1. Personal space is inviolate.
If you’re tickling your kid and they tell you to stop, then stop. Yes, even if you know that your kid doesn’t mean it. We need kids to know that if they say, “Stop,” it happens. They need to know this because of every rapist who defended himself saying, “But she wanted it,” and for every violated woman who didn’t report it because she believed him.
If your kid struggles to get away from a hug then let go and give them their space. We aren’t entitled to hugs just because we’re parents. Children need to feel in control of their own bodies: it will set them up for a life of self-confidence, strength, and empathy.
2. Breastfeeding and putting a baby to bed is work.
Before actually breastfeeding our baby, I thought it would be a fun, relaxing experience that I would enjoy. I was wrong.
For a lot of women, breastfeeding is, actually, painful and boring. Besides, doing it in the dark for two hours, while trying to get a baby to go to sleep for the night, is the hardest work I’ve ever done.
Back aching, nipple burning, mind deprived of sleep, and attached to a heavy, wiggly little animal with sharp fingernails was not how I pictured it would be. Oh, the unfairness of sitting in the dark, waiting for a baby to fall asleep! I wanted to make art, knit, make myself a cup of tea, or grab a snack. Heck, even doing the dishes and tidying up the house would have been more fun at that point. Unfortunately, if you don’t feed babies, they die, so I kept going…for 18 months.
My point is, don’t assume that because your wife is sitting around breastfeeding your baby that she’s had an easier day than you. She hasn’t.
3. Young kids don’t distinguish between “just joking” and real life.
There’s a funny time during childhood when kids simply do not understand the difference between reality and make-believe. Not only do they think that imaginary things are real, but they’re also unable to understand the concept of “just joking.” This makes the toddler years an important time for fathers to buckle down and not act like misogynistic pigs, even in jest.
Now, as an enlightened guy, you’d never expect your feminist wife to jump up, clear the table, and wash the dishes after dinner. You know the whole family should do that chore, together. Please. Please! Don’t make jokes about it, either! If you jokingly say, “Dinner’s done, better get washing those dishes, woman,” please know that your toddler is recording that sentence, as fact (and normal), in his confused brain.
No name-calling, no fat jokes, and, definitely, no the-problem-with-women-is comments. If even the faintest trace of misogyny colors your words, cut it out before your little one hears you.
4. Don’t leave the moral lessons to your wife.
It isn’t enough for you to support your wife’s political agenda; you need to make it your agenda, too. Actively teach the lessons of feminism to your children. If Mom is always nagging, it’s because Dad isn’t nagging enough. When only one half of the parental unit is giving moral guidance, it gives the kids permission to completely ignore the lessons. Plus, moms go into “nagging overdrive” when they aren’t getting enough verbal support from their partner. Don’t let it be your wife’s job to teach the moral lessons, or else they’ll only ever be half-learned, if at all.
5. Learn what emotional labor is and start doing your fair share.
Emotional labor is not housework, though that can be a part of it. Emotional labor is all of the “unseen” work that has traditionally been done by women and is only felt when it stops happening. Fathers aren’t doing enough of it, while women remain exhausted and have been for generations.
Emotional labor is remembering to ask the kids if they’re hungry, adding ketchup to the grocery list, making dentist appointments, putting a new garbage bag in the trashcan, asking your mother-in-law if you should bring anything to dinner, making sure your kid put his hat and mittens on, being friendly with the neighbors because friendly neighbors can come in handy, and remembering to make blueberry pancakes so the blueberries don’t get wasted. It’s everything–and nothing–and you need to do more of it. Just in case doubt makes you think otherwise, here’s a good article that explains what emotional labor is. Read it!
6. Normalize all types of gender differences from the get-go.
It can be hard to explain homosexuality to children when they don’t even know what sex is, yet. I’ve found it useful to talk about it in terms of love. Sometimes, men love men, women love women, and there are all types of other genders in this world, always. Most importantly, make it a habit to casually throw in references to situations that differ from their reality.
Kids tend to think their own experience is how the world works, so you can never throw in too many reminders that there are different ways of experiencing life. Toddlers love to talk. Talk about men wearing kilts and how people can be born hermaphrodites. Tell them that no matter who we feel we are on the inside, we are all worthy and deserving of love and respect. People can be different than us and no one way of being is better than any other.
7. There is no thing on this earth that is specific to any one gender.
It seems like a no-brainer these days to talk about how there are no gender-specific colors, but one walk down the toy aisle clearly shows there is still a pink section of toys for girls and a life-colored section for boys. All it takes is one gender-specific reference to imprint itself onto your toddler’s consciousness.
My awesome, progressive lesbian friend has a set of tools that are pink, which my son wondered about. Apparently, she said something about how they were pink because they were made for girls. Now, I’m sure she said it in an “isn’t that silly and stupid” sort of way, but somehow my 5-year-old took that tidbit of information and chiseled it into his brain, as fact. Pink meant “girl color,” and he wanted nothing more to do with it. Ew! Girls! Cooties!
Actively correct any gender-specific stuff the minute it comes out of your kid’s mouth. Set the record straight, early and often.
8. Silence is complicity.
Above all, this is the most important point, since children learn as much from what you say as from what you don’t. None of the above matters, however, if you don’t make a habit of talking to your kids about feminist issues.
If someone in a movie behaves in a sexist way, don’t let it slide. Point it out to your kids. If you hear your son say, “I don’t want those mittens! Pink is a girl color,” stop and explain that there is no such thing as boy or girl colors. If he doesn’t like the pink mittens, however–by all means–go with the turquoise ones. True story!
It is a lot harder than I thought it would be to keep the patriarchy out our children’s heads. I try to do and say all the right things to help my son grow up to be a good feminist; however, our children are swimming in a soup of misinformation, cooked up by generations of oppression. Due to this fact, an actively feminist father is the greatest gift any child can receive. Thank you for caring enough to do better.
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