We'd like to think that sexism only comes from those with bad intent. But sometimes, it comes from the people who love and support us most: our parents. Because sexist beliefs get drilled into the best of us throughout our lives, there are many anti-feminist things we tell our daughters without even realizing it. Being a feminist parent means saying encouraging, empowering things to your daughters, but it also means examining the discouraging, disempowering things you might already be saying.
Before getting into the anti-feminist things we have to stop telling our daughters, it's worthwhile to look at what we can say instead. Girls — and all kids, really — could benefit from hearing that everything they do with their bodies is up to them, from what they wear to whom they hug. We can tell them, no matter what they look like, that their looks are not the most important thing about them — and let them know what else we value in them. We can let them know that the gender and sexual orientation they identify with are totally up to them, and we'll believe them no matter how they identify.
On the flip side, here are some things we should avoid telling our daughters if we want them to grow up to be self-confident, socially conscious feminists.
1"This Is What Girls Do"
We don't need to enforce rules for dress or behavior that are based on arbitrary gender norms. If our daughters want to wear dresses or play with dolls, that's fine, but the choice is completely up to them.
2"Girls Can Get So Catty"
When I was bullied as a kid, my parents comforted me by telling me "girls can get so catty" — in other words, it wasn't me, it was them. But since I identified as a girl, this comment did have implications about me. Something more neutral like "people can be so cruel" could help us avoid stereotyping like this.
3"Girls Are So Much Better"
On the flip side, I also heard things like “girls are neater” and “girls are more mature.” These are seemingly more positively, but they’re also an example of benevolent sexism — prizing women for their "feminine" qualities. Statements like these impose disproportionately high expectations on women and encourage stereotypes.
4"You're A Woman Now"
Getting your period, getting your first bra, and other things that sometimes lead parents to say, "You're a woman now," don't actually make you a woman. It's not our bodies but our personal preferences that determine our gender identity, and there's no event that suddenly makes you an adult.
5"Boys Only Want One Thing"
It's understandable that parents would warn girls about sexual violence given how common it is, but implying that boys or men have a natural, universal tendency to objectify women normalizes objectification. When I was a teenager, a therapist warned me that boys my age looked at girls "like walking body parts," which made me feel like a walking body part. Instead, what if we were taught to look out for signs that we're being sexually mistreated and expect better from our partners? What a difference that would make!
6"You're Wearing That?"
It's none of our business what other people are wearing. Our kids' style is totally up to them, and though it may seem like a superficial, unimportant decision, validating someone's choice of clothing also validates their ability to trust their intuition and celebrate their taste. Telling someone not to wear something because it looks too revealing is extra problematic, since it implies that it's a girl's responsibility not to get harassed.
7"When You Get Married And Have Kids..."
Parents often plan ahead for the day they walk their daughters down the aisle or become grandparents, but saying things like this implies that you get to determine your daughter's life path. Decisions as huge as marriage or children should be completely left to us, and we deserve our parents' support no matter what choices we make.