Even if new parents have strong feminist principles, raising a child can be a minefield. When it comes to toys, books and stock phrases, the closer you look, the more intrinsically gendered things seem.
This can be potentially damaging to young girls, sending implicit messages that they’re different to the boys and should stick to more ‘feminine’ interests like cooking instead of football.
So what are some of the things parents can do to instil values of gender equality from an early age?
Much of the stories children read and the movies they watch subscribe to gender stereotypes – just think of the classic fairy tales, where the story tends to be about a prince charging to the rescue of a helpless princess. However, these narratives can set a damaging standard for children early on and reduce them to stifling, rigid gender roles.
Many girls don’t see strong, independent women in the books they read and on TV, so it’s important that parents expose their daughter to tales which show the full potential she can reach. This could be something like reading Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo, an inspiring book which will teach her about some great women in history and what they’ve achieved.
It’s not like you need to hunt down specifically ‘feminist’ books or movies – old favourites like Matilda by Roald Dahl or His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman have brave, independent girls at their centre. This shows women they don’t have to be reduced to a damsel in distress, as is so often the impression given in fairy tales, but rather that they can do anything they set their minds to.
"A girl should be two things: who and what she wants." -- Coco Chanel 👑 pic.twitter.com/nYUslIKhIp— Girl Up (@GirlUp) October 16, 2019
Any parent will be well aware of how gendered the world of children’s toys is – pretty pink Barbies are marketed towards girls, and boys are expected to want to play with ‘manly’ things like miniature trucks or robots.
However, new parents can start their daughter on feminism young by letting her play with whatever she wants, regardless of the gender toy companies ‘intended’ it for.
Of course, we’re not saying the you should ban all dolls from the house – instead, try to give your daughter a choice of a wide range of toys and games, and be totally fine with whatever she opts for.
A lot of throwaway phrases we use in our day-to-day lives are actually insidiously sexist, and only serve to reinforce society’s damaging gender roles.
Parents should discourage their daughter from using phrases like ‘man up’ or ‘throw like a girl’. They might seem harmless, but they’re teaching children from a young age that boys shouldn’t show emotion and girls can’t do physical things.
It’s about changing the narrative to make a young girl realise anything is possible. The phrase “throwing like a girl” should have powerful connotations, rather than be associated with weakness. Who knows how many girls have been discouraged from sports – and therefore hate PE at school or have a difficult relationship with fitness later in life – because of all the subliminal messages they’ve taken in growing up?
Me: I’m going to teach my daughter she can do anything, gender roles are a social construction, and her life isn’t defined narrowly by her connections to men.
<opens picture book about farms> pic.twitter.com/v47FdEYjgs— Thomas J. Leeper (@thosjleeper) October 19, 2019
Children soak up what’s around them like sponges, so it’s important to lead by example. Instead of playing up to proscribed gender roles – like dad taking out the bins or doing the gardening, while mum cleans and does laundry – parents can show that any gender can do any task.
Teaching your daughter to be able to do so-called ‘blue jobs’ like DIY – as well as more traditionally ‘female’ jobs like cooking – will demonstrate there’s no such thing as a girl or boy task. And who knows; maybe your daughter will find a new, unexpected passion she might not otherwise have discovered.
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“If things are wrong and there is a lack of justice, and there is an inequality, then someone needs to say something.” — The Duchess of Sussex has become Vice-President of The @Queens_Commonwealth_Trust, of which Her Majesty The Queen is Patron, and The Duke of Sussex is President. In her new role, The Duchess will highlight the Trust's partnerships with young people across the Commonwealth, and in particular its work supporting women and girls. In celebration of International Women’s Day, Her Royal Highness joined a special panel discussion of female thought-leaders and activists convened by The Queen’s Commonwealth Trust, to discuss a range of issues affecting women today. #InternationalWomensDay #IWD2019 #QCT #QCTxIWD
As the so-called ‘fairer sex’, women are historically discouraged from speaking out – but you could try show your daughter from an early age that not only should she be able to speak her mind whenever she wants, but it’s also necessary to do so when she sees something wrong.
It’s about having the confidence speak up if she comes across something which goes against the feminist values she’s been raised with. This doesn’t have to always mean grand gestures for the global good, but small things can be just as powerful – for example, if boys in the playground are saying misogynistic things.