racism, and Indigenous issues as they arise in the news, the pop culture we’re consuming, or our lives. (He has only just started to notice race, intermittently, and I’d rather start planting the seeds of knowledge and awareness before racist friends and family do.)
– Expose him to infant and toddler breastfeeding (this happens naturally in our social environment!), without shushing or making him avert his eyes.
And, oddly enough, all this happens in a setting of laughter and joy and nurture and love, not in a relentless, austere gray half-life.
On the contrary. Feminist households are the households in which children are being brought up to believe that anything is possible. That their lives are an open book. That they are in charge of their own destiny. That they deserve to live free of violence and oppression, as well as having an obligation to treat others with respect.
Non-feminist households are the households where children are being raised to believe that their gender roles are rigidly prescribed, that their life must conform to strict, narrow guidelines, and that if they stray an inch outside of those guidelines – in sexuality, in body type, in gender identity or presentation, in reproductive choices, in career path – that they should live in shame and fear and guilt. Non-feminist households are the households where the parents ridicule their children for expressing themselves, where they send the daughter to another room to breastfeed, where they deride the son who wants to be a nurse, where they explode in anger when a son turns out to be gay, where they excommunicate when the daughter becomes a son. Those are the angry and humourless households. Not mine.
What do you have to add? What does feminist parenting include, for you?