The first feminist I encountered was my mother. From a young age, she showed my sister and me what it meant to be strong women, to carve your own niche in the world, speak your mind, and never be defined by societal norms. She didn't know it then, but she was a pioneer (a womaneer, to be exact), and she helped forge a new path for women to walk today. These values have carried through into my adult life, and into my life as a mom raising my son. I feel so lucky to be a parent today. I am surrounded by feminist parents who are raising their children without the color-coded gender restrictions our parents had.
My husband and I practice "feminist parenting" (yes, it's a thing). We encourage our son to question traditional gender roles and challenge society's expectations based on sexuality. We don't want traditional stereotypes attributed to gender (and sexual orientation) to limit his development or creativity, or any child for that matter. My hope is that one day, feminist parenting will just be normal parenting, and we will raise future generations in equal households with respect, equality, and social justice. We're not perfect at it, but we're trying, and that's what counts.
In the meantime, in honor of the upcoming Women's Equality Day, here are a few things we do at home to break out of the pink and blue boxes.
Original Illustration by Stephanie DeAngelis
There are no traditional gender roles in our house. My husband and I respect each other as equals, and setting this standard will only encourage our son to grow up with similar values and apply these ideals to his own relationships one day. We don't adhere to conventional stereotypes, so our son doesn't have to either.
I wasn't allowed to mow the lawn as a young girl, and I desperately wanted to. (In all honesty, I wanted to do it for the exercise.) My brothers did outside work, and the girls did inside work. But that's not how it works in our household. My husband does as much of the housework and cooking as I do—in fact, he cooks most nights during the week—and I am expected to change a light bulb, fix broken furniture, and drive the car on long road trips. (I drove 11 hours to Pine Top, Arizona, from Los Angeles for Labor Day weekend.) My son already loves to help me clean the walls, and he begs me to let him use the window cleaner on the shower screen. He's only 9, so hopefully his love of cleaning carries into adulthood, too.
Despite the efforts we make to maintain equality at home, when our son steps outside, it doesn't take long before he realizes it certainly isn't the norm. Unfortunately, we still live in a fairly patriarchal society, one where women earn just 78 cents for every dollar a man earns. So if our son ever comes home with questions, we talk about them right away. We let him know that girls can be pilots if they want to, that boys can work at fashion magazines too, and both are honorable aspirations for any sex.
When we take our son to the toy store, he has complete freedom of choice. We never stopped him from buying the pink football, playing with Bratz dolls with his cousin, or from watching Frozen instead of Star Wars. And we're not alone. A video of a California dad's positive reaction to his 4-year-old son buying a Little Mermaid doll went viral, and it was met with an outpouring of support from parents all over the world. And big companies are taking notice, too. After years of campaigning, Target finally made the decision to "eliminate boys and girls signs from its toys and bedding departments." This has signaled a cultural shift, and it's exciting to be a part of the movement.
The same goes with clothing. Our son recently wore a pink sweater, and there was some criticism from our extended family about a boy wearing what they considered a feminine hue. Color has absolutely no relevance to a child's (or person's) sexuality, and they should have the freedom to wear whatever color they want, regardless of their gender.
For years, our son had long hair with curls, and it was his choice. He always loved having long hair (still does) and never wanted to cut it. It never bothered me or my husband. Sometimes people would stop us at the shopping center and say how cute "she" is, but we never corrected them. Does it really matter? Our son certainly didn't mind. I loved seeing Jada Pinkett Smith defend her 12-year-old daughter Willow when she got a buzz cut because children "have the RIGHT to own themselves." I couldn't agree more.
Are you a feminist parent? How do you instill gender equality at home? Let us know in the comments, and then shop some books on the topic below.
This post was originally published on September 14, 2015.