When it comes to feminism, parents don't always get it. Parents can say anti-feminist things, even if they aren't aware of it; what's more, sometimes these comments are so subtle it may not even seem like they're anti-feminist in the first place. Though this can be frustrating at times, our parents are as deeply rooted in their upbringing and beliefs as we are in ours, and views on so many issues — female empowerment, gender and gender identities, sexuality, race, you name it — have changed and progressed so much since they were younger. Still, though, as much as we've undergone an enormous amount of change in our society in recent decades, there's still much further to go — and these subtly anti-feminist comments are often indicative of what we have left toaccomplish.
Despite the fact that I understand the differences in the world I've grown up in versus the one my parents did,I've gotten into many verbal battles with my dad for problematic and sexist things he has said. On one occasion, he made a remark about a girl walking down the street who was wearing shorts which implied that she was likely to raise her children poorly if she continued to dress like that. Incensed, I called him a sexist pig and didn't speak to him for a week — but to him, his comment didn't seem to be problematic in any way.
Of course, I misstepped here, too; my reaction prevented there from being any further discussion around the comment, which meant that neither one of us heard the other's point of view. So if you ever hear these five anti-feminist comments from your parents, learn from my mistake: It's worth opening up the conversation, both so that you can understand where they're coming from and so that they can hear from you why the comments are so problematic. It's not an easy conversation to have, but it's an incredibly necessary one — and it might lend itself to some new ways to talk and think about gender and sex.
1. "Well, You Know — Boys Will Be Boys."
To justify boys' behavior, sometimes parents will use the age-old, extremely problematic statement, "Boys will be boys." This justification says that simply being male excuses men and boys for a huge variety of actions which, in reality, aren't ever OK: Touching people without their consent, name-calling and harassment, violence, and more. Rather than holding them responsible for their actions, chalking it up to "boys will be boys" shifts the blame, saying that they can't be held responsible — that that's just how boys are (which, of course, is patently untrue; we're all responsible for our own actions, whether we're boys or not). You'll notice, too, that there's no equivalent "girls will be girls" statement; indeed, we're often even blamed for the actions of boys with phrases like, "You were asking for it."
2. "You're Not Leaving The House Wearing That."
Though parents think they can decide what is appropriate or inappropriate to put on our bodies, policing children's clothing choices is inherently anti-feminist. If parents shame their daughters for wearing revealing clothing, the implication is that revealing clothing makes someone somehow "lesser"; meanwhile, if they shame their sons for wearing non-masculine clothing, it reinforces the idea that masculinity is somehow superior. In both cases, it also assigns gender a dress code, reinforcing rigid gender norms in the process.
3. "You're Not Allowed To Date; Your Father Should Be The Only Man In Your Life."
Of course, some restrictions on dating are understandable; making sure your kids aren't getting in over their heads and are prepared for dating is part of good parenting. But when you're prevented from dating other men in particular because "your father should be the only man in your life," things can get a little sexist. Trying to maintain the role of the only male figure in your life is yet another form of body policing, and the trope of the overprotective father can reinforce rape culture in some major ways.
Furthermore, this behavior would likely not occur if the child in question were a straight straight son. Indeed, in this case, the father might even encourage him to "play the field." Similarly to the faulty logic of "boys will be boys," the double standard strikes again.
4. "Why Can't You Be More Ladylike?"
Telling a female-presenting person to "be more ladylike" dictates following traditional ideas of femininity. Of course there's nothing wrong with being feminine, just as there's nothing wrong with not being feminine — but by lamenting that a child doesn't align with our culture's standard idea of femininity, this statement implies that being feminine is the only option. But hey, guess what? You don't have to cross your legs, wear a skirt, love to cook, or obey your husband to be ladylike, even though that's what traditional gender norms may say.
5. "You'll Never Find A Man Because..."
Another statement that's typically used against women who don't ascribe to society's female ideal, this one is often trotted out by parents who "just want you to find a nice boy and settle down." But not all women want to get married, or even date men; furthermore, possessing traits that aren't entirely feminine in a a traditional sense doesn't change a woman's worth, render her unattractive, or make her undeserving of love or affection. And lastly, women can — and do, and should — exist outside of male approval. We're more than just who we attract — all of us.