Saturday, January 6, 2018

How To Raise A Feminist

I have never been one to call myself a feminist. First of all, I don't see the need for so many labels. Secondly, I don't want to be thought of as one of those radical feminists who seemingly want to eliminate men, or at least reduce them to slaves. I do, however, passionately believe that men and women are different, but equal. And one thing the recent political atmosphere has shown is how far we still have to go until there is true equality. I guess that's the one thing I have to thank Trump for...making us all painfully aware of how far we still have to go.

At work I kept walking past the book "Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions" by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. The title intrigued me, but it is also a very short book, and as I was behind on my reading goal for the year, I decided to grab it. I'm glad I did.

I found the book to be very thoughtful and full of a lot of wisdom. A feminist by the author's standards is something that I could definitely be.

The book was written as a letter to her friend, who asked her how to raise her daughter as a feminist. There are fifteen suggestions.

  1. Be a full person. (Meaning that your sole identity should not be as a mother.)
  2. Do it together. (The father should be just as active of a parent as the mother.)
  3. Teach her that the idea of gender roles is absolute nonsense. ("'Because you are a girl" is never a reason for anything. Ever.’)
  4. Beware the danger of Feminism Lite. (The idea of conditional female equality.)
  5. Teach her to read. Teach her to love books.
  6. Teach her to question language. (For example, the word princess implies delicacy and the need to be saved.)
  7. Never speak of marriage as an achievement.
  8. Teach her to reject likeability. (Her job is not to be likeable to all.)
  9. Give her a sense of identity.
  10. Be deliberate how you engage with her and her appearance.
  11. Teach her to question our culture's selective use of biology as "reasons" for social norms.
  12. Talk to her about sex, and start early.
  13. Romance will happen, so be on board.
  14. In teaching her about oppression, be careful not to turn the oppressed into saints.
  15. Teach her about difference. Make difference ordinary. Make difference normal. Teach her not to attach value to difference.
I liked a lot of the insights that the author shared, but I especially liked when she wrote in her second suggestion that the father and mother should be doing things together. Childrearing is not the woman's domain. But what I appreciated most was when she said that we should reject the language of the father "helping" with the children or "babysitting" the children. As the father, he is simply being a father and taking care of his children. I have never understood why a father would "babysit" his own children.

I also liked what she said about the fact that gender should not determine the things we like or the things we do. For example, girls shouldn't have to play with dolls, just because they are girls. And it shouldn't be wrong for boys to play with dolls because they are boys. Girls shouldn't be limited to certain career choices because they are girls. Along with that, men should share in the housework and cooking, and not have to be congratulated for doing so.
There are still so many double standards we need to break. Why, for example, is a woman supporting her husband in his political career, but a man “allows” his wife to have a political career? Why do we tell girls to be nice and to be careful, but let boys run around and wreak havoc? Why do we use words like princess for girls and imply that they are fragile and need saving? And why is marriage the ultimate goal for girls, but not for boys? Why are women identified as wives, but men are not identified as husbands? Why do women give up their names? These are all interesting questions posited by the author.

The other part that I especially enjoyed was in the twelfth suggestion: talk about sex and do it early. I agree with the author that we talk to boys and girls very differently about sex. This boys will be boys attitude is still rampant, yet we tell girls who embrace their sexuality that it is shameful. Why? Yes, girls can become pregnant, but why is the boy who impregnated her any less responsible or deserving of shame? There should not be this double standard. We don’t live in the Middle Ages—sex should not be something that is thought of as shameful. Sex is a beautiful, wonderful thing, but both en and women need to practice is responsibly.

So, maybe I am a feminist after all. All I know for sure is that if I ever have a daughter, I think that I will keep many of these suggestions in mind.

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