When it comes to parenting, feminism is not discussed in any of the parenting books or the dad groups, or well, anywhere that parents seem to gravitate to for parenting advice. This baffled me, why is such an important issue not seen as a parenting issue?
When I began to write my book Parenting Without God, I knew that even though I was writing a book about secular parenting, that feminism would need to play a role in the book because I think of feminism very often as a secular issue, but also as a parenting issue. How we raise our children will affect the future of gender equality.
When I had a colleague read an early draft of my book his only advice was, “tone down the feminism, you are coming at it very radically.” I took this to heart and felt maybe I was doing feminism a disservice by sounding so radical. Should I present feminism in an easy to swallow way and sugar coat it for the reader who may be turned off by their preconceived notions of feminism?
Yet after reading my feminist and equality section a few times over, I couldn’t see how it could be seen as too radical, except maybe to someone who was turned off by feminism as a movement all together. The decision I made was to change nothing. I wanted parents to raise children who could be active in the feminist movement if they need to be and who are not afraid to rock the boat when need be. After all, these are people’s freedoms and rights we are talking about.
My first step was to address privilege. Especially as a male I must be fully aware of the privilege I carry. Knowing I am a privileged straight, white male and what that means I can finally begin to understand what life may be like for someone without that privilege. Then and only then can the importance of feminism, in my opinion, be fully understood.
So as one of my first duties as a parent, is to teach my son about privilege. Understanding how privilege works, why it exists and what he can do about it. I was first introduced to the idea of privilege through an essay written by Peggy McIntosh titled White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. I know this essay will play a prominent role in my lessons to my son and it is not a giant leap from understanding racial privilege to understanding gender-based privilege.
I also feel the best way to discuss difficult issues like privilege and inequality is through the use of real-world examples, and sadly there is no lack of examples in the media today.
A major example was the explosion on the Internet of the #YesAllWomen hashtag that sprung to life after the mass shooting in Santa Barbara, California when shooter Elliot Rodger killed six people and writings and videos of him surfaced in which he blamed women for not being attracted to him –something he felt they owed him– for the cause of his violent rampage.
The hashtag brought to light many of the glaring inequalities and frankly, scary situations women find themselves in. It was eye-opening and humbling, especially as a male to learn just how much women are affected by the acts of men, and how much work was left to do to change the mindset of men in our society. It was also a chance for men to reflect on their own actions and discover if they, even accidentally, were making women feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
Of course, just as quickly as #YesAllWomen took off, some men became upset believing that the hashtag implied that all men are guilty of these crimes and injustices, and created the #NotAllMen hashtag, which was a glaring lesson in misogyny and male privilege.
These men decided not to sit back and learn from what women had to say about their experiences and instead chose to take this moment to play the victim and make the situation all about them.
I cannot think of a better example to sit down with a child and compare these two hashtags and how they make your child feel. Do they see a problem in society in which a woman is asked what she was wearing after filing a rape charge and a man is barely asked to defend himself, or worse, the man is treated like a victim because of the charges brought against him.
What do they think when they see a high school or college male charged with rape and the news anchors and commentators come out discussing how the boys future is ruined because of poor choices, but fail to mention the trauma and violence brought upon his victim? Questioning your child about how they feel and how they would handle these situations forces them to think about them critically, and you are there to help them decipher these feelings.
Raising a feminist is raising a child who looks for these disparities in our society and instead of accepting them as a social norm, sets out to eradicate them. It is the understanding that we live in an unfair, heteropatriarchal society and that your child has the power to help change that and redefine how our culture looks at gender inequalities. It is raising someone who wants to be part of the solution and not a part of the problem, and this comes by first admitting to yourself and then teaching your child that there is a problem and that there is a solution.
I once asked the renowned feminist activist Katha Pollitt what I could do as a male to aid in the feminist movement and she challenged me with being open and proud of being a feminist and working to change the hearts and minds of other men around me. I accepted her challenge to me and I believe that task includes instilling these ideals into my son’s life now so that someone else down the road will not need to change his mind about inequality and instead, he can change someone else’s.