Feminism. It’s that other f-word. It’s hard to define, carries a distinct connotation, and quickly divides people. Our culture has a very clear concept of what feminism is and whom feminism serves. Usually, when a woman classifies herself as a feminist, she’s thought of as prizing femininity and despising masculinity. She’s a fierce competitor to other men and will be the first to cry foul if a male should best a female in any arena be it sports, at the office, or in domestic duties.
These visions of feminism aren’t entirely accurate, or even fair. As Roxane Gay points out in her book, (cleverly titled) Bad Feminist, we’ve hoisted feminism onto a platform that is unattainable for most. The true nature of feminism isn’t some brazen, man-eating attitude. It’s more common, and more complex.
Also, despite what we’ve been told, feminism isn’t just for girls.
Modern parenting has ushered in more progressive approaches to raising our children, and aside from the few genderless households in the United States, our approaches to our children are greatly influenced by their sex. Particularly, as more and more educated women become mothers, there is a rise in women breaking boundaries they had previously been discouraged from. We teach our little girls that they are just as strong, just as capable, and just as worthy as boys are. We empower them not to limit themselves to tea parties and pageants, but encourage them to go out for sports and compete in science fairs, too. We are working hard to change the narrative as it applies to young women from being a scripted, homemaker’s destiny to a future that is a boundless vehicle driven by her choices and potential.
These aspirations are excellent, but they only encompass part of the feminist mission. There is room under the feminist umbrella for little boys, too.
Before you scoff, consider the scenario young boys are facing today. Their potential is cultivated as well – it always has been. However, that potential is only widely accepted when it is realized somewhere on our culture’s scale of masculinity. To be male equates to some sort of rejection of anything with the slightest semblance of femininity, which results in the popular “toughen up,” “big boys don’t cry” approach we take to raising young boys. This is no attack on masculinity in the United States. It is, however, a criticism of our tendency to lead young boys to equate passive, patient, and even domestic behaviors to something negative and shameful. Feminism calls for equal opportunities for both sexes, and it also celebrates an acceptance of females and feminine qualities as not being polar opposites of masculinity, but rather, as complements to it. This concept is one that girls and boys both benefit from.
As we strategize and read up on what best approaches to take toward raising our children to be all that they can be, perhaps we should try to include all that they really can be. Our sons can hunt and play sports. They can also feel emotions and turn away from fights or bullying. Our daughters can be lawyers and doctors, or they can be stay-at-home-wives and mothers if they want to. Regardless of what they choose, they aren’t weak or unstable. They’re human. That’s the true nature of feminism, and it’s not just for little girls.