I wrote a post a bit like this before Ramona was born; I can’t link to it because it’s lost in the mists of Vox time, and though I have a backup somewhere, I think I’d like to start this fresh. On a day when campaigns ranging from basic human rights for women to equal pay and opportunities are celebrated around the globe, I would say that I’m reminded of my responsibility as the mother of a girl, but I never forget it.
I don’t believe boys and girls are fundamentally all that different to raise in a bubble; the differences, such as they are, are biologically pretty minor (see Pink Brain, Blue Brain). But I won’t be raising Ramona in a bubble. I’ll be raising her in a world that routinely insists that women can and should be discriminated against repeatedly just because they’re women. So there are certain things I really need to teach her, and I don’t necessarily know how yet.
Here are three things among many that I will consider it my duty to try and get across to her:
1. Equality does not mean being treated in exactly the same way as everyone else. It’s about having your needs and rights respected equally, so a woman is given the same status and respect as a man. There are going to be some instances where there is no equivalent – child bearing, for example – but do not let people use that as a vague excuse for misogyny. Mumblings about holding open doors are red herrings (you should hold open doors too, you know, for anyone. That’s just manners). It is not about being treated as if you were a man but about everyone being treated as a human being; people who make snide remarks about how if you want equality then no-one should treat you with courtesy are just perpetuating a patriarchal viewpoint – why should being treated as a man by the benchmark, if indeed men are treated discourteously? Because of the privilege they often deny men have! – as well as nonsense.
2. Ignore anything that’s written about ‘biological imperative’. If anyone tells you that men or women are behaviourally ‘hard wired’ to do anything, that’s probably bollocks. For one, studies of children (see PB,BB again) show that boys and girls are not actually very different from each other, so the differences in adults might well be from social, rather than physical, conditioning. For another, we are constantly evolving, so there’s no reason to believe we are still so heavily influenced by early human behaviour. There have been many excuses for treating women poorly based on biology, and all of them have been, in time, shown to be outstandingly stupid, so do be analytical and, in the proper sense of the word, critical about anything you read in this area.
3. Don’t be afraid of the word ‘feminist’. It just means that you care about people being treated with equal respect and status (including men, though they rarely need the lobbying – perhaps the only exception is in custody battles). It does not mean you have to look or behave a certain way. Feminists come in all shapes, sizes, dispositions and genders. If you want to hose yourself in Pepto Bismol pink because you like it, then fine. And if you want to wear baggy trousers and steel-capped boots, fine. And if you want to walk the line somewhere in the middle, ignoring either extreme of the stereotype spectrum well, then, I admit I’d like that best of all. Do not believe that to passionately hold values means you have to wear a certain uniform in order to be accepted by the group or palatable to a wider audience. In other, more succinct, words, this is what a feminist looks like.