I am working on Blue Milk’s 10 Questions about Feminist Mothering at the moment, but my responses keep getting longer and longer, so that I’m considering posting each response as a separate post here and sending her short summaries in order not to clutter up her (brilliant) blog.
Here is my take on some of the more fundamental questions:
What makes your mothering feminist?
My parenting is informed by feminism, which means that I try to be aware of ways in which little girls and boys are treated differently and how educators might try to shape my daughter’s life in ways which differ from how they would guide a boy. Toys are sometimes just toys, but if a girl is encouraged to dress up as a princess, play with dolls and even make-up and receives a toy iron for Christmas while her brother gets to dress up as a fireman, play with meccano and receives a doctors kit, surely they are both sent a very specific message.
I don’t tend to ‘girliefy’ my daughter, in fact most of the time I don’t even think of her in a particularly gendered way, which has really surprised me. She is just a child who has interests and likes to explore new things. She can pretend to be a princess if she wants to when she is older, but I will make sure to read her Mary Hoffman‘s Princess Grace about a princess who doesn’t just sit around wearing pink dresses while waiting for a prince to do lots of exciting things and rescue her.
In addition, I think that the types of relationships you model to your children can also play a part in how they see gender role divisions. If daddy makes all the decisions and mummy has more of a care-taker role, this is probably likely to influence the children’s behaviour in their own relationships later on.
How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s?
A non-feminist mother might not start from a position of thinking that the world is inherently biased against women and that the balance needs to be redressed constantly through everyday choices. I see feminist mothers as people who generally question most things, and when I think of the people I know who are definitely not feminists (by their own admission), they don’t tend to evaluate what goes on around them quite so much. But I don’t know if it’s possible to generalise in this way.
How does feminism impact upon your parenting?
I’m not sure about how feminist my parenting is at the moment, I tend to think that it might matter more when my daughter gets older and differences in expected behaviour become more pronounced. What I do pay attention to, as I have a background in literature and linguistics, is the representation of characters in books. So for example, in my daughter’s Ladybird touchy feely book of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, it is Daddy Bear who is mentioned first, and he decides that the porridge is too hot and that the bears will go for a walk. In our version, Mummy Bear is always mentioned first, and she makes the porridge and walk-related choices. I don’t know if this will make any kind of difference, but – why not do it anyway? My daughter’s current favourite book is Peepo. But it’s about a little boy, and she’s a girl, so in order to fight against the generic masculine and to prevent my daughter from feeling excluded from the male-dominated literary canon, I read Peepo as if it were about a little girl:
Here’s a little baby,
one, two, three,
stands in her cot,
what does she see?
Of course, this becomes difficult towards the end of the book because of the rhyme scheme:
He sees the landing mirror
with its rainbow rim
and a mother with a baby
just like him.
Her doesn’t rhyme with ‘rim’, so what to do? I haven’t been able to come up with a mirror-related word which rhymes with ‘her’. Then it crossed my mind that I could simply read ‘rim’ and ‘her’ anyway because the slight jarring of the break in the rhyme scheme would make it obvious that something is going on and prompt people to think. It probably won’t be noticeable for children, but it’s entertaining for the person reading the book, and when you have to read it several times a day every day, that counts for something.
In addition to this, I also plan to cut my daughter’s hair soon so that she does not have to wear hairclips all the time to keep her hair out of her eyes because it is just so much more practical that way. She’s only two years old, she doesn’t need accessories that take her attention away from exploring the world.
In conclusion, I suppose I would say that feminist mothering, in my case, means giving my daughter freedom to be herself and showing her that she is a fully valid member of society.