Ophelia Galloway, 5, of Mesa, stands by her mother, Kathryn Galloway, and brother, Oliver Galloway, 7, during an equal rights march at the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, on January 21, 2017.(Photo: David Wallace, The Arizona Republic)
Many parents tell their children that when they grow up, they can be anything they want. For that to be true, experts say, we must raise them as feminists. Teaching kids feminism means emphasizing everyone deserves equal respect and equal opportunities.
USA TODAY spoke with Kimberly Churches, the CEO of the American Association of University Women, a non-profit organization that advances equality for women and girls, and Ted Bunch, chief development officer of A Call to Men, a violence prevention organization that focuses on reframing the definition of manhood, to get their tips on how to raise the next generation of feminists in a post-#MeToo era.
By Alia E. Dastagir – March 5, 2018
1: Fight stereotypes — including your own
We all have unconscious gender biases. These are the things we’ve internalized — like seeing a woman in scrubs and thinking she’s a nurse rather than a surgeon, or assuming that girls cry more easily and boys are more aggressive.
“We can’t allow our boys or our girls to grow and change if we don’t first examine our own stereotypical thinking,” Churches said.
Such biases were given to us by parents, teachers and mentors, and were reinforced by media and society at large. Bunch says dads who tell their boys not to cry, for example, likely had fathers who didn’t openly display emotion.
“It’s passed down from generation to generation,” he said.
Gender stereotypes become entrenched in adolescence and are proven to have negative impacts that carry into adulthood. Because they take hold early in life, it’s important to be mindful of them.
“It’s kind of like the hum of the refrigerator — you never notice it until you think about it,” Bunch said.
2: Show kids how it’s done
If you want to raise feminist children, be a feminist parent. If you have a partner, make sure your relationship shows equity and mutual respect.
We must show kids what “healthy relationships look like,” Churches said.
At home, avoid adhering to traditional gender roles. If mom never changes a lightbulb and dad never helps clean, that sends message to kids about roles for men and women. Try to divide chores and activities in your family in an unbiased way. Of course, if dad hates cooking and mom loves it, there’s nothing wrong with her taking on meals. Just like there’s nothing wrong with your daughter saying she’d rather mow the lawn than wash the dishes.
3: Encourage friendships between boys and girls
Opposite-sex friendships are normal and healthy. When girls only play with other girls and boys only play with other boys, it reinforces gender stereotypes.
“I remember when my daughter started kindergarten in a new school, the moms came to me and said ‘Lets get all the girls together.’ And I resisted that, and I then hosted my own playdates with boys and girls, so I could let my child figure out who she wanted to play with,” Churches said.
If your daughter is having a birthday party, make sure the boys in her class get invites, too, experts advise. Explore co-ed activities. And if a girl and a boy do develop a friendship, definitely don’t call them “boyfriend and girlfriend.” Boys and girls need to understand they can interact in friendly ways that are strictly platonic.
4: Talk about consent
If your child says he or she doesn’t want to give a family member a hug, respect that. Talk openly about boundaries, and how words are used to enforce them.
“[It’s] important for us to be teaching our boys and our girls the power of words … to ensure safety,” Churches said.
The Girl Scouts of the USA are warning parents to not force their children to hug relatives during the holidays. The article is titled “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.” Buzz60
As children grow into adolescents, it’s important to emphasize to young men especially that sex is not about “the conquest,” Bunch said.
In a Harvard survey, 76% of young people said they’d never had a conversation with their parents about how to avoid sexually harassing others, and a majority had never talked with their parents about misogyny. More than 60% said they had never spoken with their parents about “being sure your partner wants to have sex and is comfortable doing so before having sex,” while 57% said they’d never talked about the “importance of not having sex with someone who is too intoxicated or impaired to make a decision about sex.”
5: Pay attention to what happens outside your home
Look closely at the messages your child is getting when he or she isn’t at home, especially at school, Churches said.
“Very frequently when our P-12 schools are teaching American history it becomes all about the founding fathers, and you don’t see replicated photos of the women who helped to pave the way,” she said.
Make sure schools are teaching holistically about men and women leaders, Churches said, and about “who can be our heroes and heroines today.”
6: Follow your child’s lead
Don’t make assumptions about what your child likes based on gender. Let them show you. Your daughter may prefer her blocks over her Barbies, and your son may gravitate toward more nurturing toys. Just last month, popular doll line American Girl introduced its first boy.