P returns to Boshemia with her feminist parenting column, Raising a Feminist.
It’s a frosty winter’s day, and I’ve just finished class. When I arrive at my daughter’s preschool, Rye comes bustling up to me to tell me about how their class talked about Santa Claus that day. (Her preschool is in full holiday mode.) She cannot wait to tell me that she has a list of things that she wants for Christmas. At the top of her list is a Ninja Turtle Toy and a Doc McStuffins doll. Now this may seem insignificant to nonparents, but my Feminist heart is smiling, because the little ways that I ease Feminism into every day play and learning are taking root. This sweet little girl, not only has already figured out that gendered toys are bogus, and that ambitious women of colour rock. It didn’t take much to get her to this point, just consistency, and a relaxed at home curriculum that encourages Feminist values, ambition and education.
So what does it take to instill these things in your kids? It honestly is very simple. The principal elements are being committed to a set of values that dismantle patriarchal enforcements, dispel gender constructs, and encourage learning in all forms. You may be thinking that those goals don’t sound so simple to introduce. They are such large concepts; how could it be simple to incorporate them into the daily life and playtime of young children? It is, I promise! It starts with simple verbiage and attitudes toward gendered activities. Much in the same way that our dear departed, Carrie Fisher, raised her daughter Billie without gender, I am doing the same with Ryenne. This doesn’t mean that I discourage her from being feminine, but it does mean that I encourage her to be herself. I put very little focus on gender when it comes to the activities in which she chooses to partake. I praise her girlhood, and I laud other strong women, but I do not ever place any expectation on her to be girly in a specific way. I explain to her, in simple terms, the idea that there is no singular way to be a woman, that she can be whoever she wants to be as long as she is kind, respectful, and empathetic. I provide and example for her by encapsulating this idea myself in the way that I make an honest effort to be the truest version of myself at all times. When our children our able to see all of the many facets which make us who we are as women, they learn to develop personalities and dreams of their own which follow this model.
So when my daughter says she wants to be a doctor, I say “That’s wonderful! I bet you can be a doctor if you work really hard.” When she says she wants to be a hairstylist I say, “I bet you would be a great hairstylist. Will you cut my hair for me?” When she says she wants to be a builder or train conductor I tell her she can do anything she sets her sights upon. The point being, that no matter what ambitious whim she tells me about,whether it’s to be a baker, a mommy, an artist, or a scientist, the answer is always some variation of, “That’s fantastic! You can do anything you set your mind to if you work really hard. I believe in you!” The words, “Wouldn’t you rather be…” or “That’s for boys!” never cross my lips because I firmly believe that Rye can be anything she wants to be if she sets her ambition on it, and works hard to achieve it. And I cement this idea, by showing her through my actions, that ambitious women, not only, kick ass, but we can get anything accomplished once we set our mind to it and put in the work. Most importantly (to her at least) when she says she wants to be a Ninja Turtle for Halloween, I let her. When she tells me, she loves trains and wants to play with pretty much nothing else but her train set, I encourage it; likewise with when she wants to snuggle babydolls or bake cakes with me. I never have to explicitly say that gender roles are bogus, because I say it with my actions and unbiased encouragement.
Now actions and encouragements which praise individualism, feminism, and multiculturalism are all well and good, but I think every parent knows that the best way to appeal to children is through play! Implementing Feminist values, a love for learning, and intersectionality are all possible through the books and toys which we, as parents, should and can vet before they make it into our children’s’ playtime.
One of my parenting tenets is that toys and books should have some purpose that does more than just feed commercialism. With the holiday season upon us, this is a wonderful opportunity to give gifts which make this possible. I prefer books and toys which stimulate my daughter’s mind while teaching a lesson in some way about Feminism, education, and multiculturalism.
GIFTING GUIDE FOR YOUR LITTLE FEMINIST
Here are a few of Ryenne’s favourite books and toys, perfect for gifting to other young feminists.
Ada Twist, Scientist. The delightful story of a little girl of colour who drives her parents crazy with her insatiable penchant for scientific inquiry. Her name, Ada Marie Twist, comes from two essential female scientists who are excellent female role models for children of any gender: Marie Curie who discovered the elements Polonium and Radium, and Ada Lovelace who was the very first computer programmer!
Home. An enchanting book written and illustrated by Carson Ellis, is another beautifully illustrated celebration of mulitculturalism. Home is a heart-touching book that reminds us that home means something different to everyone, and embraces the diverse types of homes which exist across different international cultures. This book was gifted to us by our very own Auntie E, who shares similar thoughts on the amorphous idea of home which I have and give to my daughter.
Le Petit Prince. I was fortunate enough to unearth a vintage copy of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic, published in 1947, from a used book bin, buried amongst a pile of free, forgotten books. It was a gem of a find! The copy we have is written in English and French. It is just as much a learning experience for me as it is for Ryenne. This book is one of the best books for incorporating French into her vocabulary while I learn to be a fluent French speaker. This book is deeply nostalgic for me, one of my most beloved from childhood; a touching story about adventure, companionship, individualism, and staying young at heart, made even more significant by its lovely illustrations. This one is very special to us.
Ryenne loves her Codeapillar: A cute little electronic toy that helps children learn coding, data sequencing, and problem solving. This one is a bit above Rye’s level right now, but she still tinkers with it and I know she’ll master it in time!
This Orbrium train set is Ryenne’s favourite toy ever! She absolutely loves trains and will play with this over anything else she owns. Train sets are wonderful for bringing out the potential engineer in all of our children, regardless of gender! This one is particularly nice and has managed to hold up to Ryenne’s daily play for the past year. It’s still going strong!
These are a handful of my favourites this year for young feminists—toys and books that I feel encourage meaningful play, multiculturalism, and are gender-neutral. I have incorporated these into our home-curriculum, and through this reading and play I am able to impart Feminist wisdom to Ryenne in a way that is joyful for her. She is learning that gender is not essential to her childhood, and as a little one, she already knows that there is no singular way to be a woman.