I wear my feminism like I wear my jeans: close-fitting and label-out for all to see. I’ve called myself a feminist practically since I began calling myself anything. It’s important to me that my son understands that, at its core, feminism is the belief that men and women should be equal and have equal opportunities. It means working toward achieving that goal socially, politically, and economically.
Every day, in large and small ways, we parents instill values in our kids, whether we realize it or not. So, determined as I am to raise a feminist son, I decided to keep track of all the things I said and did over the course of a random Saturday to help my 2-year-old develop body positivity and cope with his emotions.
1. I dressed him in gender-neutral colors.
Been shopping for kids clothes lately? Boys clothes feature bugs and dinosaurs, while girls get glitter and bows. Same goes with diapers: girls get mermaids and purple trim, boys have cars and blue trim. This morning Baby chose to sport Dora the Explorer diapers beneath acid-washed hand-me-down jeans and a white t-shirt. As much as possible, we try not to buy into “girls” and “boys” stuff. Our motto is more “whatever’s clean.”
2. We played with Baby Myrtle.
Baby Myrtle is a stuffed hippo — one of an assortment of loveys my kid keeps in various places around the house. Sometimes we wrap the hippo in swaddling cloths and rock it. Sometimes we feed it yogurt. And sometimes we throw it across the room to see what happens.
3. I told him when he was angry, to help him cope with big feelings.
Part of my job is to help Baby learn to identify and handle his emotions, including anger. This scary emotion plays a significant role in behavior — from disrespectful speech and misogyny in adults to epic tantrums in toddlers. Talking about anger not only helps Baby start to separate feeling from action, but it also models empathy.
4. I changed “he” to “she.”
Lordy, does my son love books about things that go. Why are trucks and trains (and their drivers) so frequently male? Based on my assiduous efforts to replace “he” with “she,” I’m pretty sure Baby is going to grow up thinking that women only work outside the home (and mostly at construction sites), but hey, where’s the harm in that?
5. We recited affirmations about equality.
Okay, so my son would repeat anything if I said it in a slow enough voice. Like all toddlers, he’s a great mimic. Nevertheless, my husband and I recently started doing affirmations as part of our daily routine, figuring it’s never too early to drive home various messages. What we say varies, although “I respect all living things” is a favorite.
6. I laid on the couch while my husband made lunch.
So fun! In our family, chores are assigned based on aptitude, not chromosomes or gender stereotypes. For anyone who’s tasted my cooking, you’ll know that this is a very wise division of labor.
7. I laid on the couch while my husband and son cleaned the bathroom.
Notice a trend? My son loves cleaning the bathroom almost as much as he loves books about trucks and trains. I’d gladly have cleaned it with the little guy, except, you know, my husband was already up and the couch is so comfortable…
8. I made cookies, then washed all the dishes.
Baby got to scoop the chocolate chips into the bowl. He watched for several minutes as I soaped up the measuring cups and spoons. (My husband’s many talents do not extend to dishwashing, alas, so I tend to tackle that chore.) He likes when Mommy washes the dishes, because bubbles.
9. I said “it’s okay to cry” approximately 50 times.
As a mother of a toddler, I’d be saying this phrase a ton even if I wasn’t trying my hardest to raise a feminist. After all, toddlers cry a lot. Like a lot a lot. At some point, alas, social norms kick in, and too often these norms say that boys don’t cry. In our house, it will always be okay to cry.
10. I called myself a feminist.
It was a bit hard to insert the word “feminist” into conversation, seeing as how Baby, his dad, and I were at the grocery store talking about airplanes, yet I managed. “Women and men can be pilots,” I explained. “As a feminist, I believe that women and men can both work hard and become whatever they want to be.” Monkey see, monkey do. Baby see, Baby do. For us, “feminist” is a positive label.
11. We practiced taking turns in the sandbox.
In the most basic terms, feminists work toward gender equality. And one way to encourage fairness and equality is to help my son cultivate a sharing mindset. He gets a turn, some other kid gets a turn, etc. Are there tears? Yes. See #9. Win-win.
12. We used anatomically correct names for things.
My son knows he has a penis, and he knows that Daddy has a “big penis” (Baby’s words). Aside from making Daddy feel good, such language demystifies and celebrates the body. Baby is learning to be comfortable with his equipment, which in turn will lead to his being comfortable with his sexuality. And, no, I can’t believe I just typed those words about my 2-year-old. Stop, time!
13. I laughed about my roots.
Like a used car, my color starts depleting as soon as my head leaves the salon. I am very upfront about the fact that I dye my hair — folks, this is what an almost 41-year-old looks like. When asked, my son will tell you that Mommy’s hair is “curly and brown and white.” I’m teaching Baby that women (and men) come in all shapes, sizes, and hair colors.
14. We asked for kisses and hugs.
Does that sound weird? It probably sounds weird. Still, asking for permission demonstrates the importance of consent. While I’d love to grab him and spend the next 3-7 hours kissing him, I can’t, even though as his mom, I kinda feel like I’m entitled to as much cuddle time as I want. Not so. Leaning over and grabbing him teaches Baby that people don’t have dominion over their own bodies. Not good.
15. We practiced gratitude.
As we read books and had a cuddle before bed, we talked about what we love. In no particular order, my son loves cats, his three grandmas, books, Daddy, chicken shu mai, “blue lovey,” diggers, having adventures, and the E train. In the years to come, we will cover intersectionality and systemic inequalities, about inspiring women and supportive men, about privilege and the struggle for human rights. But a day in the life of a toddler is only so long, and Daddy and Mommy need Baby to go to sleep so they can watch Broad City.