Where Is Feminism In Our Childhood?
Our most critical years, the years we learn to read, write, form opinions, learn to shout and make choices. The years we're able to drive a car, to over-drink and over-smoke and make decisions that are 'supposed' to form the rest of our lives. As young women, we’re expected to make all of these coming-of-age choices without being provided the knowledge and understanding of challenges we might face as a result of being born female. It’s so easy to believe and tell ourselves that this isn’t actually a big deal. Well, it is.
Would career, relationship, social and political routes be easier if we were better informed of worldwide gender differences from a younger age? Would there be the misconception that feminism is always extremist, unjustified and even unnecessary in 21st Century Western civilisation if we were sat down as kids and given some hard, relevant facts? Would the word ‘radical’ be removed as a synonym of feminism on Microsoft Word if people were educated enough to realise that the movement is a spectrum of opinion, a vital spectrum at that, but not one where ALL participants hate men and constantly parade their unshaven armpits on their Instagram feed? Yes. I believe a feminist education could help…
Socialisation and cultural awareness only form part of the educational roster in later years, and even so that individual often has chosen that subject to study – it’s not compulsory. So there’s minimal wonder that we’re slightly desensitised to the thought of social difference until we’re old or inquisitive enough to find out more. However, in all of those years spent in blissful ignorance where the opportunity to educate around these matters is avoided, the normalisation of subtle cultural inequalities drives the wedge that we only learn about a couple of decades later. And yes, we’re talking gender. We all know the ‘blue-for-boys’ and ‘pink-for-girls’ is a bizarre myth born from our parents parents parents, and this shouldn’t be a big deal. You can dress your kid how you want, but as soon as you tell your young girl they shouldn’t be wearing the same colours as their older brother, there is a bit of an issue. All of these gendered notions lead to a bigger picture. Blue is associated with power, with dominance, with strength. Pink is associated with innocence, with fragility, with pretty. Why are we telling girls they have to be weak and giving boys an autonomy they never even asked for? A princess is a damsel and a prince is a hero; What if our sons want to be the one to be rescued and our girls need to kick a bit of arse to get a kick out of life? Throughout teen-hood males are generally given the liberty of being a grumpy, spotty little sh**s. Girls? Oh, they’re criers. They’re unleashed pre-menstrual beasts who have no hold on their emotions; they need to stop being so dramatic and focus on something other than themselves. Call that stereotypical and then remember just how true that is. But what do we expect? Before the chance of hormonal changes we’ve already got our ‘clever little boys’ and ‘pretty little girls’, so of course when going through this process boys have the upper hand… they’re far too logical to be hit with the same emotional stresses as our feeble female minds. It’s so ridiculous but it’s roaringly true.
Now, in the UK, men make up just 2% of pre-primary school teachers. Looking after toddlers being a woman’s job is another draining story but, to keep it relevant, this is just completely misrepresentative. No wonder our children grow up to see Mummy and Daddy in different capacities, because they only have Mummys looking after them in school. To a bright-eyed 3 year old, this is all they grow up to know.
‘When children are born, they are unaware of gendered expectations and attitudes. But by the age of two, most children are conscious of the social relevance of gender, and by the time children reach the end of infant school, they have already developed a clear sense of what is expected of boys and girls and how they are supposed to behave’
-Martin, C., & Ruble, D. [(2004) Children’s search for gender cues
In school we hear little snippets of the suffragists and gettes, if we’re lucky, and at least there’s a small amount of education around historical political feminism. Woo. I can’t however but question why there isn’t a little more around the last 20, 10, 5 or even the past year in the primary school newsfeed around equality and change. While our kids are growing up in a changing society, all of the hard work to equalise the world around us is going to waste if we aren’t sharing it with them! Why aren’t we telling them about the gender-pay gap, tampon taxing and that it’s wrong that women are still expected to wear obligatory heels and skirts to their day jobs in some offices. And for the cynics among us, I’m not suggesting you sit them down in front of The Guardian with an espresso each morning to ‘teach them a real lesson’. I’m merely suggesting you throw in ‘you know Mummy can earn the same as Daddy in her job’ around a table of spaghetti bolognaise one evening. Should we not be normalising this by now? Why are kids still assuming the one with the sperm must be the breadwinner. Nuh uh. That is FAKE. NEWS.
We have to be realistic and understand that, actually, it’s natural to pass on what we know. But we’re in a place that is now so culturally diverse and in a time where our society is so mobile and mouldable that we should be jumping at the opportunity to make some alterations. In a Western, fortunate civilisation we have the ultimate freedom to hop on a plane and explore wherever we damn well please. We’re able to see countries where the state of living is appalling, entirely unthinkable, where young girls stay at home to look after their siblings while their older brother of 10 years goes out and ‘earns’. Places where sanitary protection doesn’t even EXIST and you’re brutally punished if anybody sees you on your monthly bleed. Where girls at aged 8 are forced into marriage and are pregnant before they’ve properly hit puberty. We need to share these realities with our children, be it through home or school life.
As children we have an innate fearlessness. A fearlessness to express opinions, no matter how unpopular. A fearlessness to show emotion, extreme or justified. And, most importantly, a fearlessness to soak up information, experiences and beliefs. It’s the best and only real time these lessons, these real-life stories can actually make the amount of difference that’s required. The teaching of comparison between how lucky we are to be in a society far removed from these others, but also being in a society so capable of being GENUINELY EQUAL and setting an example for the rest of the world can only be taught to the open-minded. Children, despite what we assume, have the compassion and capacity to process this better than any adult. It’s gone further than blue and pink. If our kids can’t see the inequalities of their own childhood, where will the drive to strive for better come from? How will they grow to have the passion to make change, for themselves and for others less fortunate?
So, where is feminism in our childhood? Should we be teaching our kids to go wherever, whenever, do whatever and do it however they want? Whether or not you’re in agreeance, we can’t be stunting their futures based on gender, subconsciously or not.
Article by Bella Wade