My parents taught my siblings and I to respect others, to include everyone and move through life with compassion in every sense of the word. It wasn’t a particular conversation where my sister, brother, and I sat down and were lectured at length about what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong.’ Instead we were the recipients of parents who showed us what equality looks like through their own actions.
I now chase after a 15-month-old climber boy and I battle light sabers with my four year old son. Now that I’m a mom, it’s important for me, especially in this political and social climate, to educate my own children through my own actions and words. To me, women’s rights, feminism, and equality go hand in hand and it starts with parents educating children as early as possible. I don’t tell my son he isn’t allowed to play with dolls just like I wouldn’t tell my daughter (if I had one) she wasn’t allowed to play with cars or trucks. We live in a society where boys aren’t encouraged to play with dolls and girls are systematically discouraged from becoming engineers. That is not equality.
So, how do you have a conversation with a four-year-old who is obsessed with Legos and Skylanders about feminism?
It’s easier than you think.
Use language they can understand.
Age-appropriate language is critical when I want my kids to talk with me about an issue like women’s rights and feminism. The last thing I want is for the child to become bored. Confused is okay, but bored is bad. I like to tell my four-year-old that girls aren’t just pretty, they’re also smart and brave. It’s important to me that he hears me say those words to girls like his two-year-old cousin as well as my own friends who are women.
In the same light, I don’t think it would be age appropriate to have a conversation about women’s reproductive rights, but he will sit on my lap and watch a live stream of the Women’s March on Washington. While we watched we had a conversation about what all of the men and women were doing and why it was important for their voices and opinions to be heard.
When I was six or seven years old my mom enrolled my sister and I in swim lessons. While she waited for us to be done she would hang out with my little brother in the hot tub. One day a woman and her partner were having a soak when my brother asked my mom, “why does she have hair under there” pointing to the woman’s unshaven armpit. My mother was slightly mortified but also took the opportunity to tell him that not all women choose to shave their underarms. There was slightly more confusion, but instead of forcing him to drop it she had the age-appropriate conversation.
Respecting the opinions, choices, and lifestyles of everyone, including women is a conversation you can have at any age. I don’t expect my one-year-old to fully understand a conversation on equality. I do know for a fact if I show him how it looks and feels when he touches me or anyone else in a gentle way instead of biting or pulling hair he eventually will understand. Teaching your child to treat his or her friends nicely is a lesson in respect and the same can be applied to conversations on equality and respect.
Show them what equality looks like.
Whenever I get the chance I show my kids pictures or point out scenarios in our daily lives where women are doing the same jobs men are. Likewise, if my husband is changing a diaper I point out how nice it is that daddy likes to share responsibility with me. Notice a little girl on the playground who is a great runner? Point it out. Talk about how great it is that Susie is such a great snowboarder instead of commenting on how pretty her dress is. Kids pick up on the smallest details.
Be a feminist family.
My husband cleans the dishes, sweeps the floor, changes diapers and gets up with our youngest son every morning at 5:30 AM. He doesn’t do it because he has to. He does it because he wants to. We show our children every day, through our actions that even though mommy doesn’t go to an office and work like daddy, we still embrace our roles as parents first instead of gender. We teach our boys there aren’t jobs that are a man’s job or woman’s job. There are just dirty dishes that need to be cleaned and diapers that need to be changed. We share all roles equally and our division of chores and labor dictates that.