I was early in my pregnancy when I was told that I was pregnant with a girl. I was elated, immediately I began day-dreaming: her first pro-choice march, her first Margaret Atwood novel, so much exciting stuff to share with a girl-child; that night I wrote in my journal: “I am growing a feminist”. I am sure you can imagine my shock when, 6 months later, I gave birth to a baby boy.
Arguably, the basics of parenting are the same, no matter the gender of your child. However, in parenting a son, especially as a Feminist-mother, the realities of raising this male human required me to shift my initial notions of how I would “grow a feminist”.
My approaches to parenting, from pregnancy to what is now the fifth year of caring for this child, have been active, child-centred and from the optics of social justice. bell hooks reminds us that through parenting our children, we can choose to actively work against a systemic atmosphere of oppression. Like most other aspects of parenting, instilling social justice, isn’t something that happens overnight or with the reading of one picture book.
In the very act of being born, my son was swaddled in a blanket of privilege. He is male, likely cis-gendered, white, and has parents who are educated, employed and heterosexual. It is from this knowledge that I parent. He will never have a 1 in 2 chance of being sexually or physically abused. I parent from the perspective that I need to frontload my son with awareness, sensitivity and the ability to hear the voices and stories of the women who make up the world around him. Equally, feminism fundamentally asks us to examine all points of oppression as they intersect the lives of those marginalized, and thus I acquaint my son with topics and issues that are relevant to all women, not just those who happen to look like his mom.
My Feminist parenting was born during my pregnancy, recognizing my position of privilege as I made informed decisions about where, how and with whom I would birth my child. When my child was born, I refused circumcision, because, from this early moment of life, body autonomy became a basic tenant of our relationship. By honouring my son’s body, in all acts – from bathing and dressing to asking before changing and respecting his boundaries I am ensuring he internalizes the notions of consent, body autonomy and respect for the bodies of others.
By sharing equally the role of parent with my partner, my son has grown up without the binary that women care for children, and men work outside the home. Similarly, I fill his play and learning spaces with objects, resources and examples that bend, reshape or ignore contemporary stereotypes that promote how males and females should behave. As a parent, I accept that toys, books and media have massive potential to either reinforce or critique the cultural norms around gender, sex, sexuality and difference – all essential elements of feminist theory and practice. By exposing my son to dolls, dress-up play and other traditionally girl toys I help him see these items simply as toys, rather than as props in a gendered vision of ‘a girl’ meant to extend into her adult life. Equally, while trying to help him explode stereotypes within the play that is marketed to his sex, I refuse to expose my son to hyper-masculinized ‘toys’ marketed to male children,
I work actively to share stories about women, in equal measure from his home countries and from around the world. I speak openly with my son about women’s bodies, menstruation and feminism. Within a developmentally appropriate spectrum, I acquaint my son with the difficulties experienced by women who, for intersecting reasons, are denied equality with men in otherwise similar situations. By inviting my child into these conversations he is already a partner, an ally and an example of feminism.
I’m not fooling myself. My parenting isn’t going to make a dent in rape culture, nor is it going to lift the oppression experienced by millions. But, for the women that my son interacts with – both now and as he matures into an adult – I have hopes that his optics will be grounded in a feminist worldview. No parent or parenting approach is perfect. Nothing is without mistakes, fatigue, sadness or frustration. However, by honouring my child, front-loading him with examples of social justice in his play and learning, and by helping him see his privilege, I feel confident that, although his sex was a surprise, my journal entry from 2008 was accurate: I am growing a feminist.