In Canada in 1929 women were declared persons. There is a statue on Parliament Hill commemorating the five Alberta women — Emily Murphy, Nellie McClung, Irene Parlby, Louise McKinney and Henrietta Muir Edwards - who fought hard for this declaration, which was instrumental in the women's rights movement in Canada.
Today as I explored Parliament Hill with my two children, a boy and a girl, I was thinking about how to raise a feminist. That is, how to raise a child that will stand up for the rights of women and will not let anyone say that a woman can't do something she wants do do because of her gender.
Some things are obvious to me. I won't push my children into specific gender roles and I think our family with a working mom and stay at home dad are a great start at modelling non-traditional gender roles. Also, the society that we are raising our children in is one where women have achieved a great deal of equality, partly with thanks to leaders like Pauline Marois and her colleagues.
I will not push them into specific activities or toys based on their gender. If my son wants to knit and my daughter wants to play hockey, then so be it (although in reality I hope neither of them wants to play hockey!). But with toys that I give as gifts (rather than ones they choose themselves), I find there is a fine line between what society says they should like based on their gender and what I think they will like. My son loves cars, trains and construction vehicles. My daughter does too, but she already has so many of them to play with because our house is full of them. So when it comes time to choose gifts for her, I do tend to try to fill the gap and nurture other interests that she has that may be considered more "feminine". I do give my son gifts that might be considered "girly" by some. I have a number of my childhood toys that I am passing down to my kids. I gave my kitchen (made out of wood by my dad) to my son and bought him the food, pots and pans, and so on to go with it. This year, I will be giving my daughter my doll house and buying new furniture and people for the house.
I will let both of my children believe that they can be anything that they want to be and won't tell them that they can't do this or that because they are a girl or a boy. I've never felt like I was held back in life because I was a woman. I've had all the same opportunities that my brothers and male classmates had. I've competed head to head with men for jobs and promotions and never had a fear that I would be passed over due to my gender.
In my post on the bias against boys, I made some recommendations for raising boys, several of which I think contribute to making a boy a feminist:
- Teach our boys to be nurturing - give them the power of emotional intelligence.
- Limit access to television and Internet and ensure that materials are age appropriate and do not include images of violence or unhealthy sexuality
- Teach them about healthy sexuality and encourage them to ask questions
- Encourage them to express their emotions and rather than keeping them bottled up inside
- Teach them to respect people, including teachers, women and girls, those that are weaker than them, those that are different from them
As for my daughter, I want to teach her first and foremost to respect herself and be confident. I think those two traits will go a long way in warding off the effects of any sexism that she may encounter along the way. I want to teach her that it is okay to be a woman or be womanly (that does not make you weak), but I want her to be self-aware enough to not let anyone take advantage of her for being a woman. I want to teach her about healthy sexuality, so that she can minimize the risk of being taken advantage of and so that she can be an equal in her relationships with others.
I think we're off to a great start (as evidenced by her big grin sitting next to Emily Murphy on Parliament Hill today), but it is a journey we'll have to focus on each and every day.
What will you be doing to raise your girls and boys as feminists?