The rise of the next gen feminists: how to raise your child as a feminist
It’s International Women’s Day (IWD)! The day to celebrate women’s achievements in the past 12 months, and throw light on some that still need work.
Because while we’re undoubtedly taking steps in the right direction, there’s still a long way to go.
But, maybe a way to improve things in the future is to rewind right back to childhood. To teach the younger generation about feminism, about female rights and in turn it might therefore help us to take baby steps towards a more equal world for everyone, no matter their gender.
I knew it was time to teach my children about feminism and gender equality when we watched the film ‘Swiss Family Robinson’ recently. It was a firm favourite growing up and I hoped my kids would love it just as much.
But what I hadn’t noticed as a child was the clear gender divide running throughout the entire story. The overriding theme was men are brave and strong, while their fragile female counterparts are only capable of home making and raising children.
Though the film was purely a product of its era, the clear gender disparity was a message I didn’t want my children to learn.
Thankfully, they were just confused by it: ‘Why can’t the mum help them fight the pirates?’ ‘Why did that woman have to pretend to be a man?’ ‘And why did the father call the mum mother?’ Ha!
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I took their confusion as an indication that things have changed and that my children were growing up in a world where the feminist and gender equality message is starting to trickle through.
And it is important that it does.
“Feminism is a fight for gender parity, equality and freedom from oppression, all of which are fundamentals to a peaceful and equal society,” explains female activist Paola Diana, author of Saving the World. Women: The 21st Century factor for change. “It is vitally important for us as parents to enlighten our children of these values as they will go on to become the nucleus of the next generation.
“The principals we share today will form the key to tomorrow’s attitudes. We should teach our children to respect women and the core idea of gender equality – which ultimately and indirectly should see them grow to be a generation of feminists.”
Paola believes the #MeToo movement is partly responsible for this mini rise in new gen feminists.
“What started as allegations against one film mogul went on to become the biggest movement of a generation,” she explains. “I think the increased voice of women around the world has meant that parents are more conscious to the importance of spreading the ideas of feminism – which of course harbours the key principles of compassion and freedom.”
Of course we want this band of mini feminists to continue to grow, but the problem is that feminism and gender equality doesn’t often feature in parenting books so how do you raise a tiny feminist?
Challenge casual stereotyping
“We’ve got to create more equal mindsets in girls and boys alike,” says Jennifer Toll, Psychologist and Founder of NotJustAPrincess.co.uk “We can do this by challenging and discussing ‘casual’ stereotyping – for example if your child says something like ‘girls can’t do X’ or ‘boys are Y’, discuss what makes them think that, and what evidence they really have for the thought? Then show them something that counteracts the view.”
Get the conversation started
Paola believes parents should work to open up the conversation about gender issues within every day family chatter at the dinner table or on the way to school. She hopes that a switch in what children are taught in school could help support parents in this. “The national curriculum could be updated to include everything from domestic violence to the gender pay gap,” she says.
“We need to stop encouraging a ‘snowflake’ approach to the teaching of current affairs, and instead tackle the harsh realities that we face. Currently there is a huge focus on historical events, but we need to see children being properly educated about issues affecting people today, such as the #MeToo movement.”
READ MORE: Gender stereotypes banned in adverts
Be mindful of language
It’s easy for throwaway comments from our own childhoods to slip out, but it’s important to be mindful of your language as a parent. “Phrases like ‘throw like a girl’, ‘man up’, or even very everyday wording such as ‘Fireman’ instead of Firefighter are actually endorsing gender inequality,” warns Jennifer. “Ask yourself what you could say instead and question other adults (and your kids) when you hear them.”
Take a proactive approach
Jennifer suggests offering children non stereotypical alternatives such as taking them shopping in the opposite gender’s ‘section.’ “Not only will they see a bigger variety, they won’t feel limited by what the advertisers say they should have because they are a girl or a boy.”
Focus on similarities rather than differences
“The genders are far MORE similar than they are different, so help your kids focus on that,” advises Jennifer.
“Encourage platonic friendships across genders, as well as play-fighting with girls and physical and emotional affection with boys. Show this as adults too, after all as parents we are the most influential teachers in their lives.”
Expose children to everything
Psychologist Dr Dion Terrelonge working with activity app Hoop says that a child’s identity begins from the moment they are born. “By aged seven children are starting to talk about viable occupational aspirations, influenced by the people they meet and the immediate environment they are in.”
She suggests parents should actively encourage and expose their children to the world’s possibilities at every stage of development. “Allow them to dream big, after all after all the career they may have tomorrow, may not exist today.”
Encourage them to find their own path
Paola suggests parents should provide children with a completely open choice to follow what they truly want to. “Multiple studies show that young girls already feel unable to speak freely because of their gender, and are railroaded into outdated and traditional roles by clichéd, gendered stereotypes imposed upon them by teachers and family members,” she says.
“This could be as simple as the differing sports in PE for example, with girls and boys separated and pushed towards the sports deemed to be ‘suitable’ for their gender. Girls are always taught to take care of something or someone, whilst boys are taught to think strategically, build and be strong.
“Scientific research is now being released to highlight the perils of gender bias within schools, which sees more and more young girls refrain from studying subjects such as science, engineering and physics. So my advice would be to encourage them to follow their own path, whatever that may be.”