Raising feminists — of any gender

FEBRUARY 23, 2016 By Layney Wells

My kids groan audibly in protest as I stop the show they’re watching and turn off the TV. I explain why I’ve done so: Ninja #1 recruits Ninja #2 to help rescue his sister, to which he replies: “A girl? Is she hot?”

I carefully tell them this isn’t appropriate for them. They should not be calling girls “hot” and what a girl looks like should not matter if she’s in need of help, or ever.

They reluctantly accept this, and tell me they understand, but ask if they can keep watching anyway.

Not long after, they bring me a contraption that they’ve built — to protect the girl they’re quite smitten with.

I feel a little bit guilty at bursting their bubble again, but after I admire their craftsmanship and team work, I tell them that their friend really doesn’t need their protection.

“She is smart and strong and powerful. I’m sure she can protect herself. And besides, she’s five!”

They are quick to agree that yes, she is all of those things. Their contraption is repurposed to produce hats.

I realize that these things are normal kid things, and admittedly, I have called plenty of people “hot” at one time or another (though not in their presence). Still, I can’t let that precedent be set — that girls are damsels in distress or that their physical appearance have more bearing than the qualities they posses.

Often these days, I seem to be “that mom,” the one with an agenda to push come hell or high water. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t tiresome to be working so hard to counter something so prevalent and unrelenting. It’s an uphill battle, one that I’m working at alone, and sometimes I just want to let it go. But I can’t.

Recently, each of my boys were compared to girls. One was told that he was “screaming like a little girl” and the other was accused of building something “girly.” They were deeply upset by this. I was crushed.

So often we’re led to believe that these comments are criticism, that they are inherently negative because being a girl is a negative thing. I refuse to let my boys (my very boyish boys) grow up thinking that is the case, to believe that being compared to a girl is an incredible insult.

“Someday, someone might tell you that you throw like a girl, or hit like a girl, or run like a girl, or cry like a girl” I told them. “If someone says that, they won’t intend it to be a compliment — but you know what, it is. Because some of the best pitchers, and runners, and athletes are girls. Some of the toughest, hardest hitting boxers are girls too, and it would be crazy to think that they’re not as good at what they do simply because they are female.”

They got that, without question or doubt — so I went on.

“Do you know what you can say if someone says those things to you? You can say ‘Thanks'”

I know I’ve already raised some eyebrows by talking to my kids about these things, and in all likelihood, I’ll raise more … but it’s not my job to assimilate my kids so that they fit nicely into their predetermined roles. It’s my job to build them up so that they can carve out their own space in the world.

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