I Raised My Children to Be Feminists Without Realising

Child playing with toys

In many ways we were a very traditional family. I stayed at home and ran the house and the kids, whilst my husband worked long hours and travelled a lot with his career.

But when I really think about it, we weren’t so traditional. My husband always did the main food shop, always dealt with the dishwasher, always did Sunday night baths and hair washing, and regularly took all three children out on a Saturday to give me a break. He also did 6am baby feeding, as I felt, and still do, that 6am is a perfectly respectable time to go to bed but not to get up.

We also didn’t believe in giving our children toys based on their gender.

“Action Men regularly played in Barbie’s swimming pool, and Barbie rode in Action Man’s truck.”

I had never thought about toys being gender specific. When I was growing up I had guns, cars, and footballs as well as a large collection of dolls and all their accessories, and my best friend, who was male, loved playing with my dolls’ pram.

The gender thing only became an issue when my eldest son was two and I was pregnant with child number two. My eldest wanted a doll and buggy for Christmas, so when my in-laws asked about what they could buy him, this is what I asked them to get.

Unfortunately, the suggestion didn’t go down well. I was told that he was a boy, not a girl, and prams and dolls were for girls, not boys. I was stunned. It genuinely hadn’t occurred to me that this would be an issue. In the end I let them give him something else and I bought the doll and accessories.

Both my boys played with dolls. Okay, when they got older it was Action Man–but it’s still a doll. The Action Men regularly played in Barbie’s swimming pool, and Barbie rode in Action Man’s truck. The children all played with the toy kitchen and the workbench and tools. They all loved the Wendy house and they used to fight over whose turn it was to have the length of sparkly material to dress up in. The toy replica of my vacuum cleaner was another thing they argued over, and tea parties with the soft toys were a regular event for all three of them.

For her second birthday my daughter wanted a Barbie in a pink dress, a cowboy hat and a holster with two guns. That was exactly what I bought her.

“My children were brought up as feminists, without me even realising.”

I believed in giving the children what they wanted (within reason–I never did buy a real machine gun for my oldest child!). It simply wasn’t a problem–I never even thought about it. It was the same with clothes: if one of the boys wanted to wear a pink shirt, I let them.

I probably wouldn’t have described myself as a feminist at that time, but looking back I obviously did believe in gender equality and so did my husband. We just weren’t vocal about it.

It seems very strange and also sad that nearly 30 years on things, especially toys, are still divided into boys and girls things. Children don’t know the difference, unless we teach them that it is right or wrong to play with certain things, or that colours are gender specific. It seems to me that although progress on equality has been made, we are, as a society, still getting it very wrong.

I am sure that both my boys believe that inclusivity and equality are what should be the norm, and anyone who has ever either had a conversation with my daughter or has read anything she has written knows that is what she believes.

That was how they were brought up, without me realising that I was doing it.

P.S. Most of my friends at the time thought I was weird in the way I raised my children. Those that thought that are no longer my friends!

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