ms. fresh fish

Feminist Parenting: Fresh Fish Style
January 2, 2014, 1:41 pm
Filed under: babies, family, Feminism, Housewife Chronicles, Humanism, Parenting, The big picture

As I noted in my post about my reaction to a small bit of the GoldieBlox ad, I was inspired to write more about how I’ve found my parenting groove (at least so far) in terms of reconciling my feminism with my fairly stereotypical fire truck-loving son and doll-loving daughter. My reaction to these developments has been such an interesting experience for me to observe. Of importance is the fact that I’m the only person in my immediate and extended family that self-identifies as a feminist… or as anything really. They’re all anti-labels. I respect that and give them the liberty to parent/grandparent/aunt/uncle in a way that is true to them. I am quite certain that my kids’ exposure to people of different thoughts and approaches is really good for them and they will see that, at our bases, our values are very similar. But, I am a feminist and a humanist (not mutually exclusive, of course). I believe that men and women are equal but that we live in a culture that does not value women as much as men. So, how does a feminist deal with her daughter’s insistence on playing with dolls, to the exclusion of almost everything else? How does this feminist-humanist work on raising two future feminist-humanists (if not in labels, then in values)? Well, here’s how I do it in a way that is intuitive (read: easy) for me:

First came a major revelation: It’s not about me. UGH – I HATE THAT. Well, I hated it and then was liberated by it. Instead of trying to mold my children into something I wanted them to be, I stepped back. I listen to them and let them tell me who they are and what they want to do, what they want to learn about. I work within their parameters. Baby A wouldn’t stack blocks, whereas Baby B mastered it quickly. But, when I showed Baby A to stack cars, he was perfectly capable and interested. I met Toddler B’s love for dolls and have worked to make sure that she has dolls that look different – big, small, bald, hairy, White, Black, Asian. Diversity, let’s do this.

They turn on a dime, so I have to be ready. Their interests, at the age of two anyway, can be fleeting. One week they want to colour, the next week it’s all about puzzles. One week it’s all about bird videos, the next week it’s only videos of Cousin Zoe. I’ve resigned myself to riding this ride, take my cues from them and challenge myself to think about how to make it as educational as possible.

Language (verbal and non-verbal) is very important. I have banned negative “body talk” from our home, particularly by women. There’s extra baggage there and I don’t want my daughter inheriting it. This is my guide. We talk about how they are big, strong kids. They both flex their muscles, they both run fast, they both throw well (at least, this is what we tell them, because let’s be for real, their aim is terrible). Mommy lifts heavy things and fixes stuff. So does Daddy. They ask whoever is closer, or whoever they like better that day. Daddy is definitely the one who uses power tools because that’s his hobby, not because Mommy doesn’t know how (well, I don’t but I could figure it out if I cared to). Mommy does not wear make-up all the time and when she does, it’s not because she’s a woman (and needs to make herself more attractive), but because it’s fun (and she’s really tired and wants to cover up her bags and “look good, feel better”). Mommy and Daddy both cook, both change diapers, both sing songs (although, apparently, Daddy’s better as Toddler B never tells him to stop singing). We apologize when we are wrong, and do so readily. When reading books and singing songs, we switch up the pronouns – one day “Little Penguin” is a boy, the next she’s a girl. Baa Baa Black Sheep brings a bag of wool to the little boy one time, to the little girl the next. There are both male and female monkeys jumping on the bed. You get the point. I’m hoping that “him” and “he” are not their default pronouns because on a very fundamental level, in my view, that speaks to a societal valuation of male over female.

Toddler B, obviously (sigh), loves dresses and insists on wearing them. Toddler A has no clue, nor care, as to what he’s wearing (that is, until he recently got a set of Thomas the Tank Engine PJs, which he is adamant about wearing if they cross his field of vision). But, when we get their jammies for the night, they each get to choose and once in awhile, he chooses the pink ones and in them he goes. Family used to guffaw but have now realized that they’re just jammies. I do, however, go out of my way to give him the pink dishes and cutlery, reasoning that the time will come when he’s “not allowed” to have those colours from people when I’m not around. I want him to find that at least a little bit strange and question it when it happens. They do wear fairly gender-stereotypical clothing. Outfits was not a battle I was willing to fight because we have been so fortunate to receive an abundance of clothes from each area and, quite frankly, I love the different styles. Also, I’m really, really tired. And, let’s be honest, they’ll more than likely both grow up to be like most people in our culture wearing the default jeans + top combo, regardless of what we dress them in now. 

My kids are very particular about what they’ll watch. I hear parents complaining about Dora, which I get, because as my friend noted there’s never a twist, among other slightly irritating things to adults. From a feminist perspective though, I have fully given into Toddler A’s love for Dora. He loves her. The time will come soon enough when he will be bombarded with movies that do not have substantial/main female characters (seriously, look into – and be devastated by – the Bechdel Test). In the meantime, I’m going to let him hear Dora’s voice teach him and go on her adventures. Merida from Brave? Yup! Annie? Go for it!

Perhaps the biggest thing, though, is how to raise my two feminists, hopefully to be feminists – you know, to recognize that men and women are equal. “Equal” does not mean “identical” in terms of interests or skills – it means equal in terms of value. Their respective interests in things that are “girly” (be it dolls or butterflies) will not be minimized. Their interests will be equally respected and valued for what they teach them or, quite frankly, what pure enjoyment they bring. And, they will, hopefully, respect each others’ and others’ interests.

To many (including Le Husband), I am way over-thinking this. That’s not the case though. I have always thought about this stuff, and so these parenting tactics of mine are aligned with my values… which makes them really damn easy to do. This is what listening to *my* (very personal and unique) maternal instinct looks like.


2 Comments so far
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Well said LB, as always. I share some of this (though not all). As a [new] parent, I get the sense that the point is to just friggin *think about it* – just consider what the approach is and go from there.

On clothes, for example, Hubby and I usually only dress her in what we ourselves would wear. Regardless of pink or flowery, is it a pattern or style that appeals to me. When she’s a little older, she can pick what appeals to *her* but until then I avoid cartoon animals and tutus. (This is why she wears jeans and brown sweaters – and therefore why she is frequently mistaken for a boy… as if it matters.)

All that said, I bought a bright blue onesie for her. Not until I put it on her today did I notice it was a “boys” shirt. It has a thick tshirt-type collar instead of a girlie patterned one. What a weird distinction to make, but there it is. Which makes me feel (as I’ve said recently) that this is all to much effort to bother with. Re-enter: she wears what I like.

Comment by Marianna Annadanna

[…] relieved to hear my decision) and gives my feminism a conflict that is even more significant than having birthed two walking gender stereotypes. But when I drop all of the expectations that I’ve set up for myself that I’m allegedly […]

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