What do you do when it turns out that despite being a feminist, your kids are sexist?!
How the hell do we raise feminist kids? I thought I was doing a good job with my 5-year-old, Arlo, until I had a shocking conversation with him on election day. When trying to explain the election to him and what it meant in simple terms a 5-year-old could understand. I said all the grown-ups got to choose which man or woman would be boss of the country.
The following conversation went like this:
Arlo: ‘But girls can’t be bosses’
Me: ‘Of course girls can be bosses Arlo’
Arlo: ‘NO girls can’t be bosses’
Me: ‘Arlo, girls can absolutely be bosses. Why do you think that they can’t?’
Arlo: ‘Girls can’t be bosses. There are no girl bosses. My headmaster is a boy.’
Me: ‘Just because your headteacher is a boy doesn’t mean that all headteachers are boys. Many headteachers are girls.’ (side note – this is why representation matters)
Arlo: ‘Don’t be a lion (liar) mammy’
Me: ‘I’m not a lion Arlo, there are lots of girl headteachers’
Arlo: ‘Ok, well IF there are girl bosses, then they are rubbish bosses. Girls are rubbish.’
Me (getting a bit miffed now that my 5-year-old is a misogynist): ‘Arlo, please don’t say that girls are rubbish. I am a girl, Lena is a girl. Girls are good, boys are good. Girls make good bosses and boys make good bosses’.
Arlo: ‘Boys are better bosses than girls.’
Me: (getting down to Arlo’s eye level): ‘Arlo, I need you to understand this because it’s very important. Girls and boys can do the same things. Being mean about girls isn’t cool and it makes them feel very sad. How would you feel if I said boys were rubbish?
Me: ‘Yes, it’s not nice is it. Who do you think is the boss in our house?’
Arlo: ‘You and daddy’.
Me: ‘That’s right, we are both the boss and we are both good at it.’
Arlo: ‘I’m hungry, can I have a snack’
At this point I gave up but I felt a little bit like I had failed at instilling feminist beliefs in my son at the first hurdle.
The thing is, they are like little sponges at this age. They absorb the most subtle things around us. Since starting school, the message he got from all the teachers and support staff being women, and then only man in the school being the boss is that women are the ‘minions’ and a man tells them what to do. It’s truly depressing that message will be hammered home to him throughout his life. No wonder so many white men are blind to their privilege.
I had noticed a change in how he started perceiving gender when he started school. He started saying things like ‘I don’t like pink, that’s a girls colour’ or ‘that’s for girls’. I found myself saying a lot of ‘all colours are for boys and girls’ and ‘both boys and girls can do that’.
Up until school most of his friends were girls because my friends and family members largely had girls. But once he began school he started playing with a group of boys and does so every day. I guess this gravitation to members of his own sex is natural but I won’t tolerate him thinking girls are inferior. It’s a hard limit for me.
So what can I do about it?
My top 6 tips for raising feminist kids:
- Talk these things through with kids in a positive way. Feminism is about constantly learning and improving. I’m still learning so it’s only natural that the kids will be too. Guide them on their journey in a gentle way. Teach them about inclusivity and that nothing is more important than treating everyone with kindness.
- Be mindful of any ways in which we fall into traditional gender roles in our household. Papa Ginge and I need to treat each other with respect at all times and be equal partners in running our household. If Papa Ginge is letting me pick up more of the domestic slack when they are at this critical age then they are learning that’s how men and women should be. If I’m honest we do gendered roles a lot in the running of our house – I do all the cooking and grocery shopping, Mark empties the bin and mows the lawns. Mark will often say ‘you do the talking jobs (phone calls) and I fix things’. I don’t know how much of that is natural preference for those jobs or learned behaviours from infancy. I need to reflect on these issues and see if it’s worth making a change. We do treat each other as equals but I’ll be honest in saying lately that I’ve been feeling frustrated that I feel I’m doing a little more than my fair share of household chores and way more of the mental load. Addressing these is going to the top of my list.
- Expose the children to positive and diverse media – books, TV shows, games and film. Try avoid misogynist crap that enforces stereotypical patriarchal norms. Try and expose them to positive female role models and diversity. We’ve just got a new Wonder Woman, Moana and Rey – it’s a great time! I love how Doc McStuffins has the mother as a doctor and the father as a stay at home dad. I’ll do another blog post on my favourite feminist kids media soon. There are some great feminist and diverse options in this blog post of 10 adventure TV shows that you can enjoy with your kids.
- Live by example – I want my kids to see me as a strong, kind woman. One who can lead and can cuddle. Someone who fights for what is right, who will always champion equality. I want to live my life in a way that they could never understand how anyone could think a woman inferior to a man.
- Teach them about consent. Never force them to give kisses and cuddles to people they don’t want to. Respect them – if you are having a play fight and they ask you to stop then immediately stop. Tell them why you stopped. How it’s always important to listen and respect someone’s boundaries.
- Don’t pass on taboos about the body. Teach them the proper words for their anatomy. Be matter of fact and accurate about menstruation, childbirth and sex.
That’s all I’ve got for now but I’d love to hear your top tips for raising feminist kids in the comments.
Ps, shortly after I wrote this post, my 2-year-old daughter drew in a catalogue. She scribbled all of the men’s faces out. So now I give up. I have a 5-year-old misogynist and a 2-year-old misandrist. Is it any wonder I drink?
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