One of the most empowering aspects of feminism is its flexibility to incorporate new ideas into your own personal definition of what it means to be a feminist. Every day, I am learning new ways to make my feminism more inclusive, compassionate, and applicable to all. Sometimes, those lessons learned can come from the most unexpected of people.
Over the holidays, it’s especially easy to get caught up in the irksome oppression of gender roles in children’s clothing and toys. The kissed pink/ baby blue dynamic becomes ramped into overdrive during the Christmas season, advertising these ideas for new parents to instill in their young children. Bright pink baby dolls and Barbies line on the side of the aisle, whereas tough monster trucks and interactive building blocks line the other, separate but equal. It’s always quite a challenge for me to pick the right toys and outfits for my favorite little four-year-old girl. I don’t want to drown her in the ideas of domestication and train her to believe that she cannot be creative and curious. I’m scared for her to fall into the trap that society has established as being the “ideal” girl. So, when she had told me that she wanted a kitchen set, baby dolls, and anything Frozen, I was shaking.
Why would she want those things, I thought, disgustedly. I didn’t want those as a child. I wanted to experiment and exercise my imagination via toy cars and Legos. I had no desire to play with a doll and play the quite creepy role of baby mothering baby. I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that she would want to be something so, well, domestic. She needed to be a strong, independent feminist fighting off the established gender roles of the patriarchy!
But, once I took a step back and thought about the situation, I was disappointed and ashamed of the brand of feminism, I was trying to establish. If she wanted to play with blocks and cars, that’s perfectly normal, but if she wants to play with dolls and baby carriages, that’s fine too. There’s nothing wrong with her enjoying those kinds of things, and the fact that I was trying to make her like something else wasn’t feminism at all. She should be allowed to play with whatever she wants and enjoy herself while doing so. Just because she prefers more gendered toys doesn’t make her any less of a strong and intelligent girl. I wanted so badly for her to want to fight the system in place, I was willing to deny her the things she truly wanted, and that in itself is a form of female oppression. In trying to instill my sense of feminism in her, I was oppressing her from the things she truly wanted and enjoyed in her life.
Feminism is about empowering women to be anything and everything they want to be without being denied on the basis of their gender. It’s so easy to interpret this in the form of empowering women to be doctors, scientists, and anything that their male counterparts say they cannot be. But feminism means empowering all women, not just one type. This means empowering women who want to be domestic, who want to stay at home, and who want to take care of children. There is nothing lesser about these roles compared to the roles of the career woman. With this realization, I now feel more aware of how my feminism may be unintentionally oppressive to others. All it took was a little insight from a spunky, little four-year-old girl.
Author’s Note: The cover photo was shot by my wonderful Adan Arroyo. Check out his Instagram for more fantastic work. Thank you for all your support, babe.