I remember a conversation with my mother-in-law some years ago. I was explaining that our daughter wasn’t into the Disney princesses. She said “all little girls love princesses.” That did not set well with me at all. The idea that all girls love princesses is laughable. And the unsaid, or what I heard, was that if girls don’t love them, then they should because that is what is ‘normal.’
Our daughter played with many traditional nurturing toys, but she also dug up worms, played with matchbox cars, and enjoyed building forts. We neither encouraged particular activities nor discouraged them. We just kind of went with her interests. She was definitely a more “traditional” girl who loved receiving the American Girl doll magazine, and spending hours looking at all the items, but she was just as willing to run around outside, play ball, dig in the dirt, and explore her world. I didn’t really think much about it, but looking back, I’m grateful I let her lead us.
I read a great article from USA Today titled How to Raise a Feminist in 6 Not So Easy Steps which had me think about how we raised our daughter. My one issue is naming equality among genders as feminism. It’s equality plain and simple. I’m not sure why we call it anything. I think not desiring equality among genders is worth calling out, but not the opposite. At any rate, the article gives several concrete ways to think through child rearing, and honestly, letting our children take the lead seems to make sense. One point in particular definitely had me pause – #5 Pay Attention To What Happens Outside Your Home.
There are influences outside of our control. Our children will come into contact with teachers, parents, adults, coaches, and many others that will impact their beliefs about themselves and the world around them. This can have them question their own beliefs and decisions which is healthy, and may require support from a parent or care-taker. Make a point to ask what your children are learning outside of your home. Pay attention to what they say, and get curious about their positions. If they are suddenly uninterested in an activity that they have enjoyed before, ask what has changed. Sometimes children will hear “that is for boys” or “this is for girls” destroying their desire to pursue their passion.
In addition, encourage your children to support their friends and schoolmates in their chosen activities. Challenge your own thinking about gender based activities, and have your children do the same. Boys can dance and girls can attend shop class. Pursuing an interest and learning is never a waste.
After all, we are all humans that don’t need further categorization.