My daughter didn’t understand why I was attending The Women’s March last Saturday. She is five and lives in a beautiful, safe bubble, exactly as it should be at her age. I am a feminist, my own mother was a feminist, my husband is a feminist. I remember going through a dodgy stage of denying this during my twenties but right now I feel it more than ever.
I want our children to understand this. So what did I tell her about why I went and joined around 1500 other women in Manchester, standing in the cold to listen to women talk about their experiences of inequality and then marching for solidarity and change? About why I bothered to make some signs, why it made me feel like I was doing something, why I believe we all need to make our voices heard in whatever way possible?
I told her a version I thought she could understand.
“Let’s imagine your teacher asked you to vote for what you should do next at school. There are two options; stay inside to play or go outside and run around. The option with the most votes would win. Do you understand what a vote is?”
“Yes, you’d put your hand up for the thing you wanted.”
“Yeah. So you were about to vote and your teacher suddenly changed her mind. She said that only the boys were going to get to vote.”
“So only the boys get to decide?” she questioned.
“Well that wouldn’t happen,” she replied with all the defiance of a 5yo who hasn’t found out yet that life isn’t fair. The kind of confidence that makes my heart burst with pride while I bite my lip at the knowledge that all too soon this beautiful innocence will be broken in a world that, for a girl, is simply not fair.
“Why not?” I replied.
“Because that wouldn’t be right.”
“Well, how about if the reason that she said you couldn’t vote was because you were a girl and girls aren’t as good at choosing what to do?”
She looked at me like I was crazy. Her gorgeous little mind couldn’t even comprehend what I was saying.
“Why?” was the only thing she could muster.
“I don’t know. Some people don’t think that girls and boys should be able to do the same things. Years ago girls couldn’t vote for anything at all. Ever. Imagine that. So tell me, what would you do if that happened?”
“Er…put my hand up?” she asked cautiously, already showing the signs of being within an education system that values conformity.
“Yes. Yes. You put your hand up and you question it. You ask why. You stand up for what you believe to be right. Just like you say something if you see someone being pushed over in the playground or you hear someone say something unkind. I believe that no matter what you look like or where you are born, whether you are a girl or a boy, what colour skin you have, what you like to play with, whether you like to dance or play football, whether you have two mummies or two daddies, everyone should be treated fairly and kindly. It’s because I believe these things that Mummy is going to march today.”
“I know that sometimes it feels really scary to put your hand up” I continued, “sometimes I know you’re told that you should keep it down and just follow what everyone else is doing. So for this reason I promise that I’m going to keep teaching you the ways to put your hand up, if you can help me to be braver too?”
“Yes Mummy let’s do it together” she replied wide-eyed before giving me a hug and swiftly asking for Paw Patrol to be put back on. Happy that, for now, her world is pretty equal and taking advantage of Mummy’s emotional speech to negotiate some television. Full credit.
This got me thinking. Perhaps this sounds radical, but how much feminism do we teach in schools? How much support and guidance is given to teachers on managing unconscious bias and teaching gender equality? Why weren’t schools across the country using this opportunity to have these conversations with children, not to scare them or without recognising how far we have come but to inform and inspire?
I’m not sure exactly how much she understood about The Women’s March but I started a conversation I think I will need to have again and again. A conversation that I plan to have with my little boy as well when he is old enough. A conversation I believe we should be having in schools, a conversation that can’t be underestimated because the next wave of feminism starts with our children and if we want to change the world for them we need to help them change it for themselves.