How do you raise a feminist?
As conversations on gender become more frequent and gender roles become more fluid, parents could make all the difference in preparing their daughters and sons for what’s next.
Picture this – a friend who’s recently had a daughter asks you for advice on how to teach the little girl about empowerment and equality. If you’re Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the author of Half of a Yellow Sun, you’d jot down 15 no-nonsense pointers in a letter that’s so lucid, it gets published as a modern-day feminist manifesto.
The book asks interesting questions about gender roles, relationships, and the mother’s influence on her child, especially if it’s a girl. They are questions that any parent today will often find herself dwelling on. We don’t have all the answers, but we do have a few for both boys and girls. And that’s as good a place as any to start.
Teach by example
In their early years, kids learn through observation. So, watching their parents share a relationship of equals, in which power and responsibility are divided evenly, gives kids a reference point for their own relationships in the future.
Another point to bear in mind is this – value yourself and take pride in being a woman. Show your children that you have skills that you’re proud of and goals that you’re pursuing. It’s important that kids view you as an individual as well as a mom because you’re more than the sum of your roles.
Challenge gender stereotypes
Most of our beliefs and behaviour are decided by culture, not biology. So why then do we buy dolls for girls and cars for boys? Or dress girls in pink and tell boys to never shed a tear? Try to nurture a gender-neutral approach to everything from toys to jobs, ensuring that kids make their own choices about their likes and dislikes.
Encouraging kids to choose their own clothes and toys ensures that their personalities and preferences evolve independently.
Encourage boldness and independence
We tend to be protective of girls, but when we treat them like they’re vulnerable, they start behaving like they are. Instead, teach them to be courageous and equip them to take care of themselves. Sign them up for a self-defence class, stoke their natural curiosity, and give them tasks that will build their confidence. We can’t change the world for them, but we can prepare them for it. Another aspect of encouraging boldness would be to teach them about money early on. Women are perceived to be more cautious risk takers than men, especially with money matters. Encourage your kids to understand the working of money and allow them to make everyday decisions with purchases that allow them to naturally understand risk with money management.
Cite female role models
Men tend to be more visible and audible in the office, at social gatherings, in media, and often at home. So, there’s a good chance that when kids look for success stories, men will be mentioned more often than women. Let’s try to even this out with our own examples, especially with stories of women in fields that are dominated by men.
Cultivate a positive body image
Girls are often made to feel that looks are central to their identity and that it’s the first criterion they’ll be judged on. Let’s start by telling them that as long as they’re happy with their appearance, they’re good enough for anything and anyone. We need to compliment them on their intelligence, empathy and character as more than for their looks. Beauty might be skin deep, but well-rounded self-esteem? It only gets better with time.
When kids learn that there’s more to beauty than appearance, they have more self-worth.
Talk about money
Financial independence is essential in the empowerment toolkit. Women have different financial needs and goals, and that’s why Basis has a more woman-centric approach to financial planning. Start with a small fund for your child’s college education, involve her in conversations about money, and teach her to be financially stable by showing her how you invest and save. As she grows up, knowing that she doesn’t have to lean on anyone financially will enable her to take on more challenges and stay true to herself. Parents always hope their kids do better than them and face easier circumstances. Teaching them about their own power and place in the world is one way of ensuring that they do.