February 15th saw the first motherhub event take place in the Workman’s Club in Dublin. On the panel to discuss ‘Raising Feminists’ were Roisin Ingle (Irish Times), Senator Lynn Ruane, Dr Marie Moran (UCD Equality Studies) and Melanie Lynch (Herstory founder).
We discussed, amongst other things, gender stereotypes and how to break them, sex education and consent, and the role of schools in forming a feminist conscience. It was great to hear Melanie Lynch of Herstory talk so passionately about their education programme, which includes a teen magazine and adaptations of historical biographies for a teen audience. If this amazing illustration is anything to go by, I think this part of the project will be amazing.
‘Girls like everything’
We started by talking about gender stereotypes – how early they kick in, how limiting they are, and what we can try and do to subvert them. It became apparent that whilst we might be able to create a space at home where our children are free to like what they like with no restrictions, when they enter the wider world the gender divide is inescapable. In toy shops, nurseries and primary schools children are put into their gendered boxes.
Dr Marie Moran told us that at around the age of 3 or 4 kids begin to start noticing gender, and can become like ‘gender police’ making it a perfect stage for intervention.
Giving children options and letting them choose for themselves how they play and what they play with is key. Let them be creative and expressive, rather than only offering them toys from the blue or pink aisle in Toys R Us. Items like Sarahs Silks can be used for dress-up and they allow a girl to be a princess one day, and a superhero the next.
In her letter to a friend ‘How to Raise a Feminist Daughter’ Chimamanda Adichie talks about the importance of teaching girls to reject likability, of encouraging them to be their fullest selves, rather than as girls who feel their role in life is to be liked.
Allow your daughters to say no. Marie Moran told us a story about a relative of hers who encourages her daughter to ‘use her strong voice’ when she was expressing an opinion, or saying no. I thought this was a great way of putting it and will be encouraging my daughter – and myself for that matter – to use her strong voice.
It’s worth noting at this point that much of what we are trying to teach our children, many of us are only just learning how to do as adults. Which, in turn, emphasises the importance of encouraging these behaviours and thought processes in our children. (I’m reminded of Amy Poehler, “It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for.” )
Talk to your child
Hearing Lynn Ruane talk about how she raises her two daughters is inspirational – 16 year old Jordanne and 10 year old Jaelynn both came along to hear the discussion. Lynn told us how she had discussed social media with Jordanne as a young teenager, and rather than telling her she wasn’t allowed to use it, she encouraged Jordanne to question it and make her own decision about whether she chose to use it or not. She chose not to – a big decision in this day and age for a young woman not to have a Facebook account.
Lynn reminded us that whilst you can want to raise a child a certain way, and have open dicussions with them, that it does also depend on the child being open to your ideas. They are individuals too , and not all kids will be as open to discussions as others. This is not a reflection on them as a child, or you as a parent. We do our best.
I was relieved to hear that although Lynn had started talking to her eldest daughter about sex education early, that she found it difficult. She said she had to make herself do it even though she was ‘dying inside’. I think we all acknowledge that being open about sex and our bodies is important, but that it’s something that many of us still struggle with.
Especially when it comes to naming our anatomy. It seems that whilst we know we should be encouraging using words like vagina and penis , many of us still find that uncomfortable, for a multitude of reasons. ‘Mary’ , ‘front bum’ and ‘vajayjay’ were some of the alternatives – I’m sure you have your own ! ( Head to the Comments section to share if you feel the need!)
You don’t need to be talking about sex to be talking about consent. Talk to your children about their relationships with friends, and model what healthy relationships look like, so when the time comes they know what a good relationship involves.
As feminist mothers we might do our best to encourage our children to challenge gender stereotypes, to talk openly about their relationships and feel confident in their bodies. However, you can’t raise a child in a vacuum, and there are numerous other influences which can impact on your child.
School age parenting brings its own challenge in this regard, not just because of the influence of the schools, but also the fact other parents may not be having the same conversations with their own children. The key to this dilemma is critical thinking. Which the more I think about it, the more I think it is the answer to everything. Teach your children to think critically, to ask questions, so that when they do come across stereotypes they have the skills to challenge the status quo.
It’s a parenting thing
The responsibility of raising the next generation of feminists can’t lie only with women. As we looked around the room , there were around 3 men present. It has to be a parenting thing, not a mothering thing. Is it up to women to encourage men to be more present at these kind of events? Why should we have to plead with men to get involved ? There was interesting conversation around this but one thing that came to light was the importance of focusing on boys. Our conversation on the night naturally turned to discussion of girls and raising feminist daughters, but it’s clear that boys are also damaged by restrictive gender stereotypes. Feminism is for everyone. And, as Roisin Ingle said on the night, ‘It’s not just about feminism, it’s about diversity and tolerance.’ Why would you not want to raise your children to believe in these ideas? So the next event will focus on boys and consider the Gloria Steinem comment I referred to on the night,
“We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.”
‘I love being a woman’
We ended on a really positive note , including the above comment from Roisin. We don’t want to make our daughters think that being a woman is a negative experience. It’s important to teach them to love themselves and Marie Moran reminded us of this quote, which seemed a perfect way to end the evening.