Susan Ansell has a BA in Sociology specialising in gender studies and a background in community development. She is currently a suburban feminist parent to two primary school age daughters while teaching yoga and developing a women’s programme for violence prevention.Image: glogster.com
I am a feminist parent warrior. My battlefield is suburbia and my aim is to provide my daughters with opportunities to be who they want to be. You would think this battle would be easy and already won thanks to our feminist girlfriends of the 1970’s and beyond. But looking through the latest toy catalogues I ask myself where is our voice now?
I cannot blindly accept that there is only the dichotomy of male and female gender roles for children to choose from. The toy catalogues are a great example of this. There is always a boy’s section with lego, guns and trucks, pirates and a girl’s section with dress-ups, craft and dolls. They do not reflect society – instead they contribute and feed the male/female divide. Compare this to the Swedish toy company catalogue that is gender–neutral. It depicted girls and boys both playing with guns and dolls. This was such a change to what is accepted in society that it made international headlines.
What has shocked me the most is the most sexist comments have been from fellow parents (my supposed enlightened generation). Some comments make me go insane ‘boys will be boys’ or ‘your daughter is good at school because she is a girl’ or ‘oh your girl must be a tomboy’ (ah no she is just challenging your sexist assumptions!). Sitting back and observing parents and how they often treat girls and boys very differently (reinforcing their own expectations of gender) is both enlightening and frustrating to watch.
I looked out the window the other day and saw my 7 year old playing with a bunch of friends. They wore a mis-match of fairy princess dress ups – but firmly strapped to their waists were swords. Sword fights with fairy queens broke out on the lawn with dead queens coming back as ghosts. To me this sums up my feminist warrior aim – I want my children to have the option to be whatever they want to be. I am not saying they should not wear pink and play dress ups but they should have the freedom to choose from all the options – even if that means having a sword fight in a princess outfit. Everyone male and female should have the opportunity to be all they can be.
How can we all be feminist parent warriors? Here are some of my personal tips:
1. Be an example yourself. Show your kids that you are not confined by female and male stereotypes.
2. Provide examples of inspiring male and female role models (we have done school projects on female adventurers and Kate Sheppard)
3. Do not go on about appearance of your kids or yourself (eg don’t teach your kids that appearance/weight is a defining issue or model judging other people on their appearance)
4. Speak up – if you see someone reinforcing sexist stereotypes find the best way that they will hear you and point it out
5. Get some great gender neutral toys, games.
6. Have books, movies that challenge gender-stereotypes (Paper Bag Princess book is a classic)
7. Talk, talk, talk with your kids– generate discussions on gender, point out sexism – encourage their inquiring mind and sense of fairness.
I urge all parents (Dads and Mums) to reclaim their feminist selves and become a suburban parent feminist warrior. I leave you with a quote I have tacked on my bathroom mirror:
"Feminism has fought no wars. It has killed no opponents. It has set up no concentration camps, starved no enemies, practiced no cruelties.
Its battles have been for education, for the vote, for better working conditions…for safety on the streets…for child care, for social welfare…for rape crisis centers, women’s refuges, reforms in the law.
If someone says, “Oh, I’m not a feminist,” I ask, “Why, what’s your problem?”"
- Dale Spender, an Australian Sociolinguist and Technology Theorist