I am a feminist. Loud and proud. When I got pregnant with my first son, my friends were tickled to see me lumbering around with a “penis growing inside me”. Twenty two months later, I delivered another penis into the world. So today Charlie, 8 years, and Neil, 6 years are my two joys, frustration, and loves of my life as I co-parent them according to my definition of feminist principles, in hopes to raise feminists. How do I plan to do it?
One of the principles and practice of feminism as I have grown to know and love is the constant questioning of authority. It comes with an awareness of power and how those who hold power are able to abuse it. And as parents, the power we hold, is, scarily, absolute.
Many a times we bark and shout at our children and justify it as “They don’t listen, we have to shout!”, “We were in a hurry”, “They were driving me up the wall!”
So, as I plead guilty, I also plead attempts at rehabilitation through our Swear and Shout jar.
With his penchant for numbers and laser sharp observation skills, Charlie voluntarily took on the monitoring and enforcement of this system. RM1 goes in the jar whenever we mutter swear words, or ramp up the decibels. For him, it doesn’t matter if I am, as mother and chief cook, effectively the Mom Official 1 (MO1) at home. I still have to cough up. So does dad.
The only free pass is if a warning has been given before the shouting. For example, “Neil, I have said it three times. Stop trying to lick the Marmite off your cheek. Your tongue is just not long enough. Go and wash your face. If I have to say it one more time, I will raise. My. Voice”. The last three words said in a deep tone for maximum effect.
Painful as it is parting with the (loads of) money, I hope that through this, they are learning to question, do the right thing, and hold other people accountable. I hope that they will grow up to be boys who call out rape jokes, stand up against people calling girls sluts, and as they grow older, have the courage to make interventions, just like these two Swedish students. And perhaps one day, stand together with others who are making demands to end discrimination against them because of their gender, class, race and citizenship status.
To me, the feminist movement has inspired women and men around the world to be more than what they are supposed to be. This reimagining of our world is also important where it comes to raising boys. The ideas that boys are strong, leaders, masculine, stoic and naturally aggressive is proving to be more harmful than helpful. Raising boys for me also means that they are able to safely express who they are, in the home, so that they have the courage to do so outside the home.
This includes crying. This includes feeling sad. It includes an eight-year-old’s attempts to work out the complexities of friendship with its heartbreaks and laughter. Or pushing Bunny in a pink pram in the park at high speed. Charlie tearing after reading that Cleopatra killed herself after realising Anthony was dead. Charlie wearing a paper crown proclaiming that “I am a queen! I am a queen!”. Neil wrapping his purple blanket around his waist, channelling Elsa and belting ‘Let it Go! Let It Go!…” This includes acknowledging Neil’s distress by not continuing to watch The Good Dinosaur after the scene in which Arlo’s father dies (I mean, seriously, Disney, I am still haunted by Bambi’s mom).
Really, it does not matter. What matters is that they are comfortable in their own skin and are able to have a healthy relationship with themselves and others.
It takes a village
Raising feminists is about critiquing, and breaking away from narrowly defined ideas of what is acceptable. It is not easy, against patriarchy’s currency of male privilege. However, thankfully, ‘nasty women’ and men are everywhere, building their villages in spaces such as the Amelia Bloomer Project that recommends literature with strong girls and characters; forums on raising feminists; and just parents reaching out to other parents, supporting each other in wanting their children not to be confined to set roles in their lives because of a penis or a vulva.
To these women and men, I will be celebrating International Women’s Day with you. Together, we celebrate our struggles and in solidarity, let’s rock the world.
By Tze Yeng Ng
Tze Yeng worked in advertising and made a leap to work in the non-profit sector. Fourteen years later she is contemplating her next chapter. She does this as her two boys, eight and six, raise her with their daily lessons in love and laughter within their organised chaos.