Friday, September 12, 2008

Feminist Parenting: Parenting My Way

(Note to readers: Today, as part of what has become a regular feature on feminist parenting, we are honored to have as a guest blogger Kandee of Lots of Thinking. These are her words...)

What's the quickest way to emasculate my little boys? Apparently, it's to teach them that they're equal to girls. Nothing says loss of manhood like being equal to women. And oh, they don't have to be rough (also emasculating). Gotta love family and their unsolicited parenting advice.

Back in the day, I would have never guessed that I would be called a feminist. But from the first 'accusation', I've taken on that label with pride. So naturally I am raising my children according to my values of gender equality. Who would have thought it was such an uphill battle? Certainly not me. I was very naïve. I heard the principles of equality spread across all parts of my life like a slogan. From tv, school, work, and even my family. But what came as a surprise to me was that, similar to race, people were just paying lip service to equality. They were being politically correct. They didn't actually believe that.

And it's not only gender equality that I'm trying to reach. My parenting style is also an effort to move (my family) away from masculinity as a form of power over women. We learned that femininity was weaker. We learned that a rightful place for a man is to lead, to be aggressive, and to be strong. So what does that say for the bulk of men that will never be the ideal? That will never be physically big, mentally strong, or emotionally tough? They feel a sense of inadequacy that can easily turn into aggression, bravado, and posturing. Well, I don't want that for my boys.

Now I've had to incorporate other people's gendered views into the lessons I teach my sons. I have to watch all their tv shows, spending half the time pausing the tv to have an impromptu lesson on gender equality, which doesn't always go over well for a 6 and 4 year old. But it pays off when I'm standing in the kitchen and I hear one of them say "hey, they're not suppose say that" or "that's wrong" when it comes to MSM's understanding of masculinity and femininity.

The language I use, the toys I buy, the television shows we watch - they are all filtered through the principle of equality. Mind you, we still have Spider-man in the house, but we discuss, engage, participate with our children in hopes that they will see and hear the hetero-normative masculine-leaning sexist practices in our culture and how problematic they are.

So far, it seems to be working. Our children have become critical thinkers, they are media literate, and most importantly, they are becoming conscious of the subtle messages sent in our culture about who they are and how false that might be. The discussions force them to continue thinking about these messages through critical lenses. I can't afford to leave the gate wide open and allow others to form their opinions for them. Especially while they're so young.

Even with all of that, parenting my way is not an option I thought I would have to aggressively pursue. There's a complexity to parenting that you are rarely warned about before you have kids. Everyone tries to parent along with you, and while there are advantages to community parenting, it usually comes up after you have kids that the family you are in may not support your parenting style, especially if you're a feminist. No, I don't want your help with toughening up my boys. They're fine just as they are. If anything, my middle one needs to calm down a bit. But the fear is that I'm not preparing them for real life. Well, when they start allowing fist fights at board meetings for managers who disagree, you let me know and I'll certainly try to toughen them up then.

(Crossposted at Lots of Thinking)


natalie said...

Well, when they start allowing fist fights at board meetings for managers who disagree, you let me know and I'll certainly try to toughen them up then.

This points to something I've always felt was true - that we base our expectations of what boys/men need to be and what girls/women need to be as much on stereotypes and movies as on reality. Do boys really need to be hardened fighters who only know how to react to their emotions and surroundings violently? Because it seems like most fighting and violent outburst are actually illegal...

We do boys and girls a real disservice when we try to make them conform to gender stereotypes too closely. Not every man should be John Wayne.

Erica said...

This is great to see. I've always appreciated feminism's permission for women to be single and childless but at the same time, its probably feminists who need to be parents the most.

But im just curious--have you experienced any of your children behaving in "traditional" gender roles despite your teaching otherwise? For instance, i know of many feminist mothers who encourage their sons to play with dolls and their daughters to play with G.I Joes and it turns out that their sons only WANT to play with G.I Joes and their daughters only with dolls. In some cases, children often REBEL against feminist teachings, which is really unfortunate.

But i always wonder how and if you keep tabs on that kind of thing, or if you focus, rather, on larger, more important areas of gender equality with your children.

Great post! Itd be a pleasure if you could visit mine and share your thoughts.

Cana said...

I think that parents' value has the biggest impact on parenting.

DJ Dual Core said...

Thank you for mentioning that many men, even if they believe in the John Wayne standard, not only don't live up to it but can't. In this regard, teaching our sons another way to think about who they are may give them a better shot at happiness.

Likewise, since I was very young, I've hated the saying "boys will be boys." Nobody ever said it unless one of us was doing something bad.

Kandee said...

Erica - yes, I still do experience my kids behaving in some traditional gender roles with their gender toys but as you've said the focus is on the larger issues of gender equality. The most important thing for them to walk away with is confidence in themselves as who they authentically are and to not be crushed by the gendered prescriptions they can't fill.

Richard said...

Gender is a spectrum and one's behavior is only roughly corelated--absent external re-inforcers--with what's between ones legs.

Teaching children to be respectful of others' personhood and pointing out such disrespect when encountered is a fair defense against anti-humanist sexism and other isms.

The trap comes when the penis-bearer discovers that there's an existing power structure ready, willing and able to grant him priviledge because of what's between his legs if only he conform, reinforce and become complicit in gender-stereotyping.

How to avoid the trap? Thankfully parents like you are pointing it out, showing your children that there's a better way, that equality doesn't mean "less for me" but "more for all". In raising your children to be disgusted with inequality they'll be able to better resist its succor.