My partner and I are rearing three wonderful girls. We’re doing our best to help them to develop enquiring, critical, engaged minds, and a sense of justice, and a desire to be good people, who care for themselves and for others. But much as I would like to, I don’t think I can raise them to be feminists.
The reason is straightforward. If we are able to help our children to become independent thinkers, then feminism is a choice they must come to on their own. My guess and my hope is that each of them will develop her own commitment to feminism, but it must be their own commitment, not mine.
There are perils in rearing independent thinkers. They have a wretched habit of going their own way. To my horror and great delight, when Ms Thirteen was a tiny girl of four, she sat at the lunch table and announced that she had changed her mind about what she was going to spend her carefully accumulated pocket money on. She had decided that she wasn’t going to get a goldfish, and instead, she was going to get something that I wouldn’t like (she said this with a sideways and then very direct look at me). That child is going to get herself a Barbie, I thought to myself. And she did. Her father had to assist her, taking her down town, and lending her the extra four dollars she needed to buy some clothes (she worked it off in chores), and he did so with my support. She had made an independent decision about what to spend her money on, and we didn’t want to countermand her sense of autonomy.
Over time, the decisions will no doubt become much more difficult, especially when the girls start to develop their own sets of compromises with the world. All I can do is be on hand to talk the issues through with them, if they want to, to point them towards books and articles and blogs and artworks that may help them to work out their ideas, and to reassure them that no one is right all the time, no feminist leads the perfect feminist life, no one person has all the insights and answers needed, or even understands all the questions that can be asked. They may not want to call themselves feminist. And it would be wrong of me to require them to do so.
They are of course, learning feminism. How could they not, living with me, and with their father, and hearing the political and ethical and theoretical discussions we engage in nearly every day. Sometimes extended, sometimes just a brief comment, but there as the constant background of our lives. They’re also absorbing a fair degree of classical history, and science, and literature, ‘though not so much about sports. They already know a fair amount about feminism. But calling themselves feminists is a different matter.
I will just have to wait and see.
For anyone who might be inclined to wonder why I am not raising my sons with a knowledge of feminism… I have only daughters. Although I rejoice greatly in my daughters, this statement is to be read as expressing neither regret nor delight: it is a mere statement of fact. I would have rejoiced in sons too, had we happened to have sons.
Ms Thirteen calls herself a feminist.
She is the third generation in my family to be feminist.
My mother, me, my elder daughter, and in time my younger daughters, if and when they are ready to call themselves feminists.
…if someone tells you that all the fights are over, and nobody needs to bother about being a feminist any more, think about these questions.
- How come, on average, girls do much better than boys at school and uni, yet women are more likely to be in lower paid part-time or casual jobs with fewer benefits and worse conditions?
- Why are most managers, bosses and politicians men?
- How come the average full-time wage for women is still less than the average weekly earnings for men? (In most cases, less than or around 80% of the man’s wage.)
- What is the ‘glass ceiling’ – and why do women keep talking about it?
- Why is it that in many countries women who have been raped are arrested and punished because they are no longer ‘virgins’?
- Why is it that in some cultures girls’ genitals are mutilated? And why are girls in some countries forced to cover themselves entirely with fabric or risk being insulted or assaulted in public or legally punished?
- Why is it that in many cultures young girls are ‘promised’ to older men and forced to marry against their wishes?
- How come so many guys in our own society don’t respect girls and women or their achievements?
- Why do some people persist in behaving as if girls are just toys for guys?
- Why do some girls feel they need to know ‘What guys want’ and ‘Will guys like it if I…’? Wouldn’t it be nice if girls more often thought, ‘What would a guy have to do to impress me‘?
- Why is it that radio stations and music channel;s play songs in which guys call girls ‘hos’, bitches and other brutal, disrespectful things, as if it was nothing – as if it was okay to do that?
- How come more girl singers can’t sing their own songs dressed the way they want, instead of having to look as if they’re practically in a porn video?
- Why do some religious leaders say that women who have their period can’t enter a place of worship?
- Why is a teenage girl who gets pregnant sometimes asked or pressured to leave school, but the father of the baby isn’t?
- How come most of the sports reports (and sponsorships) are for men’s sports?
- Why do large corporations sponsor only (or mainly) men’s sports, not women’s?
- Why do so many radio and TV shows have lots of men but only one woman, never the other way round?
- How come male newsreaders and actors are allowed to get old and look ‘distinguished’, but the women have to try to ‘look younger’ by using cosmetic surgery?
- How come the mostly male politicians in the national government haven’t fixed the child-care problem?
- How come the mostly male politicians in the national government, many of them with a religious bias, make the rules about abortion when they will never be pregnant? And when most male politicians leave the raising of their families to their wives and disappear for weeks at a time?
- How come even the women who work full-time with children usually do a lot more of the housework than their partners?
- Why do so many children’s stories have male heroes, rather than female ones?
- How come women writers often write dramas and comedies with equal roles for guys and women, while most male writers tend to write interesting roles for guys but not so many good roles or lines for women? …
Being a feminist doesn’t mean you can’t wear girly clothes, or you hate guys. Being a feminist means you support girls and women have equal rights with guys.
The girls made breakfast in bed for their daddy.
Scrambled eggs on marmite toast, spicy apple cake with a drizzle of cream, and orange juice. The cake was left over from last night’s dessert. The usual rule in our house is that she who gets up first may eat any left over dessert for breakfast: the girls’ devotion to their father is shown by their making sure that there was enough left for him to have some too.
I made the coffee.
The fabulous Blue Milk, feminist mother of a girl and a boy, has a long-running series of 10 feminist motherhood questions. This is my response to her questions.
1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?
My feminism is about empowering women as they are, not telling them what they ought to be. I’ve been feminist since I was a girl; I learned it at my mother’s knee. I think one of the earliest manifestations of my feminism was a poem I wrote at school when I was about 14. We were studying ballads, and we had to write one, so I chose to write a protest ballad. A judge in New Zealand had given a man a more lenient sentence for physical violence against his partner, because she was living with him, and thus she was no good trash anyway. I can’t find the case on the web, and I don’t have the poem any more, but I think that was one of my earliest experiences of being feminist. So I was a feminist long before I became a mother, but my motherhood has informed and changed my feminism.
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