Another question from a reader: Raising feminist daughters

Following up to the thread about discussing feminism with male partners:

How does a father teach his daughter about feminism?

I’m the father of a nearly five-year-old daughter, and I want to raise her to be fully aware of the misogyny around her and not be afraid to confront it and fight for herself. I know my role in this- I need to make sure that she is not afraid to question authority and that she is a critical and independent thinker. That’ll probably go most of the way, I hope. But are there any books that you guys can recommend that might start her thinking about her identity as a woman? Preferably sooner rather than later- I figure giving her The Feminine Mystique will work at thirteen, not so much at six.

I do feel a bit of urgency about this- we’re living in the most conservative county in Texas (well, might as well say the galaxy). I know that lecturing her about it just won’t work, especially as she confronts what I assume will be some pretty rampant misogyny in the school system down here. I’m looking for something that’ll get her questioning what’s happening around her on her own.

Suggestions? Advice?

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99 comments for “Another question from a reader: Raising feminist daughters

  1. Jasmine
    February 20, 2008 at 6:54 pm

    Well if I remember correctly I believe the NOW and Feminist Majority online stores have feminist books geared towards young girls, which might be a good place to start. I think too as his daughter gets older, it would be beneficial to examine the pop culture stuff (magazines, music etc) she is into and try to get a dialogue going about it. Like if he comes across an ad that objectifies women or some show or commercial that is misogynist, he can ask her how she feels about it and try to break it down and dissect it. I think getting a dialogue going is paramount.
    This dad is definately on the right track The most important thing for him to do is to treat woman respectfully so that his daughter will see this and grow to expect nothing less from other men that may come into her life. I kind of know how he feels because my husband and I want to have kids in the near future and I’m worried about how to instill feminism in my future kids so that they can bravely face the onslaugtht of the all the misogynist crap out there and come out relatively unscathed. As for my husband, he wants to raise our daughters to believe that no man will ever be good enough for her. I can already forsee him cleaning his gun in the living room while our daughters date waits nervously for her LOL

  2. February 20, 2008 at 6:58 pm

    Make gender a regular topic of conversation between you and your child. If you hear your child talking about “girls” and “boys,” respond.

    “Boys can’t wear pink!”
    “Really? Why not?”
    “Because pink is for girls!”
    “Girls do wear pink more often than boys. But I think that’s kind of silly. Boys and girls should be able to wear whatever color looks nice on them, don’t you think? We’re all people, after all!”

    “Tommy told me that girls can’t be good at math.”
    “Sounds like Tommy doesn’t understand very much about people! Do you want to learn about some women who are very good at math?”

    “I think you should vote for the lady who wants to be President!”
    “Why’s that?”
    “Because we’ve never had a lady President before and that would be cool.”
    “It would be cool. Why do you think we’ve never had a lady President before?”

    When they’re young, keep it to what’s relevant to them and their daily lives. Abstractions are going to go over their heads, and warnings will scare them. However, as they get older, make sure they hear you discussing feminism and sexism with other adults. Have feminist books around. Find some feminist blogs that use a degree of profanity you’re comfortable with them encountering (heh).

    My little sisters are 5 and 7, and I worry about them a lot. But then I remember that I played with Barbies and read romance novels growing up, and I think that as an adult I am suitably angry at patriarchy. :)

  3. Thomas, TSID
    February 20, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    My oldest son is a preschooler. My daughter is a toddler. I think the place to start with little girls is to teach yourself. Teach yourself that they are strong and smart and capable and raise them to know it, then whenever anyone tries to undermine that, tell them it’s unfair. You can worry about naming the unfairness later.

    When my daughter was born premature and I looked at her with a feeding tube and nasal canula in a plexiglass box, I trained myself not to say she was little or pretty. I trained myself to say she was my big strong girl, because I thought that for her to make it in the world, she would need me to see her that way.

  4. February 20, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    If you treat your daughter with the kind of respect that men usually get and if you show that you are willing to stand up for her when sexist things happen (at school or where ever) then you will show her that 1) she deserves respect and equal treatment and she will be less likely to accept it when someone is sexist towards her and 2) you’ll teach her how to stand up for herself.

  5. February 20, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    I trained myself to say she was my big strong girl, because I thought that for her to make it in the world, she would need me to see her that way.

    That’s great advice, Thomas. And your story made me tear up a little bit.

  6. February 20, 2008 at 7:04 pm

    start w/ the truth. that is what i do w/ my five year old…just answer her questions truthfully and honestly and free from any kind of judgement…she is too young to make judgements yet…so being clear and honest helps…

    for me it started w/ honesty about basic anatomy, where babies come from…there are a bunch of books that help w/ that, i like “It’s Not the Stork” which covers personal autonomy, good touches and bad touches too…i really feel that setting the foundation b/f they get to school is really important w/ that sort of thing

    also, being conscious of the kind of gender stereotypes you expose her to helps…i get criticized a lot, but i don’t let her have barbies and such…and when she asks why i tell her. she is getting to be very socially aware…and that, to me at least, is the first step…

  7. February 20, 2008 at 7:08 pm

    i should mention that i have the kind of conversations that hot tramp mentioned above w/ my daughter every day. the things out kids understand amazes me all the time, and when we talk about why girls and boys can do the same things, i make her repeat it to me in her own words…that way i know she’s got it.

  8. February 20, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    My apologies about the poor linking job, I fail at internet posting.

  9. 1five9
    February 20, 2008 at 7:16 pm

    The WSJ’s The Juggle recently addressed the issue of working moms in children’s literature. There were a few suggestions, but not many unfortunately. Certainly working moms and stay at home dads wouldn’t be the end all and be all of feminist literature for kids, but would certainly be a nice start in showing diversity.

    Although I haven’t been there in awhile, but I do like reading BitchPhD’s explanation of how she teaches her son about sexism, society’s treatment of gender roles, etc. Lots and lots of conversations.

    As a pregnant woman, I can’t wait to see the responses to this question. My first plan of attack is two-fold 1) Gender-neutral clothes and toys and 2) Lots of liberal books in the kids room. I look forward to suggestions.

    And to Jill, I think this series is great. I would suggest making it a weekly topic or something similar. Maybe I’m just missing it, but I haven’t found great sources (on-line or off) for trying to work through these issues.

  10. 1five9
    February 20, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Rachel: Great List. Does anyone know of a similar list for the pre-reading set (babies/toddlers?)

  11. February 20, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    And to Jill, I think this series is great. I would suggest making it a weekly topic or something similar. Maybe I’m just missing it, but I haven’t found great sources (on-line or off) for trying to work through these issues.

    Fabulous idea. I’ll do that.

  12. February 20, 2008 at 7:45 pm

    I trained myself to say she was my big strong girl, because I thought that for her to make it in the world, she would need me to see her that way.

    I do that kinda with the xCLP – whenever she tries to do stuff on her own I make a big deal of how big and strong (and sometimes brave) she is. I think that’s all I really can do until she starts to notice sexist stuff and be able to express it to me.

    There’s a couple of things I struggle with. One is that I want to encourage some things that are female-coded, like being affectionate or helping me with chores (I like to think I’d encourage a boy the same, but obviously can’t be sure) and I worry that I’m giving her the wrong kind of reinforcement. Another situation is if she’s playing with other children and one of the boys gets too rough. I don’t want to say “Aw diddums dear fragile princess don’t play with the nasty rough boys” but nor do I want to give her the impression that she has to put up with being bashed over the head. What do other people do?

    The other one that I sometimes wonder what message I’m giving her is when she tries to play with my scissors or drink my beer and I say “That’s not for little girls.” Obviously the emphasis is supposed to be on little, but… I usually end up quickly adding, “It’s only for grown-ups.”

  13. kt
    February 20, 2008 at 7:51 pm

    thanks for that link rachel – I’ve been trying to find feminist-friendly books for my niece for a while now (I just bought her ‘princess pigsty’ on amazon!).

  14. Shana
    February 20, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    Although I am sure that my father was not consciously raising a feminist I think in a lot of ways he did. The best thing he did for me was that he spent time with me and really got to know me. With that in mind he found things that (especially books) that spoke to the young woman I was becoming. One thing that I think made all the difference was the newspaper. My father read, and still reads, the newspaper everyday. He made sure to share relevant article with me and we picked them apart together. Oftentimes, this made me aware of gender and racial stereotypes going on in my own community (a small, conservative, military area). Since this father lives in a conservative community I think it will be important for him as his daughter gets older to start not with broad concepts of feminism but with things that are happening in his own comunity. Now that I am a grad student in women’s studies, I am sure my dad’s way of acting locally made all the difference.

  15. EG
    February 20, 2008 at 8:32 pm

    One of the best things my mother ever did for me, feminist-wise, was to meet me where I was. When I watched television, she would sit next to me, and during the commericals, she would point out how sexist they were to me (“Look, EG, that commercial shows only boys playing with Star Wars figures, that’s not right.” “Yeah! I’m a girl, and I like Star Wars figures, too.” “That’s because the people who make that commercial are sexist–they think that Star Wars is only for boys, but girls can like anything they want.” “Yeah, it’s sexist to say that I can’t like Star Wars,” etc.). It raised my consciousness not only about feminism and gender from an early age, but also about not trusting commercials, which is a good thing.

    Some picture books about feminism that I loved are Nice Little Girls by Elizabeth Levy and Mommy Works On Dresses (pro-feminist and pro-union) by Louise de Grosbois. Both are out of print but you can probably track down copies on

    Other books for the under-10s include The Ordinary Princess by M. M. Kaye, and there are good feminist fairy tales in Don’t Bet on the Prince, edited by Jack Zipes (that one’s a read out loud, because it includes scholarly essays and stories for adults as well as good stories for children).

    Also, look into books that feature strong, active little girls as protagonists, like Beverly Cleary’s Ramona books.

  16. EoL
    February 20, 2008 at 8:48 pm

    Five years old may be a bit early for using critical thinking skills. Most children of that age are still very influenced by their parents and teachers, whether it’s agreeing with them or disagreeing with them. Many children get ideas about gender from other students (and from those students’ parents), TV, and their teachers. So it’s important to not only encourage one’s daughter to do whatever she wants to do in life, but also to tackle any “So-and-so said girls/boys can’t …” as fast as possible.

    Don’t raise her with expectations as far as what would make you happy. If she has ideas of what she wants for the future, explore the reasons why. Even at a young age, this can encourage critical thinking, and create discussions on topics like marriage, career, and children. (For example, when I was in grade school, many of my peers would say, “I want five children!” Well, why? “Because I love babies!” But babies grow up into children, teens, adults … and children are expensive and take a lot of time, etc. etc. I think it’s good to bring rational discussion into these kinds of assertions, esp. when the kid is young.)

    Don’t forbid anything silly, like TV or Barbies. You could be stifling her personality. I loved Barbies, but I would create dramas with them (also did that with action figures with my brother, and legos, and stuffed animals), and I was also very interested in fashion. And what happened when I got older? I was involved in many plays and I started doing costuming as a hobby. TV shows and movies can open up discussion, if the kid is old enough to understand what’s going on or ask questions. I would, however, say that you can use discretion. If the child wants a toy or game that appears blatantly sexist, ask why. “Cuz Janie has one,” is not a good reason, and explain why (but avoid talking about jumping off bridges).

    Just remember that children are not an extension of yourself. They’re people. Don’t be forbidding or overbearing, or else the intended result may be quite negative.

  17. February 20, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    I don’t know if you have any sons, but if you do or may in the future . . . it would have been invaluable to me as a child if my father treated me the same way as he treated my brothers. I have always been far more levelheaded and self-sufficient than my brothers. But I was also always the one who was treated like she was helpless.

    Another important thing is to do your best to make sure that she’s not ashamed of her body. That means a lot of things, like making sure she knows the right words for body parts and isn’t taught that any part of her body is “dirty.” It also means not commenting on weight or looks as a source of approval, fawning over her looks when she’s dressed up but then completely ignoring them when she’s not. I think it gives, or at least helped to give me, a sense that male approval came from appearance and that unless I spent a whole lot of time on my appearance, I was unattractive and therefore would not get approval. And of course it hurt all the more when I put in effort and still went unnoticed. How to draw the line between making sure that a girl knows her looks are not her source of value but also making sure that she is proud of her body and appearance as she is, I don’t know, but I think that it’s an important one.

  18. February 20, 2008 at 8:49 pm

    This blog is now defunct, but the resources remain for any parent who is trying to raise his/her child(ren) in an anti-sexist, anti-consumerist way.

  19. Lorelai
    February 20, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    I don’t know if you can get these books in the US but I always used to read Babette Cole’s “Princess Smartypants” series to my ESOL kids (ages 4-8). Cool story books that kids can relate to that replaces the whole ‘princess meets a prince and gets married’ storyline for ‘princess who wants to do what she’s interested in’ (such as motorbike riding and splashing about in the mud and so on). The kids (both boys and girls) I read them to just loved them and I loved them cos’ the character was a good (but not overt ‘here is the moral’) role model.

  20. BabyPop
    February 20, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    Excellent topic! My niece is turning six and, well…lets just say that my brother and sister-in-law aren’t raising her to probably be the most open-minded person in the world, I guess. I’d like to give her some books with great messages that are feminist, but that aren’t terribly overt in a way that it would look like I’m trying to undermine my brother & sister-in-law’s parenting.

  21. Marissa
    February 20, 2008 at 9:14 pm

    I think Cara’s ideas about body image are key. Girls as young as 5 are known to think they need to start dieting to fit social expectations. Girls often base their worth on the amount of fat they have on their body. I would probably point out that the women she sees on TV do not look like real people in the world around her, and that all shapes, sizes, and ages are beautiful.

  22. unrelatedwaffle
    February 20, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    Really, just instill in her an undying love of learning and books. The rest will follow.

  23. LadyGrey
    February 20, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    My mom encouraged me to read biographies of women like Elizabeth Blackwell, and bought me things like a book of quotations by women and Great Women paperdolls. A lot of books came from the Chinaberry catalog.

    The funny thing is, my mom is very conservative and traditional in some ways (Catholic, Republican) but she absolutely made me feel the equal to any man in my abilities and what I could accomplish.

  24. February 20, 2008 at 9:42 pm

    There seem to be a trend with both young men and women in their mid-twenties to be overly-reliant on their parents. I was never close to my parents and couldn’t wait to leave home. So, it’s hard for me to relate to. Parents need to teach their son and daughters to be self-dependent. Young men and women are going to have a problems if they’re 29 years-old and their parents are still paying their bills. I met these people and their development is arrested. I wonder what happens when they make their own way and pay bills.

    As far as feminism, I say have children volunteer for worthy causes and let them try different things. It let’s children have a better understanding of the world.

    Let children get beyond worrying about failing activities. Explain that they never learn anything if they don’t try and encourage them.

    Teach children the importance of tolerance. Explain to them that they don’t like it when other kids pick on them. They shouldn’t act the same way.

    Most important thing: keep kids away from Ann Althouse’s blog.

  25. Jim H in Indiana
    February 20, 2008 at 9:57 pm

    How to raise a feminist daughter? I think it works both ways (boys and girls), but this is what my wife and I did with our daughter (an only child):

    First off, don’t reinforce any gender stereotypes. For example, I do laundry, straighten around the house, do dishes and other “feminine” jobs. I was raised that everybody pitched in, did their share of the work and there was no such thing as “woman duties.” I’m no less a Man when I do dishes that when I work on the car! The Kid (my pet name for her) was raised the same way. She had chores, Dad had chores and Mom had chores. This was outside (my wife does mowing, usually on the rider while I do trim) as well as inside. There weren’t specific “man” chores or “woman” chores, just “chores.” Another example (and quite amusing): The Kid loved hair brets yet had very fine, thin hair until she was probably 10. So, she would place multitudes of brets in my hair until my hair was basically a sea of brets. Now, I don’t see a lot of man with pretty pink brets and bows in their hair but if they wanted to, so what. I was comfortable with it, which reinforced the whole concept that something was inherent to a specific gender. By the way, now 14 years later, we still have a few snapshots of “pretty daddy.”

    Second, don’t get hung up on sex. Treat it as a natural part of life (no, really, it is!). The Kid (that’s my pet name for her) liked to take showers with me when she was quite young. One day, she pointed to my penis, then to herself and said, “Daddys are different.” I said, “yes” and we went on with our shower. Later, she said something to my wife about “daddy being different.” My wife coined the phrase, “Daddy is different and mommy is fuzzy!” For a five-year-old, it was cute and solved her budding curiousity but without setting any negative precedents. In other words, boys and girls are differently physically but it’s just part of life! As she grew, she asked more and more questions. For every question, we had an age-appropriate answer. One day, she heard some anti-choice political commercial bashing abortion. She asked what it was. And I told her the truth. She said, “Daddy, that’s terrible.” I said, “But you have to remember, in some cases, the mommy and daddy can’t handle another baby or take care of it the way it should. Babies need to be loved and wanted and it would be unfair to not be able to do that.” “Oh,” she says, “that makes sense” and that was enough to satisfy her while still emphasizing a woman’s right to privacy and choice to manager her own body.

    Finally, we told the Kid from Day One she could do anything she wanted. We didn’t allow this “girls can be _________, boys can be _________” crap. One day (age 5, I think), she said, “Daddy, I want to drive a race car.” “Okay,” says I, “if that’s what you want to do.” When she finally did (age 15), I warned her some competitors would be hostile to a “girl” and to give as well as she got. Guess what, she earned her stripes and the respect of most of her peers. There was a few who couldn’t handle this strong little blonde who didn’t take crap from anyone. Race her clean and she raced you clean. Try to drive through her and expect to feel her bumper! I didn’t raise no wallflower! Tell your daughter she can do and be anything she wants to be, THEN ALLOW TO DO JUST THAT. And back her 100% of the way!

    I will allow it’s probably different when you have multiple children as each one is quite different (I come from a family of three boys and one girl). And things are very different for an only child. But if you demonstrate that there are no preassigned roles and that each person has their own strengths, needs, and weaknesses — and these are not tied to something as simple as male or female — then you will not only raise a feminist daughter, you’ll probably raise children who see and appreciate the real differences in people and refuse to get into this boy-vs.-girl crap.

    Sorry for such a long rant, but it’s something that I — a father of a wonderful, strong, independent, intelligent daughter who is now 24 — am quite proud of!

  26. evil fizz
    February 20, 2008 at 10:04 pm

    This thread makes me think of this fabulous commercial with Sarah Ferguson talking to her daughter about fairy tales.

    For those who can’t view it: Sarah Ferguson is telling a bedtime story to her daughter: “Some day when you grow up, your knight will come. And he’ll take you off to a beautiful castle. And he’ll marry you and give you everything your heart desires for ever and ever. Of course, if it doesn’t work out, you’ll want to know the difference between a PE ratio and a dividend yield.”

    V/O: Build your own castle with info from Charles Schwab, etc.

  27. lilacsigil
    February 20, 2008 at 10:25 pm

    I was born in 1974, but raised by a feminist dad and a mostly-feminist mum. The most important thing was that I was treated absolutely equally with my brothers – there was never any idea that any of us couldn’t do something or had to do something because of gender. We were all encouraged to mix interests – everything from dolls to playing outside – and household chores were shared out by age, not by gender.

    Where it fell down was weight – I was a slightly overweight teenager, my next brother was very underweight and my youngest brother as overweight as me. I was made to exercise and eat different (and less) food and wasn’t taught to cook. The boys were allowed in the kitchen and their meals were not restricted. As an obvious result, I became self-conscious and stopped playing sport, then couldn’t cook when I moved out of home and gained a lot of weight through bad eating! Looking back, I think it was easy for my parents to treat us equally when we were pre-pubescent – the real challenge came when our bodies changed.

  28. Betsy
    February 20, 2008 at 10:30 pm

    I would actually not suggest the Feminine Mystique at age 13 (I just spent two weeks doing a close reading of it for my dissertation, so I know whereof I speak). It’s an amazing book, brilliant, groundbreaking, ahead of its time, but also very dated in many ways now. I’d save it for college, when she’s better able to understand the historical context it was produced in and what some of the critiques of it were all about. De Beauvoir, The Second Sex might actually be better for high school age, though I haven’t read it recently and could be wrong. Also – can’t go wrong with Our Bodies, Ourselves, for when she gets to the appropriate age.

    As for now – I think the most important thing is to have her read lots of books with interesting female characters, from children to teens to adults. Luckily there are lots and lots of such books out there, even if they’re not perfect in every way. This was true even when I was her age, more than 20 years ago, and it’s doubly true now.

  29. BabyPop
    February 20, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    Really, just instill in her an undying love of learning and books. The rest will follow.

    Well said! That’s pretty much what set me on my way.

  30. Jay
    February 20, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    My daughter just turned 8 and she’s in second grade. In our house Dad cooks and shops as often as Mom, and everybody does the same amount of cleaning. Everyone who said to address the gender assumptions you hear at her level is right on. I also want to second what Cara said about helping her value her body as it is, for what she can do with it – whatever it is she wants at the time.

    One of our favorite books is An Undone Fairy Tale. We have Princess Smartypants and The Paperbag Princess but she didn’t like those so much – she loved Undone. We read it to her when we first bought it two years ago but now she reads it herself.

  31. K
    February 20, 2008 at 10:59 pm

    In line with Cara’s comment, praise her effort and character, not what she looks like. Emphasize what other people do — “She’s the one who always plays airplane with you,” instead of “She’s the one with the brown braids.”

    When it comes to achievement, I think it’s better to praise diligence and creativity than strength or intelligence. “You’re so smart” can tell a child not to take any risks that would jeopardize that assessment, while “You’re so good at thinking things through and coming up with new ways to look at things” sends the same message, but emphasizes the effort.

    Also, share your interests and encourage hers. It will be a lot easier for her to challenge the status-quo on sports/math/leadership/whatever if she’s really good at something she loves. I firmly believe that those opportunities should be available to every kid regardless of talent, but it is harder to fight for your right to play baseball if you’re a lousy player.

    All of that said, anyone who’s worrying about this is probably already doing a great job! Don’t let the short-term get you down too much. Like many others here, I was a ruffles-and-lace girl with Barbies even though my mother never was and didn’t really know what to do with me. As an adult, I cheerfully engage in all sorts of stereotypically gendered activities (cooking, bubblebaths, mascara, pink clothes) without giving an inch to those who think that should be all I’m allowed to do.

  32. Puggins
    February 20, 2008 at 11:05 pm

    Wow, lots of great advice. This’ll be a great resource.

  33. February 20, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    Packaging Girlhood.
    Packaging Girlhood.
    Packaging Girlhood.
    Packaging Girlhood.
    Packaging Girlhood.
    Packaging Girlhood.
    Packaging Girlhood.
    Packaging Girlhood.
    Packaging Girlhood.
    Packaging Girlhood.

    This book tells you FABULOUS WAYS to talk to a 6-year-old about age-appropriate sexism-dismantling!

    And when you want to carry it beyond the types of sexism that their book covers (which is pretty much “gender essentialism”), just flip back to the pages you dog-eared with advice about how to phrase things to your daughter, and modify it for your latest concern.

    Do itttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt.

  34. February 20, 2008 at 11:29 pm

    Oh, I’d also recommend that you read Protecting The Gift and keep what she’s allowed to do independently in line with the author’s…I think it was…12?…readiness tests.

    (They’re written for parents of both boys & girls, by the way. And any boy/girl who passes all 12 is probably not only going to be safe when doing things alone, but also a pretty great thinker.)

    Ooooh…found it online! Here we go:

    1. Does your child know how to honor his feelings? If someone makes him uncomfortable, that’s an important signal.
    2. Are you as the parent strong enough to hear about any experience your child has had, no matter how unpleasant?
    3. Does your child know it’s okay to rebuff and defy adults?
    4. Does your child know it’s okay to be assertive?
    5. Does your child know how to ask for assistance or help?
    6. Does your child know how to choose who to ask? For example, he should look for a woman to help him.
    7. Does your child know how to describe his peril?
    8. Does your child know it’s okay to strike, even to injure, someone if he believes he is in danger, and that you’ll support any action he takes as a result of feeling uncomfortable or afraid?
    9. Does your child know it’s okay to make noise, to scream, to yell, to run?
    10. Does your child know that if someone ever tries to force him to go somewhere, what he screams should include, ”This is not my father”? Onlookers seeing a child scream or even struggle are likely to assume the adult is a parent.
    11. Does your child know that if someone says, ”Don’t yell,” the thing to do is yell? The corollary is if someone says, ”Don’t tell,” the thing to do is tell.
    12. Does your child know to fully resist ever going anywhere out of public view with someone he doesn’t know, and particularly to resist going anywhere with someone who tries to persuade him?

  35. February 20, 2008 at 11:32 pm

    (Oh, by the way, I just noticed that “for example.” You’ll have to read the book for an explanation of that bit–it’s not totally gender essentialist that the author says, “Look for a woman.” Okay, yeah, he’s more gender essentialist than most of the women on this blog or than, say, the authors of Packaging Girlhood, and that bugs the hell out of me, but one can read his books and still get a lot out of them if one just says, “Okay, well, I think that you’re wrong for attributing that to nature–I think it’s nurture–but I see your argument for taking advantage of the end result for safety nonetheless.” Anyway, what he said is not to have your kids go for someone in uniform–too many types of people have uniforms–but to go for a woman, because women have a tendency (again, I just tell myself that I still firmly believe it’s a trained tendency) to personally see getting a lost child home through to the end, rather than passing the child off on some other “authority” figure in the mall/park/etc.)

  36. February 20, 2008 at 11:39 pm

    My feminism has been sharpened by constant reading and conversations about feminism. When I became a mother I found the same need to be reading about and talking about feminist parenting in order to develop my feminism as a parent. It is difficult to do in a vacuum and very difficult to do when the mainstream is so sexist.

    So I started a blog on feminist motherhood.

    I explore topics, I link to good articles, I review books, I discuss the questions I’m facing as a feminist and the directions I’m taking, and I’ve built a community of like minded parents. There are some aspects I’d never have considered, never have known how to address were it not for the input of other feminist parents.

  37. Joe
    February 20, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    always told my daughters, you will have to be twice as good to get half the pay of males, but i love and they are assholes. waste them when you get the chance.

  38. February 20, 2008 at 11:49 pm

    Oh yeah…I also like Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together In The Cafeteria? for great advice from a developmental psychologist about how to talk to white kids about their whiteness and others’ non-whiteness and also how to talk to non-white kids about their non-whiteness and others’ whiteness.

    (I also like Jim in Indiana’s story. :-) )

  39. Starfoxy
    February 21, 2008 at 12:22 am

    One thing I would recommend is respecting her bodily sovereignty. A good place to start rethinking your approach to the way you let her define her personal space is in tickling- tickling can be really fun, and it can also be really unpleasant. It is really common to play at resisting/overpowering during play at tickling. (When you think of a little kid shouting of ‘no no stop!’ interspersed with gales of laughter, it isn’t so hard to understand why some people think that ‘no’ doesn’t always mean no.) Sure can be fun, for you. Is it always fun for the kid? Maybe, maybe not.

    I think it can be just as much fun to have over exaggerated consent in your tickling play. For example I’ll tickle my son, and the moment he pushes my hand away I stop instantly and feign disinterest (which he finds hilarious). Then he’ll grab my hand and put it back on his tummy (or say “ghin!” which means “again!”) and we repeat the process ad nauseam. My goal is to demonstrate to him that he can control when and how people touch his body, and that the people who love him should respect the boundaries he defines, and that it is okay for him to *ask* for affection/attention (esp. that it isn’t less fun if you’ve asked for it).

  40. BabyPop
    February 21, 2008 at 1:04 am

    When you think of a little kid shouting of ‘no no stop!’ interspersed with gales of laughter, it isn’t so hard to understand why some people think that ‘no’ doesn’t always mean no.

    Laughing from tickling is, as far as I’m concerned, a hard-wired physiological effect, and any time I have ever said “no no stop” when being tickled, I have meant it, despite the gales of laughter, and once the tickling stopped, I had been extremely angry. I’d never really thought of it in the way you frame it, though. That does seem like a great opportunity to teach by example as far as bodily autonomy, touching, and affection go. I remember when I was a teenager and babysat, I tickled my baby cousin, and my aunt told me she didn’t like it when people tickled babies because a baby can’t really say “quit it.”

  41. Puggins
    February 21, 2008 at 2:29 am

    Given the horrific rate of rape and molestation today, Bodily sovereignty is the absolute most important concept I could possibly impart to both my son and daughter, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve made it as clear as I possibly could to my daughter that anyone- including my wife or myself- absolutely MUST listen to her whenever she doesn’t want to be touched in any fashion, whether it be a tickle, a hug or a hand on the shoulder. If she doesn’t want it there, it has no business being there.

    It’s great that you mentioned tickling, Starfoxy- I feel vindicated. My daughter almost never rebuffs a hug or a touch from me, but she has told me to stop tickling her many times, and I always stop and make it a point to tell her that her choice to tell me to stop was a good one. Of course, almost always she follows it up with a giggle and an “again,” which is great- it shows her that she’s in control, I hope. A good first step, as far as I’m concerned.

  42. truffula
    February 21, 2008 at 2:31 am

    I’d like to echo the comment about praising effort. Our 4-year old boys are in a Montessori program and one of the points that teachers emphasize with parents is to say things like “you worked very hard at that and it’s great,” instead of “you are very good at that.” This is where self-confidence comes from, a sense that you can accomplish whatever you set out to do.

    We also spend a lot of time talking about diversity. A recent example: one of the boys and I were talking about how our bones make a skeleton and so on. This was an opportunity to note that while most people have all of those bones, some people don’t. The general point is always that people are all “different” in one way or another but they are all still people and it’s nice to live in a world with all of them. Young children are, in my observation, very interested in classification. Anything we can do to broaden their field of view is worthwhile.

  43. hyrax
    February 21, 2008 at 4:04 am

    I would say my parents aren’t actively feminist, and my sister and I don’t have the same perspective on gender issues. The things they did that helped me though were mostly my dad listening to me and treating me like a person separate from him, even when I said stuff different from what he wanted for me. In retrospect some of it was pretty amazing, but I think what mattered most to him was that I felt loved and valued. My mom probably helped the most by being a strong personality and speaking out against things she thought were wrong, again, not always things we agreed on, but really modeling that women’s opinions matter.

  44. February 21, 2008 at 4:50 am

    You know, I think this is one case where actions will always speak louder than words.

    I’m going to preface this by saying that I have made a living, and continue to work part time, as a nude model (mostly fine art nudes, but some fetish and “soft” content)- in the eyes of some of your readers, this may disqualify what I have to say about my father’s critical role in my self-identifying as a feminist.

    My father is the most important man in my life, and, unless I ever have a son, he always will be. Although my mom self-identified as a feminist, and I grew up around Ms. Magazine and an early copy of Our Bodies Ourselves, I never really heard my dad voice any political or social opinions. He never gave me feminist literature, or told me that I could do anything a boy could.


    He respected my mother. The relationship they shared was- and is- one based on mutual love, trust, and respect. They never raised their voices at each other: my father’s actions towards my mother taught me how I should expect to be treated in a relationship.

    He never made inappropriate comments about women (or minorities, for that matter). I never saw him talk down to or think little of anyone.

    He respected and adored his children. He only wanted what was best for me, my sister, and my brother.

    I didn’t grow up being told that women were equal and deserving of respect by my father- I grew up being shown this.

    Today, as an adult, I’m amazed at the reactions to unacceptable behavior. When a man has sex with a non-responsive woman, so many people say, “well, she didn’t say no, and, after all, he’s a man.” All I can think when I hear stuff like this is what men have they been hanging out with!?

    I’ve been seeing- especially in the blogosphere and on the modeling messageboard I frequent- the sexist bile that’s spewed at Hilary Clinton- and sometimes it seems like the only one who objects to this kind of talk is me. I didn’t grow up in a household where calling anyone a whore or a skank or a bitch was ever acceptable- I was never told not to do that: I was shown that there were better ways to voice criticism and distaste without resorting to sexism.

    I’m aware this is a little presumptuous and heterosexist, but I hope it will be taken in the spirit it’s intended, I believe that a good way to raise a feminist daughter(whether she chooses to self-identify as one or not) is to have the qualities and behaviors of the man you’d like her to marry.

    (If she chooses to get married to a man, of course, or married at all.)

    Like I said in the beginning, actions speak louder than words. It’s not that words don’t help- but I think that actions truly are the foundation here.

  45. SoE
    February 21, 2008 at 5:20 am

    From how my parents raised me I think two points are really important. First thing is, children have a strong sense what is just and what is unjust, so most of them are by nature feminists. Even the girlishist girly, always dressing in pink and loving her gazillions of barbies, might be upset when someone tells her becoming a firefighter is not an appropriate dream for a girl. Telling kids that indeed they are right and did a good job figuring this out while some grown-ups cannot, is a good start.

    Second point is to support your kids whatever they do. I liked my hair short, my nails painted and the strangest clothing and hated to have to kiss relatives. And my parents always answered politely that their kids were in fact all girls and made sure people didn’t force me to kiss them. I heard “but why doesn’t she want to do it?” so many times *headdesk*…

  46. February 21, 2008 at 9:54 am

    on a random bit of promotion, my various “raising feminist daughters” posts are about that very subject.

  47. February 21, 2008 at 10:28 am

    My parents wouldn’t have identified themselves as feminists–in fact, I didn’t identify as a feminist until probably my senior year of college. But they did manage in many ways to encourage my sister and I to do whatever we loved and whatever we were good at, and to remind us over and over again that we could do whatever we wanted, and didn’t need men.

    I also never heard my father (or mother) speak negatively about anyone because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

    Most importantly, as someone mentioned above, my father took the time to read to me, and to explain things to me honestly when I had a question about something on the news. I can remember him explaining to me that Reagan (who he had voted for) had propped up repressive regimes in different places under the banner of ‘fighting communism,’ and other such things. My parents never told me I was too young to understand.

    Even now, when they disagree with my politics, they still are incredibly proud of the fact that I’m out there and active.

  48. batgirl
    February 21, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    The Princess Knight

    Ballerino Nate

    Any book that challenges gender roles can be useful in talking about gender issues your kids see in school, etc.

  49. RKMK
    February 21, 2008 at 1:30 pm

    For the Canadians out there – Robert Munches The Paperbag PrincessLink! I was trying to remember how I came down this road, and that was an early favourite. That, and She-Ra. (She and Adora were so much cooler than He-Man/Adam! I mean, she was a FREEDOM FIGHTER! Who talked to ponies!)

    Obviously, I was a child of the 80s.

    I think the key idea is to keep reinforcing the idea that girls are people. Not necessarily by talking about theory, but books, movies, tv shows where female characters are the main characters, or otherwise prominently displayed, showing inner lives. My favourite reading series growing up were Sweet Valley Twins/High, Saddle Club, Babysitter’s Club, etc. Showing, not telling, is key.

  50. February 21, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    Sorry if this was mentioned, but after 5 comments I stop reading. :)

    Every dad should be a member of Dads & Daughters. Great advise on their website & in their newsletters.

  51. Vail
    February 21, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    My daughter is 4 1/2 and adopted. I worry about her future and hope that we’re doing enough to ensure that she grows up happy, healthy, connected with her Mongolian culture, and of course a feminist. I worry about showing her Disney films (the Mulan one has the Mongolians with red scary eyes) and haven’t bought her a barbie (though I admit I have bought her the Jade Bratz dolls). I let her watch the Nick Jr. Shows which are pretty good except for Max and Ruby (so of course she adores it). I would suggest the Backyardigans show, which has female characters doing everything from being Knights to Explorers etc. She does love that show, and had to be a pirate for Halloween because of their Pirate episode. I bought her a sweatshirt with the saying “This Princess Saves Herself” on it.

    Anyway keep suggesting books, I’ve been requesting them from the Library as I see ’em!

  52. JW79
    February 21, 2008 at 2:33 pm

    I can’t track down the title, but when I was a little girl my parents gave me a book about famous women in American history–I remember it talked about Phyllis Wheatley, Anne Hutchinson, Anne Bradstreet, Civil War nurses, suffragettes, etc. I think something like that would be great–I never questioned from childhood on that women could do great things.

  53. Bookwoman
    February 21, 2008 at 3:11 pm

    I’ve used this phrase with my two sons: “There’s no such thing as girl stuff, and no such thing as boy stuff.” It is simple and has worked in many situations, such as when the fast-food place once gave us “girl” toys (No problem!). As they go to school they are learning traditional gender roles, but we always follow up at home with the same phrase, and I believe that they understand.

  54. TinaH
    February 21, 2008 at 4:04 pm

    As the mom of a 4 year old boy, I am feverishly taking notes. I figure it’s my obligation to raise a fully feminist boy. Call it corrupting the young or something.

  55. sminbrooklyn
    February 21, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    I am not a parent, so I don’t know how valid any comment I have about raising children is, but I have always loved the piece in Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’ about raising children. Here is a quote:

    “You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.”

    What does it mean to raise a feminist daughter? That’s going to be different for every person. I became a feminist because my parents – both my mom and dad – were interested in hearing my voice from the day I started talking. Then, when I got into the ugly real world, I felt justified in being pissed when people dismissed me for being female (or blonde, or white, American … whatever). My mom – a kindergarten teacher, my role model and the mother of a feminist son and daughter – tells me all the time that love is the most important thing you can give to your child. But can you give your love with a Barbie doll? I’m inclined to say, of course you can. To me, feminism doesn’t mean that you have to think about the world in a specific way, it just means you should be free from the constraint of thinking about it one way because of your gender. So I say, give her a Barbie and let her watch Cinderella, but do it with her.

  56. Mnemosyne
    February 21, 2008 at 4:36 pm

    I can’t track down the title, but when I was a little girl my parents gave me a book about famous women in American history–I remember it talked about Phyllis Wheatley, Anne Hutchinson, Anne Bradstreet, Civil War nurses, suffragettes, etc. I think something like that would be great–I never questioned from childhood on that women could do great things.

    That’s pretty much what I was going to suggest: get kids’ level biographies of great women in history. Once you learn about Harriet Tubman, it’s pretty hard to think of women as being weak or helpless.

    (Oh, and get her one on George Washington Carver, too, who is still one of my heroes.)

  57. skirt
    February 21, 2008 at 5:08 pm

    The Paper-bag Princess is an excellent, age-appropriate book with a female heroine, and serves as a wonderful foil for more “traditional” princess-rescue stories. I also had a mother who would routinely change the narrator’s gender in books she was reading aloud – one book was about a puppy who was looking for an owner and he’d ask, “are you my boy?” but my mother always, always read it as “are you my boy or girl?” Little things like that. By the time I was two, my mother had taught me to say “I have potential!” to everyone who would listen. (Nowadays I try to do the same, telling toddlers they are smart, helpful, etc. instead of “cute lil girl” or “big strong boy.”) I was praised for being smart, resourceful, and creative. (Arts and crafts are an excellent opportunity to praise non-looks-related talents, even if the kid can’t draw a straight line with a ruler, like me.)

    The best things my dad ever did? Treated my sister and I like the logical, individual human beings we were. He reasoned with us. He never treated us as though we were fragile/dumb/likable/hysterical because we were girls. My father has never, in his life, commented on my looks or body as a negative/positive thing – if we acquired cool new skills in sports, it was because we worked hard, and if we looked cute all dressed up for special occasions, it was because of the clothes we put on. Our bodies were clearly ours, and nothing about them would change how he felt about us. He also made it clear that he valued our opinions and our brains, asking us what we thought about current events and explaining “adult” concepts to us without being condescending. He read us Dickens, however long it took for us to get it, he played with dolls and let us lead the stories we were telling about them, and as we grew he learned to apply nail polish too – I think that was equally important, that my dad wasn’t afraid to do “girl” things, because we were his kids and he wanted to play with us. So my dad played pretty pretty princess, watched the Little Mermaid (even now, both kids in their 20s, my dad can routinely be heard humming Under the Sea), and painted our nails as often as he built lego houses and played math games with us.

    Just this morning, we were discussing the John McCain lobbyist scandal, and he noted “Why are they referring to her as a female lobbyist? They’re not accused of any sexual impropriety, so shouldn’t she be just a lobbyist?” Pointing out instances like that is important, and it’s a habit of mind kids absorb.

  58. February 21, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    Mnemosyne (#60), that’s a great idea. When I was little, I read this kids’ biography of Sojourner Truth called Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?

    It made a big impression, especially the actual description of her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech, where she contrasts the common 19th-century assumptions about women’s natural delicacy with her life of hard labor.

    Other things that made an impression on me were, as other commenters have mentioned, being treated the same as my brother and sister, not having any tasks or interests barred to me, and seeing my parents’ respectful and egalitarian marriage.

  59. Vail
    February 21, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    A lot of you guys are so lucky. I grew up in a home where being a girl meant doing housework everyday (vs my brother who mowed the lawn during the summer), not being able to go out with a date unless my parents had met them (my mother was afraid of white slavers, I kid you not), not going to college or going to college long enough to “catch a guy.” Lately she’s been sending me books from some quack about “cleaving to your husband” and basically letting him run the show. I don’t buy my daughter anything barbie-ish (mostly because I try to find dolls that are Asian since she is exposed to so few Asians in media/books as it is) but I must admit we do wallow in a frenzy of girlish-ness which is Hello Kitty. We’re both huge fans of anything with her on it.

  60. EG
    February 21, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    When I was little, I read this kids’ biography of Sojourner Truth called Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?

    Me too! I loved that book.

  61. February 21, 2008 at 7:10 pm

    One of my sisters was teased by a boyfriend that she was the only girl he’d ever met raised in a matriarchy. He was referring to our being raised by our mother alone, and having no brothers. Mom made sure we all knew the basics of home maintenance, how to change a car tire, and things like that.

    My daughter is 5 now, and my husband and I do try to let her know she can do anything. But I did feel a bit bad the other day when she asked why her younger brother always got dinosaur toys and she never did. But, as I told her, she never asked for them before, and I would gladly get her some of her own for her birthday.

    She and her brother play with each others’ toys very freely. He’s very caring with his dolls, and I have great pictures of both of them “breastfeeding” their babies. I think allowing them both to play the way that comes naturally really helps both kids.

    I’m loving some of the book suggestions here. Going to have to put them on the wish list so I don’t forget them when her birthday comes around. My daughter is a major Princess fan, so some of the less sexist princess stories are very welcome.

  62. Beth
    February 21, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Let’s not forget novels. It’s important to build a structure of story, especially because so many stories center around boys as heroes. These were some of my favorite GIRL as HERO stories growing up, and they still are.

    Pippi Longstocking
    The Secret Garden
    Once upon a Heroine: 450 Books for Girls to Love
    The American Girl Books
    Alanna – Tamora Pierce (older girls)
    The Babysitters Club (not perfectly feminist, but it is girl-centric and friendship oriented)
    Nancy Drew (a little two-dimensional, but Nancy’s still the heroine)
    The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (so good, but for jr high age really)
    Jacob Have I Loved
    Angelina Ballerina (and other stories) – Katharine Holabird
    Chrysanthemum – Kevin Henkes
    Madeline – Ludwig Bemelmans
    The Little House Books – Laura Ingalls Wilder
    The Witch of Blackbird Pond
    Anne of Green Gables
    A Wrinkle in Time
    Amber Brown is NOT a Crayon
    Amelia Bedilia

    That’s probably a good start :)

  63. Starfoxy
    February 21, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    As long as we’re including novels I was pleasantly surprised by how feminist the Wizard of Oz series is (book, not movie). We’ve all seen the movie, but like most movies it is way different than the book(s). There are 14 books in all and Dorothy regularly saves the day with hard work and intelligence, and there is nary a prince in sight. (Spoiler Alert!: the one male human character turns out to be the missing princess that had been transformed by a witch, who later becomes good friends with Dorothy after she is changed back and reclaims the throne.)

  64. Bether
    February 21, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    I learned recently that, when I was about 10, my mother sat my dad down and explained that I was approaching puberty and that he was not allowed to comment on my body at all anymore, because she had been overweight as an adolescent, and her father commented on that, and on her changing body, and it was painful. While this did not prevent my mother from commenting on my body, I think it was useful (especially since I *was* hyper-aware of my weight, breasts, etc.) not to have my father commenting on those things, too.

    My parents taught me feminism (or not feminism) through their behavior — my father treats women and men with equal respect. My mother actively discouraged me from doing “boy things” — climbing on rocks with my dad and brother, for example. Teach by example, is what I say.

    On an only-somewhat-related note, as we move toward March, the Librarian’s Internet Index is putting up more and more links about women. This week’s version (here: has links to websites about “Careers for Women in Ancient Egypt” and a history of female motorcycle riders. Worth checking out.

  65. Mnemosyne
    February 21, 2008 at 8:16 pm

    As long as we’re including novels I was pleasantly surprised by how feminist the Wizard of Oz series is (book, not movie).

    I hate to break your heart, Starfoxy, but General Jinjur is a parody of suffragettes.

    Not that I don’t love that book, because I do. It’s not in that book, but I loved the revelation late in the series as to why every animal in Oz talks except for Toto.

  66. RKMK
    February 21, 2008 at 8:26 pm

    I can’t believe I didn’t mention Buffy. Buffy! When daughters are old enough, that is. Perhaps not for the aforementioned 5 year old.

  67. LadyGrey
    February 21, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    When I was little, I read this kids’ biography of Sojourner Truth called Sojourner Truth: Ain’t I a Woman?

    Me too! I loved that book.

    Me too! I did a project on her for school in fourth or fifth grade.

    Another awesome historical woman that I loved was Eleanor of Aquitaine — I read both real biographies of her and E.L. Konigsburg’s A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver, which is historical fiction based on her life.

    I also had subscriptions to or read in the library lots of non-girly magazines, too, like Ranger Rick, Cricket, Cobblestone (the dorkiest kids magazine ever), eventually National Geographic.

  68. Acer
    February 21, 2008 at 11:44 pm

    More book suggestions…
    Patricia C Wrede’s “Enchanted Forest” books
    Anything by Tamora Pierce (most of them are for older girls; I read the Alanna books when I was 13 and they were so important to my feminist development, but the Circle of Magic series might be good read-to-me books for younger kids).

    If your daughter ever gets a brother, it is extremely important that you don’t treat him differently from how you treated her. Kids are really perceptive, and she will pick up on any difference (especially once said hypothetical brother is no longer an infant). It was clear to me (age 6), when my brother was born that my dad was absolutely thrilled to have a *son*, specifically, that he had expectations for “his son” that he did not have for me, and that he would have felt differently had my brother been a girl. She’ll pick up on the difference between “sweetie” and “buddy,” anything that echoes “boys will be boys,” the valuation of ‘boy things’ over ‘girl things’ (should your son want to play with dolls) and any of these things can really, really hurt.

  69. SarahS
    February 22, 2008 at 12:40 am

    I agree with unrelatedwaffle in instilling a love of books. I think that involves a solid progessive feminist education starting at a young age.

    At her age, she would enjoy “Tango Makes Three”, a book about a penguin with two dads or “Emma and Meesha My Boy: A Two Mom Story” by Kaitlyn Taylor Considine. It iwould be a good introduction to same-sex families. And get her a sex-ed book that reflects progressive feminist values. Someone has already suggest the Amelia Bloomer lists, use them as your bible. And when she reads something in a book or learns something in class that is sexist, racist, classist, or just weird, talk with her about it. Teaching her critical thinking skills will go a long way.

    When she hits middle school, get her “S.E.X. : the all-you-need-to-know progressive sexuality guide to get you through high school and college” by Corinna, Heather. This book is phenomenal. It isn’t just some rusty crap about abstinence and respecting yourself and STDs. It is about relationships, abuse, sexual pleasure/orgasm, and gives your child the knowledge that they really need like how to break up with someone and what positions are most likely to give *her* an orgasm. I also feel like the latest edition of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” makes a great gift right after she gets her first period, when you feel like your body is some kinda crazy weird unsettling blob.

  70. Laurie
    February 22, 2008 at 1:27 am

    OMG! Someone else who read The Witch of Blackbird Pond!!! :) I loved that book — not only is the main character headstrong and intelligent, but the book explores tolerance for different lifestyles. (The “different” in this case being Quaker.) AND a really, really good point made by a man late in the book that they were living in a whole new country — why *couldn’t* girls learn the same things boys do?

    I’m so happy I could just *squeeeeeee*! Of course, that might be partly due to the new kitten….

    Oh, and my contribution to raising a feminist girl: teach her the same skills you’d teach a boy without ever really commenting on it. Just do it, like it’s the most natural thing in the world. My dad may not have taught me *everything* that he would have taught a boy (possibly because there were any number of things I wasn’t actually interested in), but a number of things he did/said really stuck with me throughout my whole life. Things like knowing how to use a hammer and other tools, and not being afraid of the power tools. Letting me “help” him build stuff at an age when I was probably waaaaay more of a liability than a help. (I learned what a level was at a VERY young age. *grin*) Him giving me a binder labeled “Women in Construction” (probably a leftover from some seminar/meeting that he happened to find) and telling me how good those gals were at their jobs. (This was in the 1970s, folks.) Him never, ever telling me that I couldn’t do something because I was a girl. Now, he called me all *sorts* of stereotypical pet names that you’d call a girl, but I never felt that my *appearance* was really all that important to him. And he and my ma both did the yard work, even though the household stuff was really just her job.

    *sigh* I really, really miss him.

  71. Starfoxy
    February 22, 2008 at 1:44 am

    Mnemosyne- I’m not convinced. Sure Jinjur is an overblown caricature of ‘that girl who thinks she’s better than boys.’ And heaven knows lots of people think that ‘girls being better than boys’ is what feminism is about- but L. Frank Baum certainly knew better. His mother-in-law and mentor was Matilda Gage a prominent feminist and contemporary of Susan B. Anthony and Cady Stanton. She encouraged his writing, and most certainly educated him in feminist thought.

    I think Jinjur was his take on what one might call the empowerful woman. Either way- when Jinjur was defeated she was replaced by Ozma, and not the Scarecrow.

  72. SKM
    February 22, 2008 at 12:01 pm

    Thank you all so much for the book titles. The Witch of Blackbird Pond–haven’t thought of that in years!

    Right now, my sister is reading her 6-year-old son and 3-year old daughter The Egypt Game–an action tale wherein the 2 main characters are girls.

    This discussion also reminded me of Ann Donegan Johnson’s Value Tales. My sisters and I loved those. The illustrated lives of Helen Keller, Marie Curie, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ralph Bunche, and others. You can find them used on Amazon and

    I find that gently reminding my nephew that stereotypes about girls don’t square with reality is critically important for his sister’s well-being. She believes everything he says, since he is 3 years older. Recently, they were playing surgery. He told his sister that she had to be the nurse b/c his kindergarten teacher Mrs G. says nurses are girls and doctors are boys (!!!). I had to ask him who his pediatrician is–Dr. Peggy? Oh, and is she a boy? No? Oh, so maybe even kindergarten teachers make mistakes sometimes, huh?

    Wow, though, it hurts to hear him say those things.

    It also hurts to hear my mother treat the two kids differently. When he takes charge, he’s a little leader. When she takes charge she’s a “bossy boots”. YYyyargh! And my folks are relatively enlightened. Yes, my parents gave us good examples in books and toys, our father read to us and took us to work with him on weekends (the Physics department at Stanford U.). But I realize now that my mother always wanted boys, that she prefers them. I always wanted a brother, but I’m glad in the end that we were three girls; we didn’t have to struggle with the unequal treatment.

  73. silverside
    February 22, 2008 at 12:23 pm

    Not to be annoying or anything, but where’s Mom?

  74. meggygurl
    February 22, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    Not to be annoying or anything, but where’s Mom?

    I don’t mean to be annoying, by why does it matter/who says there has to be one? I think he was asking what he as a father could do.

    Oh, heterosexual assumptions.

    (I have no idea if there is a mom in the picture or not, but I find it fairly irrelevant to the discussion.)

  75. kat
    February 22, 2008 at 6:21 pm

    oooh, the Egypt Game….I loved that book when I was a kid. It’s great. For the 4th grade through middle school set, The Vandemark Mummy is excellent, as well. I second (or 3rd or 4th…) the recommendation of The Witch of Blackbird Pond. It’s great.

    Ann Rinaldi writes historical fiction that centers around American History. Most of her books (if not all…not sure) feature female protagonists. They’re also geared toward the “tween” to teenage age-range. They’re both enjoyable and really informative.

  76. skirt
    February 22, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    agreed, meggygurl (#78), and also if this question came from a woman, i doubt anyone would ask, “where’s dad?”
    christina katarina series.
    addie across the prairie.
    anything by madeleine l’engle, really.
    the egypt game kicks much ass.
    anything by jerry spinelli, paula danziger . . . sometimes depressing, but excellent.
    the mixed-up files of mrs. basil e. frankweiler
    catherine, called birdy

    biographies of awesome women like harriet tubman and marie curie.

    if you have a really bookish, philosophy-loving kid, sophie’s world is good for about 10 and up, i’d say – it’s the whole history of philosophy with an awesome story, and in my fam it was a read-aloud-in-the-car book so we could stop often and discuss philosophers.

    i second the tools thing – my parents gutted and rebuilt our house when i was age 4-10, and i was taught to identify tools and “help.”

  77. Christina B
    February 22, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    No one has mentioned music: Ani Difranco and India Arie (I’m sure there are others, but these are the two women who come to mind immediately.)

    I don’t have much else to say other than to agree with actions speak louder than words and encourage your daughter to be her own person. One of the biggest influences in my life is an older brother, who in all honestly is quite sexist, who has encouraged me to do, be and go where ever makes me happy. He backs up his words with unconditional love and support. (I live in Mexico. When I told him that I was going to move to Mexico, he said, “wow, thats awesome. If that’s what you want to do, have a great time but take care of yourself.”

  78. kat
    February 22, 2008 at 9:17 pm

    Christina B’s right! We forgot music.

    Add Dar Williams to the list. “When I was a Boy” should be required listening for all humans. She’s a great songwriter in general and a lot of her songs deal with feminist topics.

  79. Alana
    February 23, 2008 at 4:19 am

    There’s a lot of really good advice in this thread. And I think that much of it will work, especially with a pre-adolescent.

    I wonder, though, whether the best way to raise a feminist daughter (particularly as she gets a little older) is necessarily to shower her with feminist books, music, and Serious and Thoughtful Parental Discussions.

    I mean, sure, parents can and should teach their children progressive values. But at the same time, ideas and ideology we receive from our parents are all things we have, in a sense, come to passively, and as such they’re robbed of a lot of their power.

    I think that as a father you can absolutely raise your daughter to know that she is no less capable and no less human because of her sex, but I don’t think you can make her a passionate feminist. I suspect that trying will just about guarantee – well, not the opposite, exactly, but that feminism will never be an ideology she’ll engage with in an intellectually rigorous way.

  80. Vail
    February 23, 2008 at 10:01 am

    I think we need this … that working hard towards raising if not a feminist daughter, a daughter who has a strong sense of self, who is savvy about peer pressure, her sexuality and taking care of herself. Even if she doesn’t embrace everything, we need to do all we can to make sure we have a firm platform for them. Who knows what will be in their future? I see all the horrible things that could happen to to my daughter (eating disorders, drugs, abusive relationships, suicide, racism, peer pressure, rape, sexism etc) that I want to give her all the tools to deal/cope that I can. Sure she might not end up a card carrying feminist, but hopefully she wont be starving herself or cutting herself either.

  81. EG
    February 23, 2008 at 1:52 pm

    I suspect that trying will just about guarantee – well, not the opposite, exactly, but that feminism will never be an ideology she’ll engage with in an intellectually rigorous way.

    That hasn’t been true in my case. My mother taught me about all kinds of things, including feminism and poetry, that I engage with in an intellectually rigorous way.

  82. EG
    February 23, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    Also re: Oz. Despite Jinjur, almost all the Oz books he wrote (as opposed to Ruth Plumly Thompson) center on girl heroes. Trot, Betsy Bobbin, and Dorothy save the day repeatedly, and the two main powerful rulers in Oz are Ozma and Glinda.

    And, oh, how have we not mentioned Wonder Woman before? As campy as I now realize they are, the Wonder Woman TV show (now available on DVD) was massively influential on my childhood feminism. And the comic books! She always rescued Steve Trevor! He never rescued her! She came from a matriarchal all-woman island which was called paradise!

    These days the comic books are a little mature for 5-year-olds, but you might want to look over some of the older collections.

  83. SKM
    February 23, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    My mother taught me about all kinds of things, including feminism and poetry, that I engage with in an intellectually rigorous way.

    I’m seconding that. I understand the point about pushing leading to rebellion (I think that’s what Alana was getting at). But that doesn’t square with my experience and that of my friends in the case of feminist thought. More information leads to more and better thought, IME.

  84. SarahMC
    February 23, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I don’t think the goals of these actions/behaviors is to create the perfect feminist child, Alana. A lot of them are tips on being a feminist parent, wouldn’t you say?

    Because even if the children don’t consider themselves feminists as adults, they will have been raised by equality-minded parents who respected their autonomy, individuality, interests and dreams, regardless of their sex. THAT is the most important thing.
    ALL of these tips will “work” because they are just and fair.

    My parents would certainly not consider themselves feminists. But my dad showed just as much interest in my interests as my younger brother’s. He coached my basketball team and my brother’s baseball team. He encouraged me in my studies and was proud of my academic achievments.
    I think a lot of us are mentioning our dads because how our dads treat us has a BIG impact on how we feel about ourselves and how we view the world.

    At the same time, my mom assigned “woman” chores to me and “man” chores to my brother. He mowed the lawn a few times every summer, and took out the trash. Meanwhile, I set the table, washed dishes, did laundry, mopped, dusted, etc., etc. And I was plenty aware of the fact that it was sexist.

  85. SKM
    February 23, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    my mom assigned “woman” chores to me and “man” chores to my brother.

    My mother went the other way: she had us do yard work for $$ around the neighborhood and take up paper routes. And we were not allowed to babysit (except for our baby sister–plenty of diaper-changing there!). Of course, we were also expected to do all the “woman” chores around the house….I mean, I know how to darn socks, FFS!

    Now, my older sister has a son whose fave toys include his kitchen stuff and his Swiffer (he loves to Swiffer!).

  86. strawhat
    February 23, 2008 at 8:59 pm

    I’d love to see kids understand something along the lines of, “we know now that girls can do anything, but it used to be that people thought girls could only do certain things, and there are still some ignorant people who think that way, but you can change their minds” or something.

    The battles our foremothers and foresisters fought aren’t completely won yet, and if kids know that they can be prepared.

  87. Roxie
    February 24, 2008 at 1:10 am

    when I was…in middle school..which I think was wayyyy too late, but I love him for trying…My dad got in the habit of asking me

    “What is a woman’s place?”

    Answer being

    “Anywhere she wants to be.”

    I think this would work for all ages.

  88. Flannery
    February 26, 2008 at 9:04 pm

    You’re already well on your way to raising a strong, independent young woman! Study after study after study has shown that when a little girl has a healthy relationship with a positive father/father figure, she’s likely to be very successful in life.

    My father is a Conservative who thinks “feminist” is a dirty word. Although he never taught my sisters and I about women’s rights in so many words, he always made us feel loved, valued, strong, and capable. As a result, we are all independent free-thinking women who don’t take shit from wither men or women.

    Basically, love your daughter just like you are and remind her of how precious and gifted she is every single day.

  89. Jennifer
    February 29, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    I think the best thing you can do is just to set a good example, and as a couple have mentioned, The Paperbag Princess

  90. lilith
    March 12, 2008 at 12:06 am

    I am homeschooling two girls because I wanted them to get the gynocentric education I knew they wouldn’t get in the public school system. We’ve never addressed gender roles specifically, but I’ve always been careful to point out the women first in everything we study. Hypatia before Socrates, Cleopatra before Julius Ceasar, women leaders and thinkers and inventors. The shows they are allowed to watch have strong women characters (aside from Discovery Channel, and its ilk), and the stories we read have strong female protagonists…btw, LOVE Paperbag Princess. Another good one is Do Princess’ have Skinned Knees and Princess Smarty Pants. I read early when my oldest was a baby that the best way to raise environmentally conscious children is not to teach them about what is WRONG, but to raise them to LOVE the animals that are disappearing, to respect the nature we are encroaching on, and they will put the pieces together themselves to understand what needs to be done to protect it because at that point, they want to save something they love. I have applied that theory to their selves; if they are raised to love and respect what women are capable of, without having to be told specifically that, then they will put the pieces together themselves about how to protect that. Good luck to you and your daughter, it’s a marvelous journey.

  91. cat
    April 3, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    Here’s a tactic that I hit on with my daughter when she was in preschool: I started using the female pronoun for everything. “Look at this dino: she looks really fierce, doesn’t she!” “You asked what’s a president? She’s the woman in charge of a company or a country.”

    Also I changed the wording of books I read to her: For ” the farmer and his wife” I said “farmer and her husband”. I changed the genders of a lot of secondary characters in stories — police officers, doctors, soldiers and so forth — to make them female.

    I started this when I noticed that even at my daughter;s progressive, inclusive lib preschool, the male gender was always used by default. She had a stuffed sheep she carried everywhere she went; teacher after teacher would coo at her, “Oh, what’s HIS name?” I said to my daughter, “Isn’t if funy that everyone thinks Sheep is a boy? Don’t they know that half of all sheep are female!?” From that point on, she became able to giggle at all the “hims” and “hes” she was bombarded with. I didn’t load her down with a heavy message … just opened her eyes to the way people talk — and, I hope, protected her from absorbing the images as true (all sheep are boy sheep… all presidents are men…. all farmers are men…)

    My reflexive use of the female pronoun has now become my habit everywhere I go. It’s interesting that it drives my mother crazy; she can’t hear me say a sentence like, “Any politician I vote for better keep her promises, or she won’t get my vote again” without looking slapped in the face, and coming out with some comment about how silly I am to “get all worked up” about pronouns. “Besides,” she adds, “most politicians are ‘he’, so it makes sense to refer to them as male.”

    I see it differently. To me, the fact that most politicians are still “he” makes it crucial that I fight the prevailing current, and insert all the she-politicians, she-farmers and yes, she-sheep, into my little girl’s imagination as she grows up. I feel a little sad when I overhear women telling their girl-children, “Ooh, T. Rex! Isn’t he a fierce-looking dino!” I have to fight the urge to ask them why they’re going along meekly with society’s bias, painting male-only pictures in their children’s little minds.

  92. April 8, 2008 at 10:41 pm

    Kudos to the feminist dad! My father, a mechanic for many years, got me a set of tools when I was little and made sure I could handle anything in his garage. So useful! Now I can fix things in the lab when they break. He also took time to listen to my opinions and debated them with me. That made a big difference.

  93. Virginia
    May 23, 2008 at 2:01 am

    Free to Be You and Me — I bought it for my niece when she was born. Age-appropriate songs and stories… you can find most of the TV special (from the 70s, I think) on youtube too. It’s a collaboration between singers like Alan Alda and writers like Shel Silverstein and it’s gives equal time to boys’ and girls’ issues – 100% gender equality.

    Last week, I sang a few of the songs to my fiance last week and he said two things:
    – Now I understand why you’re such a feminist, while your mom is so traditional
    – How I wish I could have listened to songs like that when I was growing up

  94. lex gill
    May 25, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Give her books with female characters who are of different races and sexualities, who are positive role models and independent thinkers. When she is a bit older, give her comic books with strong, sassy females — think Tank Girl, not Wonder Woman. Teach her the value of a good education, help her with her homework. Teach her how to take care of herself at a young age. I know teaching your daughter to do laundry, or cook, or clean may seem sexist (but if you have sons, make sure they learn too), but developing a sense of independence and responsibility in these little things is invaluable. Get her to play team sports (preferably co-ed) and foster her interests. Get her playing chess. Let her be creative, teach her to share, to make art, to garden. Treat her as an equal, let her dress herself. If she must have a doll, get her a doll who is unique, that she can identify with. I remember that I was never allowed Barbies as a child unless my Barbie had a job (firefighter, doctor, teacher, whatever). Give her strong female role models in history — suffragettes, union organizers, scientists, inventors — not pop stars, or celebrities. More than anything, make sure she is a strong reader, because it opens a world of possibilities that she can find herself. Let her have fun and get her hands dirty.

    and thank you for doing this for your daughter. We need more dads like you.

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