Raising feminists

Cross posted

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.

Inspired by this post: Conversations about the patriarchy: part 1, and this one: We are all bad feminists, really, and by a conversation with Megan on Twitter t’other day.


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.


5 comments on “Raising feminists

  1. homepaddock says:

    Many years ago I remember a friend’s father talking about a decision one of his daughters had made and saying, “If you bring your children up to be independent and think for themselves you have to accept you won’t always approve of their choices.”

    I tried to remember that when bringing up my daughter.

    Children will be influenced by parents, sometimes they’ll follow them, sometimes they’ll react against them. But even if we disagree on some matters, I’d rather have a daughter who is independent and who can think for herself than one who is dependent and without her own thoughts and views.

    If they can’t think for themselves, who will do the thinking for them when we’re not around?

  2. Í remember feeling somewhat guilty b/c I hadn’t overtly schooled my son in anything very much, except for slapping down the usual Gay/Lame/etc slurs that he brings home from school. then he was watching something or other and made some very intelligent comment, I forget what it was and what it was about, but I do remember him saying “Well what else would I say, with a feminist mum like you ?!”So, it does rub off.

  3. suze says:

    I don’t explicitly think of raising my son (13) as a ‘non-sexist’ or anti-sexist man but as a 3-dimensional person who is able to see other people, girls and boys, men and women, as 3-dimensional people too. We have quite a lot of political conversation in the broadest sense when watching tv or reading newspapers/books and I know he’s very aware of economic and racial power dynamics. As he moves into his teens, I’ve been interested to note that I do raise ‘feminist’ issues with him more often – abortion, contraception, rape. But it’s how he views and relates to other boys and men that is of more concern to me as I know he relates well to women and girls – of concern to me only in the sense that the peer pressure amongst boys to laugh or scoff at others or to sexually objectify girls is real. I’m confident that he doesn’t share that and wouldn’t initiate it but I want to help him deal with it when it does come up.

  4. […] A bee of a certain age with Raising feminists: 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. […]

  5. el says:

    Oh. Em. Gee. Some part of me knows you must be right, but most of the time, I just feel like there’s not enough air in this room to even get to a place where we can talk about raising independent thinkers. Maybe it’s (a lack of?) maturity, or maybe it’s the difference between doing it on your own vs with adult feminist support in the house, but I mostly just feel like I’m at war with a titan, and there’s no telling if my children will be safe. Forget about feminists, how do you even raise independent thinkers when the pressure from outside is so crushing, and capacity from within is so impaired? :O sorry to be all doom and gloom…

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