How to be a Feminist Parent

17 September, 2013

I’m well excited to be bringing you a series; How to be a _____ Parent. (A series, like I have put loads of thought and planning in to things, check me out!) Some of my favourite bloggers and pals are contributing with either the parenting style that defines them, or the passions that form a key part of their family ways. There will be tips, reasoning and stories covering eco parenting to free range parenting. Today we have the might Lyndsay from Our Feminist Playschool with How to be a Feminist Parent.

Earlier this year, I wrote about ‘raising a feminist child’ for Natural Parents Network, but this invitation to consider ‘How-to be a Feminist Parent’ begs for a slight paradigm shift. In considering how to be a feminist parent, in offering that advice, those packets of suggestion, the attention moves gently away from my child, and focuses more on me and who I am – not only as a parent, but as a human. Feminist Parenting

I wrote about my personal feminist mothering back in May after it came under attack, but what can I tell you about how to be a feminist parent?

Feminist parenting comes from a desire to care for our children outside of patriarchal definitions of childrearing. Acknowledging the many different entries into feminism as a ‘philosophy,’ one must accept that there are multiple ways to ‘be’ a feminist parent. However, I would argue that there are some basic keystones in most approaches to feminist parenting.

If raising a family in a hetereonormative couple, strive toward egalitarian models of parenting. This can be difficult within conventional society, where at least one parent is required to be away from the home, and pay gaps lend themselves to men earning salary and women caring for children. In families where mothers are focused on caring for their children, there are multiple ways to enhance the role of dads that help disrupt the contemporary notions of family construction. Allow your children to see both parents authentically engaged in parenting, allowing them to see parenting as something humans do – not something exclusive to women.

Love your full self. In allowing my child to see me in the active state of being more than his mother, I help him understand that women are more than caregivers. By loving all aspects of myself, my child learns to honour himself as a fully actualized person, making it easier for him to offer the same respect to any and all women in his life – both now and in the future. Equally, by continuing to hone and nuture all aspects of myself, I continue to grow and develop as a person. I continue to reach, to learn, to connect and develop. Selfcare is important to all feminists, including feminist-parentings, and investing in yourself is perhaps the greatest and most productive form of selfcare.

Consider what you bring into your kid’s world especially when it comes to their books, clothes, and toys. how to be a feminist parentDefy gender and sex roles that are ever-present in media and marketing. Play and modes of learning should be free of conscripted gender expectations, especially in the earliest years. Of course, many boys are going to love trucks and many girls are going to love dolls – I would suggest that it is about always giving them choices. Equally, disrupting stereotypes within ‘traditional’ play is great too. For example, if a male child is playing with trucks suggest that the driver is female or If you and your kids are playing house, bring LGBT elements into the conversation or have dolls that represent other cultures or ethnicities.

Teach consent. From the earliest age let’s teach our children – both girls and boys – about consent. Sadly, a result of misogyny is the lack of knowledge and internalized awareness around consent – in both males and females. By honouring my son’s body and teaching him how to respect mine, I am front-loading his ability to always look for consent in his future relationships. Our girl-children need to learn about consent and that they are not required to give it, and that they are “allowed” to shut-down any behaviour that they feel uncomfortable with.

This is all theory. This is all rather academic. The most important aspect of feminist parenting is loving your child unconditionally and teaching them to love and respect themselves. By gently parenting our children through play, laughter and ‘the everyday’ we can teach our children to love and respect everyone. We can teach them to see their privilege; feminist parenting is about teaching love and living love – for everyone, for always.

I would love to hear your thoughts – join the conversation on my Facebook page or stop by the blog.

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  • Ashleigh Millward 17 September, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    I found this really very interesting, as a Mum to one boy. Like most boys Seb loves cars, trucks, trains, planes, bin lorries etc. etc. etc. but then saying that he has female friends of the same age who are just as happy to play with these toys as he is. He’s also the proud owner of a pushchair and doll, which happen to be pink, and I’m always intrigued by the response we get from people when he wants to bring dolly out with us when we take the dog to the park, or go in to town. There’s an interesting mix of people who smile knowingly, or comment to one another that it’s nice to see a little boy “allowed” to play with such things, and then there are the odd looks, which actually come from women as much as from men, that say “why is your little boy pushing a pink doll in a pink pushchair… and in PUBLIC?” We’ve also given his bedroom a nautical theme, because we live near the seaside, but I’m trying to keep it relatively gender neutral and seasidey as opposed to blue everything. At first when I read your suggestion to introduce LGBT elements to play I felt a bit uncomfortable and it seemed irrelevant for a 3 year old, but then the more I thought about it, the more I realised that we really should be doing this with him now, because it doesn’t really need explaining, it ought to just be offered up as normal. I’d never given this the slightest thought before – so thanks for the ideas!
    As I work from home the poor boy really has no choice but to see me as more than a caregiver, I think it’s so important for Mothers to let go of their guilt surrounding those sorts of issues and to see how positive it can be for their children.
    On the flip side, I own a toy shop, and I’m trying to remove as many obviously gender specific toys from sale as I can. On our website I am working my way through all of the product descriptions as we speak, to make a real point of suggesting the play benefits of toys for both boys and girls, including things like a range of dolls toys, dolls houses as well as cranes, diggers, car garages and what have you. I must say it’s really difficult as a toy retailer, and not a toy designer or manufacturer, to take this stance every time. Up until recently we sold a Hair and Beauty set which included toy hair dryer, hair brush, clips etc. Now, some of Seb’s friends have these types of sets at home and it’s always the first thing that he goes for when we go to their house to play. My Mum owns a hairdressing salon so from a baby he’s spent a lot of time around hairdressers and it’s one of his favourite roleplay games, but this set that we were selling was SO girly, and clearly aimed at little girls and not to both genders, however, it was, for a long time, our absolute best selling product by far. When I’m trying to make money to support my family it’s difficult not to consider that there is SO much demand for gender specific toys, which is a real shame. People have been very quick to condemn toy makers like Lego for dumbing down toys especially for little girls, but unfortunately, as someone “on the inside” I can confirm that they sell far better than gender neutral toys, time and time again. It sucks.

  • Karina 17 September, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Well-said and articulated post!

  • JessieD 17 September, 2013 at 8:28 pm

    I do something that would have made me shriek at the political correctness of it when I was younger… I turn all the ‘he’s’ and ‘his” in songs and nursery rhymes into ‘she’s’ and ‘her’s’! I know it seems silly and unimportant perhaps but it REALLY bothers me that my daughter even at 1 is being subliminally taught that there isn’t as much space for girls as boys. So ‘when a knight won her spurs’ it is and ‘the grand old duke of york, she had 10,000 men’ (luckily for me I’m more feminist than pacifist!)…

  • Teika Bellamy 17 September, 2013 at 8:59 pm

    Yes, a fantastic post. Thanks Lyndsey, and Lucy 🙂

  • Kellpops 18 September, 2013 at 8:19 am

    Brilliant post! Really well written. I try to encourage non-gender specific play and language and my little boy will more often choose to play with his pink kitchen, baby and pram over his toy cars. I also try to select gender neuteral toys as often as possible to play with, although we do spend 80% of our time trying to encourage creative/outdoor/messy play. A puddle doesnt care if you are a boy or a girl!
    It makes me so angry to go into toy shops and look at small world toys with male doctors, astronauts, firemen, policemen and woman nurses, vets, shop assistants. As a female engineer i am always fighting against the current to be accepted as a “woman in a mans world” and i want to make that change for my children.

    • Thalia Kehoe Rowden 18 September, 2013 at 9:39 am

      Love your point about puddles 🙂

      I’d be interested in your opinion, as a female engineer, on toys aimed at encouraging more girls into fields like engineering. Roominate, Goldiblox, Architect Barbie (a project by architecture students!), etc

      (Disclosure: I’ve blogged about ’em all 🙂 )

  • Thalia Kehoe Rowden 18 September, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Thanks, Lyndsey, I really enjoyed this round-up and have shared it around.

    I enjoy making the truck drivers, etc, female, too. My favourite is with rubber ducks, of which we seem to have several. Surgeon Duck is female as is Archbishop Duck, which we bought at Canterbury Cathedral 🙂 We call her Her Grace sometimes.

    (Incidentally, New Zealand has just appointed as a bishop a woman ordained in the UK – we’ve had other female bishops here before, but this is the first British woman to get a mitre, so that’s pretty cool, I think.)

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