Thursday, 26 January 2017

7 Feminist Habits To Pass Onto Your Kids

When you bring your child home from the hospital you are provided with a seemingly endless stream of information. Leaflets on breastfeeding, booklets about educational play, invitations to playgroups and mother and baby groups-its information overload. 
What you don't get a manual on is how to raise your child using feminist principles. When Riot Girls become Riot Mamas its easy to feel you might lose your political compass and this is why you need feminist habits to pass onto your kids. 
Thoughts on fighting the patriarchy can temporarily seem to fall by the wayside as you attempt to put together a buggy that seems to defy all logic (I got it up why can't I pack it down?) and as your child grows, gendered toys, clothes and entertainment slide through your life like water through a faucet.
Your children will be subjected to subtle messaging around gender roles from the moment they are born and as parents its vital we act as gatekeepers and sieve through the ideological coal to find the diamonds.
Passing on feminist values is as important as teaching your child how to walk, talk and play. If this all feels like overkill, consider this. At this very moment females around the world are being denied education, raped, enslaved and genitally mutilated. If that all feels a long way away from your current life of Mumsnet, Peppa Pig and Sudocrem, just remember the gender pay gap means its likely both you and your daughters will earn significantly less over their careers than their male counterparts. Yep its not just babygros that come in pink and blue, its paychecks too. 
We can help effect change though, and its surprisingly easy to begin.  Here are seven ways I have interwoven equality 101 into my everyday parenting.

#1 Find The Feminism In Their Idols

Before you have a child its easy to imagine you will both intellectually crush on the same types of people. That the artists, writers and politicians you admire will be one and the same. You envisage cosy nights of reading aloud from "The Beauty Myth" listening to Beyonce and creating arts and crafts decrying the glass ceiling. Newsflash this isn't the case. 
Unless you want to create a generational gap as big as a the Pay gap, seek out the feminist values in their current favourites. 
Whether its applauding the strong female friendships in "Barbie and the diamond castle" hi-fiving Taylor Swift for writing all her own songs and kicking ass in the male dominated country music world, or showing them clips of Emma Watson acting as UN Speaker-in the same way you are encouraged to physically get on their level when they are tiny, continue to relate to them in their own language as they grow. 

#2 Fill Their Bookshelves With Feminism

Reading is one of the easiest ways to introduce ideas about strong women and equality to your children. The topics sparked by sharing a good book can create wonderfully organic teachable moments which don't feel like lectures. Your six year old is unlikely to want to discuss the pressure of women to conform to physical "norms" over breakfast but books such as Olivia are all about the importance of girls  being individual, Room On The Broom plays against the stereotype that someone who looks like an evil old witch is indeed a bad person. The Harry Potter series is full to the brim with examples of women being nurturers, leaders and bringers of destruction-all facets of human behaviour. Encouraging your child to read and become a critical thinker lays wonderful groundwork for later life. The books that I have found are the biggest hits are Rosie Revere EngineerToo Many Princes and Coraline 

#3 Don't Chat Shit  About Your Own Body

Children are like sponges. they absorb everything you say and do. Its perfectly normal to be Body Positive and still have days when you don't like what you see in the mirror. Whats not acceptable is playing out these insecurities in front of your kids. When you openly hate on your "fat legs"  or declare that you cant wear certain clothes because of your big tummy, you pass on the idea that bodies can be flawed and imperfect. 
All children think their parents are beautiful so to keep contradicting this is really confusing to them. More importantly this subtle messaging is planting seeds of discontentment that can bloom into full blown unhappiness (and even disordered eating in later life)
 Switch the conversation around so that all discussions about physicality are based around just how awesome the human body is. Use terms like "strong", fast" and focus on what your body can do rather than what it looks like. Your children will encounter enough bullshit about how a body should or should not look every time they switch on the TV or read a magazine, don't add a sidebar of body shaming via your own insecurities.

#4 Stop Hating On Other Women

Its a sad fact that often the loudest voices of criticism against other women are often fellow females. It seems we are hardwired to critique each others to a far more exacting standard than we hold men to. Try this out for size. Every time you find yourself about to make a petty or judgemental comment about another woman, take a moment and see if you can actually say something supportive (or if that's impossible) say nothing at all. Its not necessary to slag off a TV presenters hair, or comment that you think a female politician is a bitch. Make your critiques positive. Its fine to say "I really worry about Teresa Mays actions about Brexit" without adding "and considering she is addicted to shoes those are some ugly fuggly kitten heels" If you wouldn't make the same statement about a man, don't say it. 

#5 Use Clothes To Break Down Gender Stereotypes

Nowhere is the stereotyping of boys and girls more evident than in a children's clothes department. Tee shirts in the boys section will have slogans and graphics depicting scientists, builders and dinosaurs whilst most of the clothes aimed at girls will feature princesses, messages about being cute and most importantly often not look as comfortable or hard wearing as the boys stuff. 
As soon as my daughter was out of romper suits I dressed her in french navy, jeans and tee-shirts only carrying gender neutral designs or slogans. 
I am obsessed with all things pink but I resisted the urge to dress her in only pastel shades and would always shop in both the boys and girls departments. Now I have a daughter who enjoys Lego as much as she loves My Little Pony and who teams doc Martins with her Rara skirts. 
Discussions around clothing are also a great opportunity to discuss the fluidity of gender. Children are remarkably open minded and when I explained to my daughter that not all people who are born into a boys body identify as a boy and visa versa she didn't bat an eyelid. Its the same with introducing the idea of same sex relationships. It took me all of five minutes to say "Some boys love boys, some girls love girls and some people just love people and don't care and that's great" My one rule is that I never allow casual homophobia or mocking stereotypes to go unchecked. If that shiz pops up on our TV screen or in a movie I will make a point of saying how narrow minded and ignorant it is. Some teaching can be done in a more nuanced fashion-other lessons not so much.

#6 Check Your Privilege

Its vitally important that when you teach your kids about feminism you also educate them about privilege. Once they are old enough to understand the concept of gender inequality start to incorporate the theme of intersectional feminism. This isn't as difficult as it sounds.When Malala the girl who was shot for going to school by the Taliban was in the news, I shared her story with my daughter so she could understand that her experience of feminism as a white, middle class, able bodied girl would be very different to girls of a different race, ethnic background or class. Using examples that your children can relate to (a young girl just trying to get an education) helps them to relate and understand their position of privilege.

#7 Use Toys To Crush The Patriarchy

A quick saunter down a toy aisle will quickly offer loads of fodder for conversations about gender bias. Allowing your sons to buy and play with dolls and your daughters to buy a truck rather than a Tiny Tears doll breaks down normative ideas about how boy and girl children play. It also discourages them from restrictive behaviours in an attempt to fit in. 
Early on I noted that boys toys often included problem solving, whilst girls toys seemed more creative or neutering. If we want our children to grow up as feminists we need to allow them to explore both sides of play. 

If you are fortunate enough to be in a position to help shape a child's world view, thinking carefully about the messages you are sending both verbally and non verbally are definitely worth consideration. I would love to hear how you are tackling conversations about gender inequity and feminism with your kids.
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