Pondering feminism.

I’ve been pondering feminism for a while. I’m not sure I’m allowed to be a feminist any more, from what I’ve been reading, what with being sort of middle class, and well educated and white and all. And yet my understanding is that if I *am* in a privileged position (which I’m not sure anyone else gets to judge to be honest) surely I should be challenging from within?

But anyway. What I wanted to talk about was raising feminist children. Particularly boys. I would like to think that my attitude that we should be fair to everyone regardless of creed and the colour and the class and the gender (which weren’t in the hymn and should have been in my mind (turns out you can take the girl out of the church, but it’s hard to completely take the church out of the woman)) would rub off on my boys mainly through example. But fairly recently it became apparent that isn’t the case. Small, in particular given that Tigerboy is a bit young to take up any position, is very much not a feminist. He thinks it is grossly unfair that girls get all the best parts in movies, get to have all the neat powers, and he doesn’t want to watch anything like that ever again.

I did wonder if we were watching different films :/ The one in particular that sparked him off was a completely forgettable kid flick about some teddy bear from the future that had been sent back to collect antibodies against a disease and in doing so, gave the two children who found it special powers. In this very limited case, the girl became more powerful. I couldn’t think of any other superhero movie except possibly Electra which we haven’t actually seen, where the woman gets to be the lead character. But at least him stating his viewpoint made me realise that I need to do more than be an example.

I actually need to coach him through this. I need to discuss the things around us, highlight inequalities, be scrupulous in not expecting Big to just help me domestically because she is older and more capable and make sure that he learns to do things too or he will assume that she is doing it because she is a girl, and he is not because he’s a boy.

I’d never thought it through that way before. It’s entirely possible that Small is an extreme case, but I do wonder, other parents of boys, do you know what your boys really think about all this stuff? Because I’ve always wondered why so much of this persists, this anti women attitude, this #justthewomen throw away phrase, when women do so much of the child rearing. Surely we should be gently leading our boys to be better, to think more carefully, to play their parts, to respect women?

Why isn’t it that easy? Because I’m discovering it really isn’t.

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  1. I will be very interested to see responses to this, because we are facing similar with T (who is 3 at the moment). I read that 3 is the age that children usually start trying to ‘categorise’ things by gender, and it’s certainly holding true here. He isn’t really making statements about what girls/ boys can do, but he’s asking a lot of questions like ‘would it be okay for a boy to wear this?’ ‘Could a lady do this job?’ ‘Could a girl play with this toy?’ etc so he is obviously getting an awareness from somewhere that there are expectations of difference.
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    • nursery? Or TV? Things like Mike the Knight make me want to scream – but do also provide excellent jumping off points for discussion about it all.

  2. A bit disjointed, but here goes:

    I think that teaching respect ends up with a kid learning parentally accepted social norms, and respect is something else. Respect is something that must be earned – if it is not then it is something other than respect.

    Has small seen Avengers? The single female hero has had her (Captain America like) powers removed in the film version, and this from Joss Whedon. She gets human special agent abilities, a gun, and brains.

    Our robotics teacher is female, and Pakistani to boot. I don’t make anything of it with our boys, but I think it’s cool, and I respect her for doing it.

    We have, however discussed pmt, and differing pay for men and women. And FGM. Why isn’t that the main shouting point for British feminists?
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  3. When our kids were little we stuck mainly with trying to be fair and we pointed out arbitrary gender divisions. Now our son is older I also make sure he hears news stories and so on. It’s a bit different to having a teenage daughter who would identify as a feminist herself, but a lot of it is the same, just raising awareness and so on. I’m sure son will be in positions where he is silent in the face of prejudice but I can only hope he will work stuff out for himself. I think there’s a lot to be said for knowing people who break gender ‘rules’and I realise that’s possibly easier in this city than most.

  4. chrisotherwise says:

    One of the biggest yet most obscure problems you face is that society subconsciously considers women to have a lower status to men. And most of the “feminist” actions that we take reinforce this attitude.

    Does your daughter want to join the army, wear trousers to school when only skirts are allowed, play football, or do some other “traditionally boy” activity? Then more power to her! But *subconsciously*, we’re cheering her on because by doing such boy-things, she’s raising her status in society to that of a boy. We even have a name for it – a “tomboy”, and it’s a name that we’re proud to give.

    Conversely, if your son wants to play with dolls, wear pink sparkly shoes, or be a ballet dancer then he becomes an object of ridicule. He’s lowering his status to that of a girl – and who in their right mind would want to lower their status? We have a name for that too and it’s not complimentary.

    This idea of “status” is inbuilt to all of us – possibly coming from our religious heritage. Even the most ardent feminist won’t deny that a man in a pink dress looks stupid. But a woman in a tuxedo looks “elegant” or “daring”. We can’t help but think that way.

    So if you really want equality, don’t just teach your daughters to like and respect “boy things”, but teach your sons to like respect “girl things” too. And that’s a lot harder because society won’t understand what you’re doing and will fight you all the way.

  5. Erm, I’ve seen some men looking spectacular in pink dresses…

  6. Erm.. what Chris says.

    Actually it’s a huge issue and I’m really interested to see if being home educated makes a difference. Clearly not much.

    I had presumed that my boys collected their careless sexism at school or nursery, but it’s obviously elsewhere too. I suppose it’s on the tv – especially adverts – and in conversations they overhear.
    My boys have all expressed sexist attitude at various times and I am exhaustingly relentless about it. Not one comment is allowed to go by. I think it’s the only way.

    Only today my eldest was getting to observe a heart dissection in biology at school. He told me that the girls were all going to scream and faint. We discussed it and he agreed that actually there was no reason why girls should be more squeamish than boys. In our conversation I couldn’t account for why two girls opted out of lesson (or why they were allowed to) because they didn’t want to see it and why no boys did.

    I also think that sexist women don’t help either – all those mums who tut and say ‘boys will be boys’ must stop it now.

    I wish I knew what the answer is but it isn’t easy, and it isn’t much fun.

  7. just to chime in – I agree whole heartedly that sexism isn’t just ‘picked up at school’. I think there’s a dangerous temptation to be superior about home education, and about home educated children – there are very prevalent myths that home education children don’t bully, won’t get head lice and don’t pick up sexist attitudes.

    After we’d been home educating a few months, we all got head lice, several of them were bullied by other children in the home ed group and wig in particular was teased in a very unpleasant and sexist way by another home educated boy because he (Wig) liked to wear navy blue or khaki green nail varnish to match his various tshirts.

    I dislike prejudice, sweeping statements or unthinking stereotypes of any kind, whether they be about gender roles, colour, country, religion – whatever. I try to make a point of politely challenging any kind of statement or language like that, whoever comes up with it. We often identify and then discuss sexiest attitudes towards both men and women – yes, sexism against men tends to be less frequent and less blatant and therefore be less noticed, but it should and must be challenged the same as any other kind of prejudice imo.

  8. I woul love to know what he is watching as I have only ever seen films/ books/ fairy tales where the guys have the best parts and I am desperate to find more brave , leading characters for Ramona to witness!

    Am planning on seeing Brave, which is apparently really good for it, but it is a shame it has been pointed out as being remarkable.

    I can’t help at all, apart from to agree with you about coaching him through and being an example. Once he is old enough you’ll be able to talk through statistics and then he will get it I am sure!
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  9. PS I have LITERALLY just been editing some of Ramona’s books so that the girls we read about aren’t just getting married off!
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  10. oh that reminds me, must blog about the book Roo got absorbed in recently! (broke all the ‘boys wont read that’ rules)
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  11. Great post, thanks for linking it up to Britmums carnival. I think so long as we show our children we are all equal regardless of sex then it shouldn’t be an issue. Of course, TV shows, magazines etc don’t help much but I do believe it’s about how you deal with it that will make the most impact.

  12. With 5 boys and 1 girl I can safely say that despite much talk from the boys as to what is and isn’t “women’s work” in reality it is just talk and the boys actually help me more than my daughter who is an expert in disappearing whenever there is washing up or clearing the house to be done!

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