Sometime ago I , rather loftily , began referring to these ramblings as a ‘ feminist parenting’ blog. Why ? And what does it even mean ? Other than rolling my eyes whenever people call my daughter a princess ?
Despite always having called myself a feminist, it was motherhood that lit a fire under my own feminism. As a heterosexual, educated, white woman my oppression was, fortunately for me, limited in my childhood and early adulthood. Though looking back now through a sharper feminist lens, I can see instances of sexism littered throughout my teenage years and beyond.
But motherhood was my first real impactful experience of gender inequality. The additional tasks that were deemed to be mine but not my husband’s, the emotional labour, the affect of inadequate paternity leave – all added up to me feeling restricted, and somewhat suffocated, by parenthood in a way I knew my husband was not.
My first child was a son, and if becoming a mother for the first time made it’s impact on me personally, then giving birth to and raising a daughter made me quickly realise how keen we are to label our children and shoehorn them into categories which suit our preconceived ideas of what a boy should be, or what it means to be a girl. How quickly the drawers filled with pink in advance of her arrival. How keen people were to determine her personality before she could even talk. A nice, quiet girl to play dolls with, in contrast to her brother who had , aged four, proven himself to be ‘a real boy’ ,of course. Was it surprising ,then, that my daughter developed a love of pink that seemed natural, but had actually been thrust upon her from the moment she burst into the world?
Not being a ‘girly girl’ myself, I was adamant that my daughter wouldn’t be a pink princess. Of course, she , and the rest of the world, had other plans. This is how it came to be that at the age of three my daughter gave me lessons in internalised misogyny. Of course I know that women can wear make up, dresses and stilletos and be intelligent, strong and all manner of other things. I know, in short, that what you wear, is not who you are. And yet, I still sometimes battle with a dislike of overtly feminine accessories or clothing. Even though I know she can be dressed head to toe in pink polyester and still be the funny , confident and wilful child I know her to be, there are still times when I balk at the frequency with which she dons the princess dresses. This is my issue, not hers. More important than my personal tastes being slighted, is allowing her to make her own choices and letting her express herself, not a version of me.
Yes, feminist parenting , especially with younger children, is often about challenging gender stereotypes. It’s something which seems to be gaining more widespread recognition too with girls’ shoes, Paw Patrol pyjamas and school uniforms all being targeted in the media recently for their damaging stereotyping. If we can’t always succeed in challenging the stereotypes (they are incredibly widespread and entrenched ) it’s the feminist parent’s job to at least make your children aware of their arbitrary nature, and encourage your children to make their own choices.
These things do matter because sexism is a sliding scale from kids’ clothes to the gender pay gap and beyond. But feminist parenting is not only about the battle between pink and blue, although if we solved that problem we would be making huge strides towards solving many others.
“ At it’s core feminism is about love and equality.”
Those are the words of Dr Grainne Healy, a prominent figure in Irish social justice circles and key activist in the campaign for marriage equality. I heard her speak at an event earlier this year, and the description really stuck with me. Love. Equality. These are the values I choose to instill in my children. They are not exclusively feminist, of course, but encouraging open conversations, treating one another with respect, respecting each other’s boundaries – these are all things which will help us in the fight towards equality, for everyone.
I don’t always get it right, of course. Sometimes I can over analyse situations, forgetting that my children are so young. But I do this only out of a desire for change, a desire to have them live in a world which allows everyone to be themselves. I want to question my own actions and responses, just as I want them to question theirs.
There is no such thing as a perfect parent, nor is there such a thing as a perfect feminist. Essentially, I’m just trying to do my best , to be ‘ good enough ‘ , in both arenas, and hopefully improve the landscape for , and with , my children.
You can read about the Raising Feminists panel discussions here.