When you are a feminist who becomes a parent, you become accustomed to the questions about how feminism informs your parenting — or conflicts with it. In other words, you get a lot of questions about parenting habits that don't seem feminist, but are. So while it should go without saying that it's really nobody's business how you choose to parent your own child, the reality of the matter is people have a lot of opinions ... especially so, it seems, in regards to feminists.
When some people hear the word "feminist," a subset of ideas spring to mind, many of which are rooted in stereotypes: Think bra burning and The Feminine Mystique. But although there's nothing wrong with having some or all of the characteristics that are often ascribed to those stereotypical images, the truth is that feminism comes in many forms. It doesn't look the same for everyone, nor should it have to — and it definitely doesn't need to look like the feminist trope our patriarchal society so loves to perpetuate.
As with most aspects of a feminist's life, there are a lot of things people will tell you aren't "feminist." And since people can't seem to stop telling people how to parent their children, you get a double-dose of unsolicited opinions when you're a feminist parent. Just remember, despite what others may tell you, these habits of parenting that don't seem feminist actually are.
1. Reading Fairy Tales
I know, y'all. I know. Many fairy tales feature one-dimensional princesses who only serve as the object of someone's desire or whose only hope seems to be to get married and live in a castle. There are a few counterpoints to the argument against fairy tales, though — the first of which is that there is more than one way to interpret a story. What your child may be hearing is the story of a girl who climbed out of the box society tried to put her in and became something transcendent. At the core of feminism is the belief that women should have equal rights and opportunities as men, and the ability to choose to do what's best for them. So if a little boy can aspire to rule a country, why can't a little girl? Reading our children fairy tales can encourage them to envision themselves as people of presence and power.
2. Having Playdates
What's so special about playdates, you ask? After all, they seem like a relatively standard part of the whole parenting gig, right? Well, the reason having playdates is feminist is because — while, sure, it is about your child fostering friendships — it is largely a celebration of parenting and supporting each other's life choices. You can be a feminist and a parent, and one of the most empowering affirmations of this is by leaning on other parents who are walking the same path as you and in lifting them up, too.
3. Telling Your Daughter She Is Beautiful
For that matter, tell your son he is beautiful, too. And tell your gender non-conforming kids. Tell all your children they're beautiful. Should you also tell your daughter that she is smart and funny and strong? Absolutely. But telling her that she is beautiful doesn't make you a bad feminist. After all, there are many different ways to qualify beauty — many of which have nothing to do with physicality. Anytime you can empower your daughter and foster her sense of self-worth, that's model feminist behavior in action. And sharing this sense of self-worth with all children, no matter how they identify, just amplifies the message.
4. Deferring To "Daddy"
Don't worry — you aren't going to lose your feminist card if you're a mother and your child's father takes on primary caregiving. In fact, that's kind of the point of feminism, right? The two of you should be on equal footing, rather than parenting being seen solely as the "woman's job." Both parents being active participants in children's lives is a marker of social equality. By the textbook definition of feminism, this is a win.
5. Losing Your Cool
A little. Occasionally. Of course I'm not suggesting that you should actively try to lose your cool or that you should flip out over inconsequential things. What I'm saying is that it happens to parents, and it's kind of a cool feminist thing for your kid to see, particularly if you're a woman. Why? Because society often expects women (and not men) to be perfect and to be inherently patient maternal beings. In actuality, parenting is tough stuff and it can get messy. It's OK if Mommy gets a little frazzled sometimes and her kids see that, because it shatters the social construct of perfection expected of women. It teachers them that to err is be human, and there's nothing wrong with that.