We explored this topic—in part—because a Bitch reader asked us to look into it. Got a question about feminism and pop culture that you want answered, too? Tell us!
Let’s be clear and honest about the obvious: There’s no one way to parent. More than ever, there are more ways to create healthy relationships within families than ever before. It’s still a laborious battle for rights and equality. We still desperately need more diverse parenting models to show how it is and can be done, but we know that parenting happens in variety of ways with creativity and ideas exchanged in diverse communities and cultures. There’s no perfect parent and there’s no pretending that feminist parenting is any different.
Just as there isn’t only one way to be a feminist, there isn’t just one way to be a feminist parent.
What does that mean to teach your kid body positivity when society teaches them numbers and obesses over size at every age? And how do you go about dismantling white supremacy in midwestern suburbia? Or how about trying to carefully laying out the fundamentals of U.S. American history as a first generation parent of a colonized land? These are just a handful of my questions as I form my constellation for feminist parenting. As much as I could go on and on about the issues, I’m shifting focus. Instead of elaborating on core values that shift with every person’s background and experience, I’m focusing on something else. I’m focusing on what’s often overlooked; two frequently forgotten factors that feminist parents need to remember in order to stay in the game.
Gather Your Village
One helpful critique of western feminists that is useful in feminist parenting is emphasizing community, not rugged individualism. So many parents I know struggle with loneliness and isolation—the limited social exposure, narrowed availability, difficulty connecting with nonparent friends. Add feminist principles that can further marginalize you on the parental spectrum, and you’ll find that it’s essential to form bonds with those who affirm the energy and resources you’re spending on your parenting battles. I once sat in a bakery next to a table full of parents whose kids identified as transgender boys and transgender girls in middle school. The conversation wasn’t about methods, strategies, and theories. They came together over coffee and baked goods to share stories and laugh about the latest mishap or share in the most recent achievement. They came for sustenance; they came for community.
I’ve found that intersectional feminist parenting is often about cultivating space and community to strengthen the ability to face the overwhelming choices (micro and macro) that exist at every level of parenting. The times where I’ve tried to go it alone have led me to the same doubt-filled place with second guesses and spiraling frustration. Find your people. Gather your village. Imagine a community of diverse folks who aren’t focused on giving you answers, but sharing in dissipating anxiety. Imagine the feminist village invested in conversation, not keeping up.
Acknowledge Good Grief
There is one difference I notice as a feminist parent that’s different from other parents: We grieve differently.
Feminism handed me an arsenal of weapons for me to survive in the world. The knowledge and perspective yielded from years of resisting and learning helped me tremendously when I first entered the jungle of parenthood. It also gave me a greater sensitivity because my periphery of oppression expanded.
The clearer I was on what freedom could look like, the more grief I experienced because I could also recognize the chains. I grieve. I feel those assumptions of heteronormativity in the playground and wonder if my assurance is enough to convince my kids to be themselves in the world. When I hear the fear in “STOP CRYING!” command to a little boy or witness the bully get bullied, I grieve. Sometimes my grief is anger, sometimes its quiet, sometimes it’s writing furiously late at night. Feminist parenting means recognizing the interlocking forms of oppression and patterns and griving the spillage onto the next generation and watching it take shape for the next phase.
Grief is real. It’s a tool and keeps things simple; it keeps me accountable. Grief helps me understand my role and capabilities as a parent and enables me to push back against “it takes a village to raise a child,” and, instead, remind folks, “it takes a village to change the village that raises a child.”
So when the village begins its transformation, can the revolution be far behind?