12 Dec Feminist Parenting 101 (Five Top Tips)
So what the heck is Is feminist parenting anyhoo? Strict gender-neutral homes? Boys in pink and girls in blue? Defying and redefining gender roles completely? The truth is, it’s probably different things to different families. Because, as with everything in feminism, choice is paramount. And we’re all different.
Chimamanda Adichie famously says “We should all be feminists”, and to be honest I believe most of us secretly are. Gasp. Feminism is literally just the belief that all people should be treated equally regardless of what’s going on between their legs. When we live in a world where that doesn’t happen, we have to get up of our arses to advocate for groups who, let’s say... haven’t been advocated for too much in the course of history.
This isn’t a manifesto on what Feminist Parenting is or isn’t. Instead, it’s just five practical steps you can take with your kids to help them grow up to be respectful, kind, emotionally intelligent people who believe that all people should be treated equally. And if that’s not something you’d like for your kids *spoiler alert* this may not be the blog for you!
Let’s jump right in…
1 Feminist Parenting: Actively search for books that show diversity
Have you ever been reading a children's book and wondered to yourself ‘Why this character / dragon / monster / truck / dinosaur / animal male? Straight? Able bodied? White? What is it about this story that requires them to be male? Generally, absolutely no reason. I’d say it has a lot to do with the fact that the decision makers in businesses tend to be white, straight, able bodied men who’ve always been told they are the protagonists in all the stories.
The world is a diverse and fabulous place. Our books, cartoons, films, tv programs should represent that. Actively search for books with female, or non-binary, or LGBTQ, or disabled characters. Look for stories with different family make-ups. Look for characters that break stereotypes.
Teach your children that when they go out into the world they’re going to meet a wild and wonderful variety of people and that all of them deserve their respect and attention.
Here's a fab book by Elizabeth Rodes you could start with...
Feminist Parenting: Let Your Kids Discover Things For Themselves
I overheard the assistant in a bookshop once, advising some new parents “oh this is our best seller. The kids love it. It’s educational and funny and… oh, wait, do you have a girl? (*puts bestseller back on shelf and moves to the pink section*) Does she prefer princesses or fairies?” I swear to gawd this happened.
First of all, newborn babies haven’t quite figured out what type of book they like best, because you know, babies are a bit useless at that stage. Second of all - stop denying the girls the fun educational stuff. And stop forcing trucks and tractors on the boys. Come on!
As a practical parent, I look for the most cost efficient and eco friendly toys. They’re usually the open, non-gender specific ones. Musical instruments. Building blocks. Scooters. Paint /crayons etc. They grow with the children, can be passed on to younger siblings and can be constantly reinvented by a child’s imagination.
Play is play and your children are who they are. Don't force an outdated gender stereotype on them. Give them options and let them decide.
Feminist Parenting: Praise your princess for more than just being pretty
“Oh what a pretty dress” “Such pretty hair”. A typical way to talk to little girls, right? When we only praise our girls on their looks though, we're actually telling them their value as a person is determined entirely by their prettiness”. Oh, nay!
The issue isn't with princesses though, it’s how we perceive princesses that has to change. We need more stories that focus on how strong, interesting, clever, tenacious, funny, anything other than just pretty, princesses can be.
Give your little princess a growth mindset. Praise her actions or their characteristics. “Wow, that was really difficult, and you kept trying”. “Thank you for telling such a funny story”. Let’s let girls know that it’s this, their actions and character that define how fabulous they are. Being pretty is just another characteristic on a very long and wonderful list of things they can be.
Feminist Parenting: Praise your prince for more than just being strong
Equality is equality, Just as much as our little girls need to know there is so much more to them than being pretty, our little boys need to know their value doesn’t hang on how strong or brave or stoic they are.
In my career as a human being, I’ve met quite a few boys. I’ve seen ones who are kind. Sensitive. Artistic. Caring. Ones who are great at arts & crafts. Ones who like petting fluffy bunny rabbits. Can you even believe it? If you only paid attention to the media and toy advertisements, you’d never know these boys exist. But they do, and they’re wonderful.
Because boys are also actual human beings, they are complex creatures with a whole host of characteristics going on. It’s fine to praise their strength or bravery. Just remember to give some air-time to some of the other ways they can be fabulous too.
Feminist Parenting: Show them great female role models too
There’s a children’s book ‘Goodnight For Rebel Girls’ that feminists often like to recommend for daughters. Brilliant, because little girls have a whopping great lack of female role models to look up to so.
Here’s the thing… so do little boys. History, music, sport, literature - we have a ‘bit of a history’ of focusing on the men and accidentally teaching all our children that it’s men who are important, interesting and in fact are the default human being. (white, straight, able bodied, cisgendered men, to be precise).
If I asked you to name some female role models, odds are Mother Teresa and Florence Nightingale would be on your list. Mother Teresa was born in 1910. Florence Nightingale in 1820. And we barely have any new universal sheroes since then.
If the media is slow to shine a light on all the amazing women around since these early heroes, as parents we need to do it for ourselves.
Watch sports with your kids that feature top female athletes. Find them books written by (or about) women. Point out the female role models in your day to day life and in general, help boys and girls understand how fabulous, strong, interesting and valid women can be.
So there you have it. Five basic tips on how to help your kids be respectful, kind, emotionally intelligent people who believe that all people should be treated equally. In other words, how to be a feminist!
Oh and hey, if this is too basic for you (you fancy-pants you!) - check out my upcoming post… Feminist Parenting 202 - Five More Ways To Be a Feminist Parent. How very exciting!