When my first kid was born, a friend sent me a message that said ‘hurray for feminist boys!’
And that was the first time I’d thought about my feminist responsibility in really specific terms. I had birthed five pounds of feminist baby. This was happening.
As the big kid gets bigger, it is becoming more clear-cut, if not exactly easier. I have age-appropriate conversations with him about consent almost….constantly. When he says ‘don’t kiss me, mummy!’ I do my best to listen, and respond. And then, when he treats me like a climbing frame, I can remind him that I respect his body, and he needs to respect mine. I am confident this strategy will pay off eventually. Dear lord I hope it does.
There have been a few occasions where I have had to re-examine bits of my childhood I had been excited to share with my children. For example: Green Eggs and Ham: he said no! No means no! The lesson about trying new things seems less pertinent to the current #metoo moment than, ffs, leave the poor guy alone. Who wants to eat green ham? Can you blame him?
Or The Little Mermaid….have you ever thought about the lyrics to ‘Kiss the Girl’? In case you are less steeped in Disney than I am, here is a sample lyric:
Yes, you want her
Look at her, you know you do
It’s possible she wants you too
There’s one way to ask her
So. That’s gross.
With the babies, it is harder. About a year ago, a friend told me about some friends of hers who had avoided using gendered pronouns with their child, a boy with a gender-neutral name. Everyone at the table scoffed a bit. One woman said ‘I mean. My child is a boy, so I’m not going to stop calling him one. If he decides at some point that he isn’t, well, I will deal with it then.’
I thought that seemed like a fair perspective. But then. For the next couple of days, I noted all the occasions I referred to my children by gender, and I was shocked. Spoiler alert: it was constant. Phrases like ‘clever boy,’ ‘brave boy,’ and ‘strong boy’ had permeated my vocabulary. I have since read that, as innocuous as that might seem, it reinforces gender boundaries for children, who figure their boyhood/girlhood must be essential, since adults refer to it all the time.
In the last few weeks I have made a real attempt to stop gendering my infant children. It is hard. I’m not 100% successful – Daphne is wearing a pink floral romper this morning. I chose it, I love it, I think she looks beautiful. My convictions only extend so far (Fiona is wearing gender neutral clothing, though, and she’s no less cute for it). I am not sure how sustainable it is, not least because they will self-identify as girls soon enough. It’s just – I try not to call them ‘the twins,’ though that’s a separate thing – and now I try not to call them ‘the girls.’ Calling them by their names is a six-syllable mouthful and calling them ‘Fi and D’ is twee and grating. It’s a work in progress.
None of this is the end of the world, of course. But I do think it’s important to begin as I mean to go on. So I want to set a tone, for myself as well as for my children. I want them to know that their parents are are feminists and I want them to be feminists too: I want a desire for gender equality completely baked into their psyche.
It has been a humbling experience. It has given me new respect for my mother, who seemed to do it effortlessly. Even more, it’s given me appreciation for the extent to which raising feminist kids is a two-parent endeavour, much as I hate to e reminded I don’t have a monopoly on the Feminist Perspective in our household. On one memorable occasion last year, my partner completely schooled me in the art of feminist parenting. Theo asked me about penises, and I told him that he and Daddy both had one; that men have penises and women had vaginas. Just as I was feeling a bit smug, my husband chimed in: ‘most men have penises and most women have vaginas,’ he said.
Mic drop, husband.
I don’t want to end my Women’s Day post with a fawning anecdote about my husband, so I will end here instead: I want to explain sexism to my children the same way I explained landline phones to my son last week. It is something that still exists, but is indisputably on its way out.