My younger sister is not a feminist. I was not raised by feminists, was not exposed to a particularly open-minded community of people during my formative years. My brand of feminism wasn’t gifted to me by a Women’s lib class at an institution for higher learning. My feminism happened because it had to. I was born to a relatively static school of thought, in which the primary concerns were “How to pay these bills” and “How to get these hoes away from my man.” I remember cookouts where we children would run around the back yard of someone’s 2 nd cousin Cookie (who wasn’t a cousin but a babysitter and fair weather friend to someone else’s mom) while the grown women would huddle together in the cheap lawn chairs and discuss the big issues: who was making money, who’s boss was a racist, who’s man was messing around.
I grew up surrounded by single mothers, by people who spent most of their time trying to make enough money to support the children they’d given birth to. They had no time for the revolution, for building bridges with allies, for reading Plath or Lorde. I grew up surrounded by children like me, children for whom “feminism” was a nonissue. In a community that was overwhelmingly populated by women, feminism was key to survival. They sought equality in their private lives, struggling to break through the glass ceiling, all the while queuing up behind white men and women to do so, only to be served a heaping pile of misogynoir by the few black men we knew. I watched them struggle, exhausted, for promotions, for degrees, for respect. I saw myself in them and knew that I held the same fire within me, that I wouldn’t and couldn’t settle for the complacency of people who would never have to fight the way I would.
This was a movement that was quiet, scattered and not at all organized but it was a movement. These same women laid the groundwork for me and others like me; black and brown women with an attitude and proof that being female or a person of color was not a detriment to our success. We weren’t the problem; years of systemic racism and misogyny was. This was the lesson learned by a generation, taught gradually by pensive women in cramped living rooms, each syllable piercing holes in clouds of Newport smoke.
Am I rambling? What I mean to say is, if it were not for my experience being raised by a single mother in a community of single mothers grappling with discrimination and disdain, I would not be the avid feminist that I am today. Watching my mother struggle taught me to embrace my strength as a black woman. Now that I have, it’s my job to pass the baton to my own children.
When I became a parent, I knew that it’d be my mission to teach my daughters feminist values, and that those values would be intersectional. I would teach them to recognize the importance of every part of their identity and to command the respect that is due to them. I want to go forward teaching them the importance of determination and autonomy. I want them to know that there is nothing that they cannot do because they are girls or because they are black. I want them to be proud of who they are and should they choose a partner in the future, I want that person to see them for the magic person they are. Because they are. I learned to value these things in myself, including the magic. Especially the magic. I am no parenting guru but here are things I intend to do to implement the principals of feminism in my home:
My children will read feminist books in which the heroines come from diverse backgrounds. I want them to have role models who are black, brown, queer, trans, disabled and I want them to grasp the inherent beauty of the human condition regardless of the shape it takes. This wave of feminism must be championed by people who understand that the fight is for equity and equality.
I will model feminism for them. As a mother, I’m the first to teach my children about self-love and black girl magic, about acceptance of flaws and the importance of intent and determination. I choose to pursue my passions as a writer, a performance artist and queer POC because I need my daughters to know how to be a whole person without help from anyone else. I will obtain my college degree- something no one else in my family has yet achieved, because I need them to know that their mother is balanced and working toward bettering herself daily.
I will respect them and encourage them to have positive relationships. Autonomy is a concept that should come naturally but it’s still common to hear parents demand that their children hug or kiss older relatives out of respect. This is harmful because it sets a precedent: a child cannot refuse physical contact with an adult. I realize that there are people who may be offended if a child decides not to hug or kiss them, but I would argue that instances like these serve as learning experiences and through the process assimilation, a child may not understand that such a refusal is expected in the presence of suspicious adults. Autonomy is a good thing and correlates directly with consent, a tenet of feminism.
I will teach my girls to stop qualifying their statements with phrases like “I think.” It’s my hope that I will raise children who are confident in their ideas and feel no need to modify their language so that they seem less aggressive or bossy. I don’t want them to feel intimidated by catcallers or bigots or someone “manspreading” on the bus. I never want them to make themselves smaller for anyone. Teach my boys (especially boys of color) how to express their feelings without defaulting to anger. Show them that they don’t need to lash out violently when they are hurt and society can never damage their masculinity without their permission. I’ll tell them it’s ok to be a good, caring partner. I want this to be the generation that accepts people for what they are; multifaceted, talented and entitled the complexities that come with being a human being.
I’ll do these things and I will hope that I’ve done my part to give rise to a generation that will resist the attempts by the antiquated, white patriarchy to snuff them out. It’s my hope to help raise a generation of women and POC’s and queer people who are also police officers, politicians, medical professionals and scientists. I see it as my duty to arm them with knowledge and compassion and to send them out, ready to set the world ablaze, fighting for equality amongst all people.