Kids get so many mixed messages – we want them to be strong, independent and clever…but even in this day and age we are STILL guilty of gender stereotyping, of putting them in boxes by the way we talk to them, dress them…and we need to do MORE. Being a parent is hard, but if we want kids to be kind, strong and capable we need to do better.
My Top 5 tips:
1. Don’t be beige. I know this is going to be ever so slightly controversial – as I know many parents who believe the child should choose, so they dress them neutrally. Please please PLEASE don’t dress your child in browns and boring colours! I have known many feminist parents who don’t want to gender stereotype their children and I GET it I really do, I am one of them - but kids need light, they need bright colours – they need to shine as the wonderful personalities that they are. I am passionate about kids making their own choices and show their own personalities! We have girls dresses in everything from tractor print , spacemen to dinosaurs and unicorns…the thing is girls do like pink too! And liking pink unicorns and sparkly shoes does NOT mean what girls have to say is less important, or that girls are frivolous. Pink Power I say! Let’s change the narrative, girls need to feel comfortable and happy with what they wear to face the world – it gives them confidence and presence and it shouldn’t be judged. Unless of course your child really does want to wear brown of course…
2. The way we talk to our kids. It needs to change. I include myself in this too. How often do you see a little girl in a nice dress, shoes or coat and the first thing you do is praise them for being ‘beautiful’ or ‘pretty’? We don’t ask them how they are feeling, what is their favourite book or superhero. Little boys get told how ‘brave’ they are, and we emphasise that expressing ‘feminine’ emotion such as crying is looked down on. Crying is a human biological reaction guys – everyone cries! It’s not a girl-specific condition! So why do we make boys feel bad for having ‘feminine’ reactions to things, make them feel like they are a weakness. Women are strong as, so men should be grateful to feel such emotions. There are signs and signals everywhere telling young boys that there is a particular standard of ‘manliness’ that is needed to fit in and be liked by their peers. Why is it OK for girls to wear trousers - but men are judged if they, say wore a skirt? I feel in 2019 that is madness. I do believe we are making progress, it’s just not fast enough for my liking!
3. Share the care work – from cooking and cleaning to who takes out the rubbish, who hoovers and who looking after the kids. Research shows that women carry out at least 2 1/2x (!) more care work than men…that often means women’s careers can be disrupted, put on hold, or they don’t get the opportunities men do – even to rest! Let your kids see the men AND women in your families doing different jobs. Mums using tools, men hoovering. – ‘blue’ and ‘pink’ jobs are soooo 1980!!
4. Talk about role models…who do you look up to, admire and why? I’ve loved talking recently to my 5 year old about Bowie, letting her listen to his music, talking about his philosophies and why he was ‘different’ and why that made him special. Reading some Little People, Big Dreams books (so much amazing fem lit out there for kids, www.thefeministshop.com has a great blog with more ideas FYI!) but I adore these books for kids with a fire in their belly. There are a lot of people who did a lot to change the way we are today for good – Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst, Marie Curie, Greta Thunberg…just to touch on a few! TALK about these people to your kids, tell them their stories – better than any fiction they could ever read!
5. Finally. Body shaming. We are all guilty of it. It’s just the New Year and I’m already planning my diet. My detox, and I’ve mentioned it to my girls…who said ‘mummy you’re beautiful!’ without a second thought…wow, the power of non-judgemental love! If kids are always hearing about your diet, your unhappiness about your weight, that is ADDING to the constant other societal cues they are unconsciously and subconsciously imbibing. My just 3-year-old recently called both her dad and myself ‘fat’ and thought it was hilarious! I bristled, quickly told her off and wondered where it came from (I very purposefully never use the word ‘fat’ around them) thus showing the impact of the outer world! Girls inparticular are susceptible to weight related phobias – so never EVER comment on a child’s weight, focus on HEALTH. It’s never ever helpful to make a child think about their appearance or weight on a negative level. Talk about how sugar in what they are eating might make them sick, and big up the healthy stuff and how it’ll make them strong and clever – but don’t make it about them!
So those are my top 5 tips after raising 2 girls and reflecting on my own childhood. I am so passionate about our need to change, but we need to do so by changing the next generation. For them to be accepting about their fellow person, with less judgment - we need to make conversations about equality as a normal part of our day. Challenging the day to day seemingly small oppressions (they add up!). Our job as parents is to guide children – let them explore and understand the rules of the world but encourage them to challenge them too. Help navigate the muddy waters so they grown and learn and be the next generation more enlightened than we now.
Nicola James is the founder of www.irisdaresdesigns.co.uk a girlswear brand for fierce and feminine mini warriors!