Raising feminist children
“Children must be taught how to think, not what to think.”
- Margaret Mead
A sneak peek into most families tells us how we are born and bred in the restraints of patriarchy. From voicing out opinions to defining gender roles, it has all sucked big time. Once we get over ‘stop crying like a girl’ or ‘don’t sit like a boy’, addressing feminism must start from a young age.
The first piece of information that parents tend to receive about who their child will be, i.e. their sex, can mark the beginning of a lifetime of gender socialization. Just when they are babies, we start to tag and classify, defining and expecting certain characteristics, as per our convenience.
Feminism is now increasingly intersectional, and rightly includes and advocates the rights of non-cis gendered persons. Trans folx, non-binary people , and women of color and disabilities are all included in the process of breaking free of patriarchal norms.
From standing up against gender stereotypes to dismantling generalizations, and enlightening youngsters about privileges and uniformity, here are a few different ways you can rouse feminism in your youth:
1. Address it: Acknowledge gender equality and human rights. Tell them there’s no such thing as the ‘weaker sex.’ By encouraging equality between sexes and what needs to be done, you lay the perfect foundation for them to lead towards a better future. Simultaneously and just as significantly, talk about gender, sexism, and stereotypes. Teach kids to recognize them whenever they spot it and know how sexism shapes our world. This is a good way to make children realize that divisions based on gender are not due to differences in abilities, but are a result of a stereotyped culture.
2. Share the load: Step out of our zones and divide domestic chores equally among yourselves so that children can learn that there are no gender-specific roles at home. Involve boys in care work and household chores from an early age! Also, save them from the ‘pink and blue’ tsunami. Be open to letting them choose the kind of toys they want — no more cars vs dolls. Focus on people as individuals, rather than pirates, princesses, pretty, or handsome.
3. Introduce them to ‘Purple Rain’: Role models come in all shapes, sizes, genders, skin tones, and cultural backgrounds. Expose children to a wide variety of role models, including those who challenge stereotypes. For example- male nurses, female mechanics, etc. This also includes individuals who express their identity in a more gender-fluid or gender-neutral way, like Eddie Izzard or Jeffree Star. Remind them that they can be anything they want to be, regardless of their gender.
4. Empower them to speak up: And feel safe doing so. Not everyone has their identity all figured out from the start. Support diversity concerning gender identity and expression. Keep their possibilities open, despite the world’s concrete and categorical terms. In case they’re bullied, gear them up with appropriate coping strategies. When we empower and educate young advocates about women’s and trans folx’ rights, we ensure a better future for all of us. This isn’t about making them stronger. They already are strong. This is about changing the way our world perceives that strength.
5. Ditch the stereotypes: Sexual orientation is all the more a social build, with the world characterizing being you. Up until the age of seven, the things we learn can significantly shape our turn of events and rework us. Thus, the earlier you introduce your child to a world of equally accessible opportunities, the better. We need to work on our unconscious gender biases. These are roles that we’ve internalized based on our society’s set expectations about how men and women should dress, behave and present themselves, and in some cases, what kind of work they should do. Tell your children that it’s okay to be different and highlight the idea that there are lots of different ways to be yourself.
6. Stop body shaming: Feminism isn’t anti-men. It’s anti-shamers. Lead by example here and be careful to not be critical of any body-image and reject sexist and unrealistic standards. Foster body-positivity from a young age, and in some cases, listen to and learn from them. Everyone deserves equal treatment.
7. Stop guilt-tripping working mothers: Articles like ’50 ways mothers can balance work and family’ show nothing more than how motherhood is the most important role of your life and that you need to ‘make up’ for it in spite of all that you do. They suggest how your sacred relationship is compromised with your choice of being outside, and even more, how stay-at-home mothers have all the time in the world. None of this is true. Your children must know this and must be taught to respect you for your choices.
8. Instill boundaries and monitor media: Then respect them. Teach them that only they can decide how to feel about a touch, and implement ‘no means no.’ Get clear on your own boundaries, and help them honor themselves. Role-play and enhance understanding through ‘what-if’ scenarios. Misogyny is a very easy thing to catch off the internet. Be as vigilant about this as you are about children watching porn. Filter and review content in advance to gauge how appropriate it is. Encourage networks and shows that highlight strong female protagonists.
9. Go beyond inclusion: Inclusion of women and trans folx is not enough on its own. We have drawn quite a quest from not letting them vote to now electing candidates from the community. But why do we still see derogatory terminology associated with them? Let’s encourage an altered use of pronouns like ‘they/them’ to address gender neutrality. This creates a more liberal way of representation that values people for who they are.
10. Stop saying ‘like a girl’: Watch what you say, how you say it. Kids pick up not just the words, but the subtext of the words. Sexist jokes, gentle jibes about a woman’s weight, a boy who is emotional, sensitive being ‘like a girl’, a boy who expresses fear being called a sissy. These stay, these last, a child’s mind absorbs this and retains this. And as they grow into men, they transfer these misconceptions onto the women they will meet with, deal with at work, fall in love with, get married to, to their own children when they have them. Confront your biases and deal with them, instead of passing them on.
Gender-neutral upbringing empowers kids to be confident in their choices and expression. It makes them open-minded individuals who can have stronger conversations to fight gender stereotypes and biases as they grow up.
This one’s going to be one heck of a long process, but let’s not forget our basics: feminism is the radical notion that women and trans folx are human beings, and it’s about protecting, nurturing, and empowering all forms of life. Encourage traits that make a good human, not a good man or a good woman.
Written by Nibha Patil
Artwork by Khyati Patkar