Four months ago, I started hosting Feminist Snack Break, Bitch Media’s weekly Facebook Live show about feminist current events, pop culture, and snacks. When the show’s schedule overlapped with a trip I was taking to spend time with my parents, I gleefully grabbed the opportunity to chat with them about raising a feminist daughter—on live television, of course.
I never had a period of teen rebellion against my parents’ uncool and problematic politics. Not because I was a goody-two-shoes or because my parents are perfect, but because I was raised by two people who identify as feminists, and they taught me from an early age that we should all be feminists. Though there were funny misses (in an attempt to disrupt the capitalist system, I wasn’t allowed to have toys that I saw on commercials, ever!), I know that so much of who I am and the things I value came from my parents making intentional choices to instill confidence, creativity, and curiosity in me. Here are a few things I learned:
1. Find gender-neutral toys by looking outside the box.
Gender-neutral toys can be hard to find at big-box stores where the aisles are clearly divided between pink dolls and blue trucks, but school-supply stores are full of them. Toys like play food, stuffed animals and dinosaur figurines, chemistry sets, and wooden airplanes let children play and act out all kinds of scenes without forcing them into gender roles. Art-supply stores have easels, paint, and modeling clay for all, and museum stores always have a children’s section that is usually gender-neutral, too.
2. Teach bodily autonomy, and practice it, too.
Telling a child that they can say no to affection that they don’t want, even if it’s from a grandparent or parent, goes a long way in teaching kids about their own bodily autonomy. So does asking a child if they’d like a hug or a kiss instead of just planting one on them. Teach children that their bodies are their own and are not to be touched without permission. Once a child understands that they own their body, they can easily understand the same about the bodies of their peers and friends: No one likes to be touched in a way that they don’t like. Making sure a boy knows that just as no one has the right to touch him in a way that he doesn’t like, he also doesn’t have the right to touch anyone else in a way that they don’t like is really important because rape culture - from pop songs to the president - will be telling him that he can touch girls in whatever way he wants.
3. Ask questions and give space for a child’s opinions.
Encouraging children to share their opinions about the culture they consume or the items in their world (like letting them pick their outfits or their favorite fruit or veggie) demonstrates to a child that their perspective matters and sets the precedent that their opinions should and will be valued by the people who care about them.
Hungry for more? Watch me talk to my parents about feminism, pop culture, and Barbies below!