Raising feminist girls
I sometimes wonder how I got to be a feminist. I was born into a environment where nothing would encourage a woman to understand what equality really means. I know that a reader’s first reaction would be to assume that this is how feminism starts. But what I mean is that I was taught to think that women in my environment are free and equal to men. We can dress the way we want, we go to school and university and most end up building a career. But it all felt fake and shallow to me. We are told that we can do anything we want while also told that we are weak and in need of protection from men. “It’s not because we’re not equal” they say, “it’s just that you deserve to be treated like princesses, you are precious and it’s our job to do anything in our power to protect you.”
To me, it always felt like men’s excuse to control us, making us believe that it’s all about how important we are - thus the ‘you are a princess’ argument - while, in my opinion, it’s about taking back the little power we have. I am completely aware of how I sound annoying to many and I often only discuss these things with like-minded people. But since I had children and started seeing them grow up in a world where they’re not expected to pick black, blue, red, grey (etc) over pink or to choose to be superheroes over cute little princesses, I slowly decided to speak up again.
Oh how disappointing it is to hear women refuse equality or shame feminists. I have heard it so many times from women and it breaks my heart. I know where it comes from but we have so much potential that is wasted on accepting slogans like ‘Mon Bijou Mon Droit’ or ‘Sois Belle et Vote’. Don’t get me wrong, I like looking pretty and love buying clothes for my girls. I also bought dolls when they wanted to but made sure they knew that the girls’ section in toys stores is not their only option.
Feminism is simply about equality. This means that we are not inferior to men. We are equal. We are allowed to be different but we are equal. We might have different physical capacities, be at different levels of emotional intelligence but we are equal. This means we have equal rights and access to the same opportunities at every level. Even if less women will choose certain jobs they have to be able to do it if they want to. This also means that we need additional guarantees before we can reach effective equality in law and practice. So yes, special measures need to be put in place to make sure we get paid the same, have access to the same positions at work as men, are able to be free sexually, including having access to sexual reproductive health education and services with no questions asked, etc… But this doesn’t mean we now have more rights than men. Of course not! We are so far behind that even when we achieve equality in law (very far from happening anytime soon), it will take a very long time to achieve equality in practice.
From the day Mya and Ella were born, I asked everyone not to call them princesses and I told my girls that whenever someone called them a princess, they should say ‘no, I’m a president’. I decided to do that very early on - even though they had no clue what I was talking about - because I knew that they will hear it a lot and that there are quite a few people I couldn’t say anything to. Most people reacted very negatively to this, even the closest. I don’t blame them but it wasn’t easy to always stand up to what I believed was best for my girls. I also tried not to always tell them how pretty they are but instead to focus on more empowering adjectives like how strong and courageous I though they were. Of course, because I always thought that they were the most beautiful and cutest little girls on the planet, I still couldn’t help but say it sometimes but I tried, as much as possible to focus on what I think are more empowering words. I also try to avoid words that put too much pressure on them like saying that they are smart. Of course I think they are, but maybe in reality they are not the smartest or their smarts lie in less obvious skills and I don’t want them to feel that they should be smart. What’s important to me is their happiness, above everything. I couldn’t care less about their performance or abilities. I want to give them all the possibilities that they could have and encourage them to be the best they can be, without putting too much pressure on accomplishments and seaking to be the best. Happiness has always been my goal for them and with Mya’s illness it became even more important to me. I wanted Mya to have all the tools she needed to have more options in life but never because I wanted her to be ‘normal’; simply because I wanted her to be happy.
Mya was a superhero from day one. She fought every doctor and every nurse whenever she didn’t want them to do something. Every single one of them was impressed by her resilience. Her smile would light up a whole building, just as much as her screams would shake that same building. The chief of staff in the ICU in Paris started crying when we were leaving the hospital last year in May, telling me how Mya is a ray of sunshine and changed the whole energy in the ICU.
Ella has always had it in her, she just needed some support to wash away all the social expectations from girls and look at all the possibilities the world has to offer a child. The other day she told me ‘I don’t want to be a president maman, I am a superhero!’. I was so freaking proud! Of course superheroes are much better than presidents, what was I even thinking?! It’s not always easy for her though. Most of the clothes she picks have superheroes on them - she also equally likes wearing dresses - but she refuses to wear them to school. Girls and boys in school told her a couple of times that superheroes are only for boys and even after I spoke with the teacher who then spoke with everyone in class, Ella still preferred not to wear her superheroes’ t-shirts. For her birthday this year, we distributed superheroes figurines - mostly girl superheroes - to everyone in her class and explained that superheros are not only boys and that there were in fact girl superheroes. Ella said that things are getting better and she wore a superheroes’ t-shirts once at the end of the school year.
There is hope, we just need to find all the fight in us so that one day women don’t have to fight anymore.