The Battle Starts Young

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My son was two when I first gained an interest in feminism, and initially, I found myself keeping him out of the conversations that arose from a subject that has come to be very close to my heart. Over the past five years, however, matters have shifted and I have found that feminism hasn’t so much become an occasional conversation for us, but one that heavily underlies a way of life.

I rarely blog about my son for several reasons. The main being that the voice of male children so often over-rides that of female children in feminist circles. Even now, these words will not be entirely my own, but touched with the thoughts of a seven year old. The reason, this time, being that I feel it’s important to discuss why feminism – along with other forms of equality and liberation – is a discussion that our children need to be included in. Regularly.

In a strange manner, my own conversations around feminism are rarely discussed in our household. As many of my conversations in the feminist community involve and revolve around matters of rape and men’s violence against women, it is difficult to find a way to discuss these matters with a child. The conversations on these matters are rare and watered down, levelled in a way that he can understand without getting overly upset. But instead, I find that the conversations about feminism – albeit basic ones – are often initiated by my son, and frequently in response to something that has happened at school.

Yesterday, my son returned from school with a comment about how children at school were saying ‘silly things’. He had been greeted with comments about how there were some things only boys could do, and some things only girls could do. In a fashion that has become almost synonymous with his name, he found himself challenging the topic – robustly – before returning home to discuss the matter. But there’s been a recurring theme over the past year of his school life. Most of his disagreements have centred around such topics, with him coming home one day a few months ago, telling me of a falling out that he’d had with a friend. The matter of the falling out? The friend in question had failed to respect another friend’s ‘no’. I tried to hide my amusement as a child of seven sat on my sofa telling me how “when someone says ‘no’, you shouldn’t try and change their minds.”

The fact that he deals with topics such as respecting boundaries and gender stereotypes at such a young age is one that┬áleaves me in awe. The messages he brings to his school friends are often met with disagreement, but this has lead to a new discussion amongst ourselves. But there are other children in his class with whom he has found an allegiance. And in time, I’ve found that he stands up for any perceived injustice, even when this means holding the unpopular opinion or calling his friends out.

Although the conversations are basic, at best, and possibly sound a lot like liberal feminism for beginners, that is what this is. Feminism not just tailored to, but adopted by, a child. So if you excuse my son for discussing why it’s perfectly fine for two women to marry, or why there is nothing wrong with boys liking Frozen or his girl friends at school liking Star Wars – If you can excuse him applying discussions of consent to playground politics and cuddles, then perhaps it’s worth seeing that the conversation around feminism doesn’t shut off once it reaches our children’s ears. Our interactions within the feminist community reach further than we could ever realise. And sometimes it is adults that our words impact on. But other times, it is the next generation, and whilst those words come out in a manner that adapts our meanings, those messages are there all the same. And with time, those messages mature.