I am becoming a real feminist, I know this because my 16-yr-old son rolls his eyes and says ‘Honestly mum, you’re becoming a real feminist’ whenever I make a reasonable comment about wimmin’s issues. ‘Oh no’ I say ‘that must mean I’m old, ugly, boring and a prude with no sense of humour’. Ha ha. Because obviously I am none of these things.
And this week when a man came to the door and asked if my landlord would be interested in something or other and I replied ‘My LANDLADY is in Hong Kong, so no I don’t think so’, I came back into the house to a roar of laughter from my 21-yr-old son: ‘Ha! Didn’t know who he was up against there did he mum?’
My sons are right, I am becoming a real feminist, not just a vague one. And although when my boys were young I did things like politely ask newsagents not to display certain tabloid newspapers (you know the ones I’m talking about) at children’s eye-level (feeling a little embarrassed) I have to admit that it’s having a growing-up daughter that’s really done it for me.
I’ve never tried to force any of my values on my children because it doesn’t work and I think their beliefs are up to them really. And I know that influence is far more…well, influential, so I just live my values and skip round the house creating a kind of ‘feminism is fun’ vibe wherever I go. There again, sometimes I rant to no-one in particular, sometimes we engage in serious debate and sometimes I point out things on the t.v. or in the newspaper which outrage me and I bluster and fume. And I admit I have told my 13-yr-old daughter that I never want to hear her describe herself as ’empowered’ because whenever I hear that word applied to women it means ‘taking your clothes off in public.’
But mostly I just live it and when I see the evidence of increased awareness in my children I think this is really easy, you just live your life honestly and it all goes in by osmosis. You don’t need to sit down and lecture your children about right and wrong and ‘instill values’ and ‘teach morals’. A baby is born with – genetically-speaking – a ‘moral architecture’ already installed, it’s part of the brain’s software, you don’t need to download it as an add-on. You just need to provide an environment in which it can get to know itself well enough to become the default setting.
I think this is why children squirm when we give them moral lectures. I think they feel the same way as I do when I watch a film that lays on the moral points with a trowel. They know this stuff, they just can’t always put it into practice, that’s the bit they are learning throughout childhood and the bit we can help them with. And how we live ourselves is the environment in which they learn how to convert theory to practice.
I think what works really well is how you just have to be who you really are, and having children helps you find out who you really are. I’m sure there must be a word for this.
So these days I no longer nervously ask the newsagent to stop displaying certain newspapers at children’s eye-level, I just pick up the whole bundle and turn them over, and I’ve got my answer ready for anyone who may challenge me. I’ll say ‘I don’t think we should be conditioning our children every day to think this is what women are, and as long as they are displayed at this level I will keep turning them over’. It’s amazing the courage you get to live your values when you have children.