3 ways to raise a feminist

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Johannesburg-based educational psychologist, Helen Macdonald, says that sexism, like racism, is learnt at home. She shares a three-point plan for busting gender stereotypes within the building block of society: the family.

1 Value
‘Everything stems from values,’ says Helen.

‘In the past, underlying, unequal value systems have dictated certain attitudes towards gender stereo-types. Society was once very autocratic with a top-down authoritarian approach. Today the value system is shifting hugely in terms of mutual respect between the genders. We’re seeing a flat effect where the top-down approach is filtering out to a more cooperative teamwork style. On the whole, women are being seen as the respectable, intelligent people they are.’

The bottom line: Parents who value mutual respect and cooperation between the sexes will instil the same values in their children.

2 Communicate
‘Parents must be careful,’ cautions Helen.

‘Communication is key and we must talk to our kids about sexuality and gender from an early age. Parents with a healthy sense of self and sexual-awareness will communicate pride for who and what they are to their kids.

‘Often, embarrassment about sex itself prevents parents from allowing their children to be proud of their genders. Children must be allowed to express honest opinions and feelings about sex and gender without judgement.’

The bottom line: When talking to your kids about sex and gender you should just give the facts. Never laugh; take their opinions
seriously.

3 Demonstrate
‘We’ve all heard it before, it’s not what you say, it’s what you do,’ explains Helen. 

‘In a family where Dad respects and encourages Mom’s career, the children will believe that work is equally important to women and that girls can grow up to be engineers if they want to. Whatever values are traded in at home, will be played out by the children in the world.

‘The human brain is so amazing, our beliefs are based on our life experiences so what we see will create our own realities. Children’s attitudes towards gender will reflect the attitudes of their parents.’

The bottom line: Role-modelling is the strongest method of parenting. Every day we are unconsciously imposing our values onto our children through our actions and attitudes.
 
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