The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

Raising feminists

Cross posted

My partner and I are rearing three wonderful girls. We’re doing our best to help them to develop enquiring, critical, engaged minds, and a sense of justice, and a desire to be good people, who care for themselves and for others. But much as I would like to, I don’t think I can raise them to be feminists.

The reason is straightforward. If we are able to help our children to become independent thinkers, then feminism is a choice they must come to on their own. My guess and my hope is that each of them will develop her own commitment to feminism, but it must be their own commitment, not mine.

There are perils in rearing independent thinkers. They have a wretched habit of going their own way. To my horror and great delight, when Ms Thirteen was a tiny girl of four, she sat at the lunch table and announced that she had changed her mind about what she was going to spend her carefully accumulated pocket money on. She had decided that she wasn’t going to get a goldfish, and instead, she was going to get something that I wouldn’t like (she said this with a sideways and then very direct look at me). That child is going to get herself a Barbie, I thought to myself. And she did. Her father had to assist her, taking her down town, and lending her the extra four dollars she needed to buy some clothes (she worked it off in chores), and he did so with my support. She had made an independent decision about what to spend her money on, and we didn’t want to countermand her sense of autonomy.

Over time, the decisions will no doubt become much more difficult, especially when the girls start to develop their own sets of compromises with the world. All I can do is be on hand to talk the issues through with them, if they want to, to point them towards books and articles and blogs and artworks that may help them to work out their ideas, and to reassure them that no one is right all the time, no feminist leads the perfect feminist life, no one person has all the insights and answers needed, or even understands all the questions that can be asked. They may not want to call themselves feminist. And it would be wrong of me to require them to do so.

They are of course, learning feminism. How could they not, living with me, and with their father, and hearing the political and ethical and theoretical discussions we engage in nearly every day. Sometimes extended, sometimes just a brief comment, but there as the constant background of our lives. They’re also absorbing a fair degree of classical history, and science, and literature, ‘though not so much about sports. They already know a fair amount about feminism. But calling themselves feminists is a different matter.

I will just have to wait and see.

Inspired by this post: Conversations about the patriarchy: part 1, and this one: We are all bad feminists, really, and by a conversation with Megan on Twitter t’other day.


For anyone who might be inclined to wonder why I am not raising my sons with a knowledge of feminism… I have only daughters. Although I rejoice greatly in my daughters, this statement is to be read as expressing neither regret nor delight: it is a mere statement of fact. I would have rejoiced in sons too, had we happened to have sons.

4 responses to “Raising feminists

  1. Emma December 30, 2011 at 8:03 pm

    Having parented a boy and a girl very similar in age, I can’t really fathom how people go about raising differently-gendered kids in different ways. They were always both there, doing the same stuff.

    I’d like to say we raised independent thinkers, but we could never have done anything else, particularly with my daughter. She was just born that way. I remember a conversation between my kids that made me particularly proud, when they were about five and six. Rhiana asked why, Kieran said, “Because Grandad said so,” and Rhiana said, “Yes, but WHY?”

    The path for truly independent and original children can occasionally be very difficult and lonely. And you run the risk of them, yes, winding up with an ideology that conflicts with your own. But I simply could not bring myself to indoctrinate my children, even in things I honestly believe are right. If those things are right, my kids will work it out for themselves, given the tools to do so. How to think, not what to think.

    • Deborah December 31, 2011 at 9:05 am

      I can’t really fathom how people go about raising differently-gendered kids in different ways.

      Me either, ‘though I have no experience to draw on there. I do respond differently to each of my children, because they differ from each other. I wonder if some people conflate differences between individual children with differences between gender: i.e. they assume that any difference is a gender difference, rather than just a difference. Of course, you would have to believe that there are essentialist differences between genders in the first place in order to engage in that conflation.

    • Hugh January 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm

      “I’d like to say we raised independent thinkers, but we could never have done anything else,”

      Interesting, would you say that by the flipside there are some kids who are impossible to raise as independent thinkers because it’s just not how they work?

  2. john December 31, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    as the father of two daughters i was always pushing the
    message that girls can do anything. and to that end to help them achieve their potential my wife and i enrolled them at the local girls high school as we had at the time read reports
    of teachers in coed schools dumbing down their lessons to keep the boys interested. the results seem to bear out that
    it was a good decision as they both grew into confident young
    women who are not afraid to put their dad in his place should i
    ever get out of line.

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