I recently gave birth to my first child, a daughter. This event has changed my life in many ways. One of which is what I notice in the news and media. A few recent events I took particular notice to include Beyonce’s VMA performance and the subsequent reactions, the release of the Ray Rice and Janay Palmer video and reactions to her marrying him, Jennifer Lawrence’s response to her nude photos being leaked on the internet, and Emma Watson’s speech for the UN regarding feminism and the HeforShe campaign. All of these events are tied to feminism and women’s rights. As a woman, this was all important to me before the birth of my daughter, but knowing I will help to raise a new woman in society causes me to think even more about events such as these.
In addition to all the hopes new moms have for their children, I hope that my daughter is flagged as having leadership potential rather than being called bossy; I hope that my daughter is complemented not only on her sharp appearance but also on her intelligence, ingenuity, and strength; I hope that my daughter never desires to give up sports for fear of losing femininity and that she is never intimidated by the weight room in a gym; I hope that my daughter understands that her dad is just as important in raising her as I am; I hope that my daughter will not be afraid of her sexuality because of how the church presents (or doesn’t) the topic of sex and sexuality; I hope that my daughter does not think she has to give up any education or employment for her family but also that it is ok if she makes those choices for herself; I hope that my daughter understands that being a feminist does not mean being a man-hater; and I hope that my daughter comes to realize that her father being the spiritual leader of our household does not mean that her father thinks I am lesser than he.
Some find it difficult to reconcile being a Christ-follower and a feminist.I think the terms feminism and spiritual leadership have become so emotionally charged that people don’t always take the time to consider the actual concepts very carefully. In our home, my opinion matters when important decisions are made. I share my thoughts, my husband shares his, and we process together. At times, my husband defers to my opinion on something. Other times, he considers both of our opinions and makes a final decision. Spiritual leadership here means my husband is who will ultimately be responsible to God for our family. He will be responsible whether we agree, he defers to me, or we disagree and he makes a choice counter to what I think is best. Feminism is the theory of political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. Could my husband abuse his position in our home in a way that would be oppressive to me? Of course, but his position does not mean that by definition.
We, as a society, reinforce or combat feminism in things as simple as the way we speak to our children and the choices we make in the home. Some families with stay-at-home moms only emphasize the same for their daughters, rather than professional trajectories. Boys are often not encouraged to develop things like cooking skills. We often compliment girls on physical appearance and boys on accomplishments. Most often, none of this is done with the intention of sexism, but it still occurs and can subtly perpetuate stereotypes. It is important that we identify valued characteristics and encourage all of them in our children of both sexes. Obviously, each person is not gifted in all areas, but a child’s sex should not define which characteristics they are encouraged to develop.
My daughter will grow up watching how my husband and I work together to consider decisions in our family. She’ll see me crossfit and weight lift and know that I hold a PhD in a field that uses applied statistics and computer programming. She’ll see me plan and prepare meals for our family, but also see how my husband helps with cleaning and cooking and other aspects of managing our home. Will we always get it right? Of course not, but awareness of sexism will help to assuage its effects. We’ll continue to learn as our daughter learns.
I hope that by the time my daughter enters the adult world, the media is filled with fewer incidences of gender inequality, but that won’t be true until those of us already participating in society stop perpetuating gender stereotypes and exploitation of women both inside and outside our homes. I also hope that when my daughter is older it will be normal to hear people say they are feminists and Christians.