How do we teach our kids about feminism and gender equality from an early age? Parents might have different ways to approach the topic with their kids, but the simple act of having a conversation is an important one. Robert Webb previously spoke out about how he chats to his six-year-old daughter about the patriarchy, explaining that he refers to it as “the trick” because his daughter, Esme, couldn’t pronounce it.
Esme had asked if she could wear a Spiderman costume on a non-uniform day. Webb explained during an interview with Channel 4: “She asked: ‘OK, if I go as Spiderman and not as a princess, will I get laughed at?’ My wife said, ’People might laugh and what will you say?” And Esme said, ‘Shall I tell them they’re laughing because of the trick that makes men sad and women get rubbish jobs?’”
Feminism isn’t just about teaching girls to shun pink. Experts believe teaching gender equality is about reminding all kids - regardless of their gender - to express themselves how they wish and explore their own identity. On International Women’s Day, here are eight practical tips on how to teach your children about feminism.
1. Define the concept of feminism to them.
What would you say to your son or daughter if they asked what feminism means? Giving them a clear definition is a good starting point. Simon Ragoonanan, dad and editor of manvspink.com, believes this is important. He tells his daughter: “Sometimes women and girls are treated unfairly because they are female - feminism is about preventing that and trying to get boys and girls, and men and women treated the same.”
2. Encourage kids to notice the gender divide.
Parents should have open conversations with their kids about everyday instances of gender inequality that they can easily comprehend. For example, children may notice it is often the mum who picks up her kids from school. Ragoonanan believes we should be open to discuss this with our kids: “Explore ways in which that could be unfair depending on the age of your child, e.g. mums more likely to stop their careers, dads spending less time with their children.”
3. Anticipate possible hurdles.
Think ahead to identify possible moments in your child’s future where they may feel the gender divide more acutely. Ragoonan told his daughter from an early age that Star Wars and superheroes are for boys and girls, as he knew this would be an obvious divide when school starts. “All the boys and girls in her class have seen how she’s into these things and don’t question it being non-gendered,” he said.
4. Be a role model.
“Explaining feminism to young kids should start with showing them gender equality in practice, right from the start of their lives,” said Disha Sughand from Womankind Worldwide. An easy way to do this is men and women both doing household chores and sharing childcare is a great start.
5. Prompt your daughter to have open conversations with other girls.
Victoria Hunter, 17, a Girlguiding advocate, encourages young girls through their Peer Education service to speak to each other about the issues they face - everything from body image and gender equality. “We want girls to explore these topics with their friends,” she said. “We’re passionate about calling out gender stereotypes and encouraging and empowering all girls to do the same with each other.”
6. Celebrate female heroes.
The world is full of inspiring women, so make sure your kids know about them. As well as the household names - the Pankhursts to Malala Youzafsai - Sughand said we should explore lesser known but really important women such as Sophia Duleep Singh, Louise Entwistle and Annie Kenney. Educate them about the many extraordinary women activists campaigning for a better world.
7. Make feminism relatable to your child.
HuffPost UK blogger Cassie Pearse bought feminist book ‘Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls’ for her son, but he wasn’t interested in it. When she explored another tactic - speaking to her son about how his dad and uncle believe in equality - her son became more interested in the concept of what feminism was. “He began to open up to the idea of the book. His response? ‘Yeah, like Ada Lovelace, she wrote the first computer programme, she’s amazing’!” Find ways you could relate gender equality to your kids and their interests. It’s bound to capture their attention.
8. Stop your daughter obsessing over what others think.
In Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book - ‘Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ - she argues girls should know they can reject likability, because many are raised with the idea that you have to be “likeable” to get ahead. “I think instead we should teach girls to just be themselves, and that idea that you don’t have to be liked by everyone,” she wrote in her book. “And it kind of makes me wonder what kind of world would we have lived in if women had been allowed to be their full selves?”