Raising Feminists #1

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.

Rejecting likability

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.

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Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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.

raising-feminists-panel

‘Raising Feminists’ panel: L-R Melanie Lynch, Dr Marie Moran, Senator Lynn Ruane, Roisin Ingle.

Sex Education

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!)

Consent

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.

Critical Thinking

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.

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Credit: Caroline Caldwell (@DIRT_WORSHIP)

 

 

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12 comments

  1. Rejecting likability is such a good topic. I wish I heard it. I think it’s a very tough one, a lifelong journey really as you can be comfortable around some people sharing your own opinion but then others… it’s scary and silence is easier. It’s a tough balance to strike between being heard and self preservation.

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  2. Doing some serious head nodding here. My 11 year old daughter is the only girl on the boys soccer squad, because there isn’t a girls team. Opposing teams constantly laugh when they see her leave the changing room. They stop fairly quickly when she lets her feet do the talking. Her team mates see her as an equal, and she has made brilliant friendships. More of these conversations, lets teach our girls to be tough, and to see no limits.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well she sounds amazing . My son is in first class and the soccer is open to all but there’s only one girl. I love her and her parents ! Also notable that my son was one of only boys doing gymnastics, and wanted to stop.

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    2. I appreciate the way you are encouraging and motivating your daughter to face the world so strongly…👍

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Amazing and thought provoking post…..don’t know when it comes to sex education why many parents run away.I don’t think it’s wrong to give sex education in school or at home if given in a proper way so that kids understand .Secondly being girl does not mean limited choices.So is for boys ,doing household is not a matter of laugh ….no work, no games ,no jobs are only meant for a specific gender.

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  4. I basically love this whole article, each point was spot on, especially struck by the ‘likeability’ issue and the importance of learnin how to say no. Great to see such amazing women getting together to discuss feminism in Ireland!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was so amazing – and the audience were equally fabulous .

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Whilst shopping this evening I was served by a non-gender specific person and thought how brilliant it was that my children are able to grow in a place where people are more freely able to express themselves. There’s still a long way to go but there is no way I would have met that person in a shop or passed them in the street at my kid’s age, it’s nice to see more inclusion. Stereotypes are always difficult but we just need to expose our children to many experiences to give them the opportunity to become rounded people.

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  6. Christ Beth I bloody love this. Most inspiring blog post I’ve read recently. I wish I lived close enough to come to one of these. We need something like this locally. I’d love to set something up but am a bit tight on time. I’ll be checking in on your posts though. So many great quotes in this. I can’t wait for the next one. With a son and daughter I’m mindful with both of them. Arlo, at age 5, has just got to the age where he’s saying stuff like ‘girls are rubbish’ and pink is a girl colour and I’m just trying to figure out how best to deal with it! Keep up the fantastic work! You are an inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah thank you so much, I really appreciate that. My son and daughter were fighting over pink Lego the other day – she said pink is for girls and he said no it’s not! So at least one of them has got the message 😆

      Liked by 1 person

  7. […] the first Raising Feminists event, there were no men on the panel , and only one or two in the room. It was suggested that it was […]

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  8. […] the first Raising Feminists event, there were no men on the panel , and only one or two in the room. It was suggested that it was […]

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