Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Feminism, 2014

Abby, at age three, told me that a boy in her preschool class had long hair tied in a ponytail, so he must be a girl. I remember answering her with an explanation that went something like, "Many times you'll see girls with long hair in ponytails, but boys can do that with their hair, too. Just as girls can cut their hair very short. Hair belongs to each person to do with as they please."

She has posed a few questions about people in crowds whom defied what she understood as cemented gender qualifiers, and again I revisited her question with answers like, "Most of the time it is girls that wear dresses, but boys can too," and when she says something innocently and loudly, like "Mama is that a boy or a girl?" I often prompt her to ask the person, who has most likely overheard and began looking back at us. Kids disarm people in a really beautiful way, so I let it happen.

All that to say, in our family, there is a very fluid understanding about how gender directs what you can do. I honour that my girls need to establish their sense of identity and gender as they develop, and I help them do that by letting them experiment in their play, in how they dress and in how they act. In all frankness, I can say that, with the exception of Summer (who is still quite young), all my girls seem to be pretty comfortable in the female genders they have been assigned, and I don't foresee any issues there. As for the limitations they will surely face because of their genders, I am arming them with tolerance, confidence and, when they are older, this video:

I applaud Emma Watson with my own standing ovation for putting eloquently chosen words to the conflict women face by virtue of their gender. She simplifies complex international challenges to gender equality by placing the onus on us as individuals, women and men. This address to the UN has gone viral, so I'll spare you any more of my own synopses and let you watch it for yourselves. Suffice it to say, she posits that women's rights are every one's responsibility to uphold, men included.

I have seen it in my lifetime, when gender roles were pushed on girls in spite of their capabilities and dreams. I am aghast when I learn what it means to be born a girl in China and India, where proverbs like, "Having a daughter is like having a spilled glass of water," prevail. There are countries in the world where lifting women into the arenas of quality, honour and respect seem like unimaginable, far-flung, withering dreams. That is not the case where I live. Perhaps if we raise our daughters here to ask themselves, "If not me, who?" and  "If not now, when?", then our notions of gender equality can indeed begin to permeate places where, today, women are shunned as second-rate chattel.

This is what feminism looks like in our corner of the world in 2014.

(Kristy Chapman Photography)

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