Ask Malyshka: How to Raise a Feminist

Ask Malyshka!  Ask Malyshka!  Ask Malyshka!  Send in questions, and I will advise.  Awesome for everybody involved.  In the meantime, here is some more sort-of advice.


“I don’t care if we have a girl or a boy,” I said to everyone who would listen, including myself.  And I didn’t!  As long as it was a girl.  Or a boy!   But really, a girl.

I grew up surrounded by women.  With four sisters and a dad that was often out of town, my poor little brother was awash in a sea of estrogen.  But that was fine by me.  I get girls.  And not in the stereotypical damsel-in-distress-wearing-nail-polish kind of way.  Just the opposite, really ““ the women in my life are strong and independent, with a wide variety of fingernail types.  I’m fine with hanging out with dudes, but I’ve always related better to women.

Which is why, I admit, I was so excited when I found out I was having a girl. I imagined tiny Carhartt pants and a swashbucklin’ attitude, a feisty kid that sneered at gender inequalities and refused to wear makeup as a stand against the man.

I’ve been a mother for almost two years now, and if I’ve learned anything in this time (boy oh boy, have I learned things), it’s that I don’t get to control every detail of everybody’s lives (shocking!).  I can’t make my kid a feminist, any more than the fundamentalist Christian couple I know can force their kid to follow their path. When I heard that a super conservative friend of mine was up the stick, I immediately started rooting for the as-yet-unborn kid to challenge those beliefs someday, to look at the world with clear eyes, to come to her own decisions about right and wrong.  I hoped that the kid wouldn’t just swallow the first ideology that she came across.

And there’s a part of me (the instinctive, selfish part) that thinks, “Fuck that shit, I’m signing my kid up for androgyny lessons.”  But the bigger part has come to understand something more important: it is not my choice who my daughter decides to be.  And it shouldn’t be.

I have a say in what kind of influences she has ““ I try to limit the amount of “this is what beauty is” messages that saturate our society, and treat television advertisements like they are kryptonite (I, of course, am Super(wo)man in this analogy).  According to Freakonomics, who I am is more likely to influence her than what I say, so I try to be a mindful feminist, preach what I think and practice what I preach, and look for opportunities to show her what my worldview is.  She is too young to get into philosophical conversations, but you can be damned sure I will be engaging her in them once she knows more words than “nose” and “poop.”

The thing is ““ she’s not a swashbuckler.  We can’t go past a wall of shoes in a store without her insisting on trying on every pair of high heels (she turns down the flats).  I have to steer clear of the nail polish aisle in the grocery store, because she will spend half an hour cooing over the different colors.  She is timid and shy, not exactly the feisty feminist I pictured when she was more of an idea than a person.

And that is just exactly right.  If I believe that my beliefs are believable, and I do, if I know that my knowledge is true, and it is, then she will come to those conclusions as well.  I became a feminist because I had dabbled in a wide variety of worldviews, and decided that it was the one that made the most sense.  As a mother, I believe that it is my job to expose my daughter to as many types of people and beliefs as possible, even if some of those beliefs run counter to everything that I know.  She may not decide that she wants to be a feminist, but in the end, I am confident that her path will be the one that is right for her, because she will have been given the opportunity to make an informed decision.

(And then, when we talk about it later, I will point out that she got to choose her own path because her mother is a feminist and believes in choices, and trap her into admitting that feminism is right.)

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

7 replies on “Ask Malyshka: How to Raise a Feminist”

I have said this a million times, but I think my mom feels like she failed at raising a proper Gloria Steinem feminist because I am unlikely to keep my last name when I get married. Sorry, mom! I’m still a good feminist in other ways, and I have to say, I think that most of what I learned was by example rather than any Serious Talk about feminism.

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