What It Means To Be A Feminist Mother

This essay originally appeared in Luna Luna Magazine.

Image credit: Rich Anderson via Flickr

Before I knew what “feminist” meant, I was a feminist. I was raised to believe I was equal. Just as capable as anyone else. My mother taught me to fight against misogyny. To notice it. To balk at it. To work against it. She never outwardly expressed that this was what she was doing – I’m not even sure she intended to do it. But she set the example. She showed me what a strong woman looks like. She showed me how to stand up for myself, how to fight for myself, how to resist all the insistence than I was less than, simply because I’m female. I was raised to be a feminist. And I’m profoundly grateful to have that foundation. It’s a foundation I want to give my children, too. It’s important to me that my sons value all people equally. That they fight for it. And so, I’m now more than a feminist. I’m a feminist mother.

Raising children requires a lot of self-reflection. More than I anticipated when I prepared to become a mother. Beliefs, comfort levels, convictions, actions – all are tested the millisecond you become a parent. And I wasn’t prepared for it to start as early as it did.

The second you tell anyone you’re pregnant, people begin imagining a life for this baby. It’s immediately complicated. Pregnancy is intentional for some, unintentional for others. (I’ve had one of each.) Pregnancy comes easily for some, and takes tremendous time, effort, and resources for others. Pregnancy is easy and enjoyable for some, painful and difficult for others. But regardless of how your pregnancy began – even if it takes place in someone else’s body -- other people feel an ownership over it. As soon as the cells start splitting inside the body, other people feel like they can make decisions for you. Tell you how to grow that little bundle of cells. Tell you what you are and are not allowed to do with it. Tell you what you are and are not allowed to do with your own body. Tell you what you are and are not allowed to do when and if that baby is born.

Before the baby is even a baby, people are trying to disempower the woman growing that child. And already, that mother has to fight for her rights. Already, that woman has to justify her choices. Her decisions. Her ideas. Already, that woman is dehumanized.

And soon, people begin to ask about the sex of the baby, and creating a life for the child based on the way they envision that gender. If it’s a girl, we receive pink and ruffles and sparkles and kittens. We receive play kitchens and baby dolls and princess dresses and makeup. If it’s a boy, we receive blue and sportsball and puppies and trucks. We receive tools and construction and superheroes and soldiers. Perhaps we even fall into these patterns ourselves. And this is when we have to reflect on what we’re teaching our kids. This is when we have to think carefully about what we believe. Is it okay for children to like these things and play within these gender boxes? Of course. Is it okay for us to build these gender boxes around our children before they’re even born? To allow others to do so, before they can choose for themselves? No. No, it’s not. We’re not giving them a chance to become. We’re not allowing them the space to choose, to think for themselves, to understand. And so, as feminist mothers, we help make space for our children. We make room. We allow for overlap, for fluidity, for questioning and rebellion. We create a safe space for our children to be. We create equal opportunity love and pride for our kids, no matter what. We do what we can to allow our children to be happy, to be comfortable, to be proud of themselves. To be confident in who they are, regardless of what anyone else tells them they have to be. Because this is the world we still live in. We still live in a world divided by gender expectations. We still live in world that tells what we can and cannot do or say or be or try. We still live in a world of boxes. So we, as feminist mothers, need to break those boxes down. We need to build paths between them that make room for other.

It doesn’t matter if you are the mother of girls or the mother of boys. Even this can change. We need to be comfortable with fluidity and alternatives and let our children know that no one deserves more. No one deserves less. No one deserves to be mandated and watched over and judged. Everyone deserves room. Everyone deserves to make their own choices. To be trusted. To be honored. To be given the chance to flourish. And this is why I want us, as mothers, to embrace feminism. To stand up for ourselves. To reflect on our beliefs, our comfort levels, our actions. Because we need to stand up for our children, too, and teach them to stand up for others. Soon, our children will be making the choices. Until then, it’s our job to listen. To pay attention to what they like and don’t like and ask why. To honor their choices. To show them respect. To talk to them. We still have so much work to do. The world around us is segmented and fighting and turning against itself. But if we work together – if we’re thoughtful in our choices and in the way we raise our children – we can begin to change things.

About Shannon