What are some tips for talking about sexism with your kids? originally appeared on Quora - the place to gain and share knowledge, empowering people to learn from others and better understand the world.
Answer by Alecia Li Morgan, mum of 4:
Discussing sexism with kids can seem difficult, but actually turns out to be pretty easy once you get going. I have four children, ages 9, 7, 6, and 4, of both genders, and I've been casually discussing sexism and fighting sexist media/comments/etc, for as long as I can remember with them. Here are some tips that worked well for me:
- First, define sexism to yourself. Think about all the ways it touches your children and yourself. Decide what parts of it you want to prioritize the most and how you'd explain them to another adult or yourself, then start thinking about how you can explain them to a child.
- Start small and start inside, by checking yourself for sexist remarks, habits, or choices you're making (we all are, and it's good for us to check ourselves, too). For me, I realized I was gently guiding my son (who was my only at the time) away from toys he might choose at Target, like a bright pink princess ball instead of a blue or red fire engine ball. It wasn't even that I wasn't okay with him having either, I was, but I was just discouraging him from selecting things I thought would bring him ridicule from outsiders. I had to decide that I was going to be strong enough for both of us and allow him to choose what he wanted and fight off comments to the contrary.
- Be ready to gently discourage talk about girl toys/colors/jobs vs boy colors/toys/jobs. Be ready to steadily, genuinely, and calmly keep reiterating that these things are okay for boys or girls.
- Begin by pointing out and talking about examples of sexism that are *not* personally related to you or the kids. Chances are you'll have people close to you making comments that are sexist too, but when you're practicing talking to kids about these topics and they're getting the hang of thinking about them, it's easier to start with people that they aren't close to. Luckily(?), there are plenty of examples in the media, entertainment, etc, for you to use that they'll be exposed to in their everyday lives.
- Start out simply and try to be calm about it. Be compassionate to other viewpoints, but stand steady to the things you want to teach. Emphasize that while many people might think this way, that does not make it right, it just makes it "normal". Talk about other things that were once normal (and clearly bad), but now have changed. Explain that we are still in a time of change, too, and there's a long way to go still.
- Use examples that make sense and are personal, because that helps them take in the messages and find personal buy-in for why the things you're talking about are an issue. With my children, we talked a lot about simple things at first -- like the fact that they all loved to have their nails painted, and how it's not hurting anyone for them to do that, and saying it's "just for girls" hurts them and is pointless. We talked about how their baby sister loved trucks and lightsabers, and how if we let people tell her those were "boy toys," she'd be sad and unhappy and it wouldn't actually make anything better because of that restriction.
- Be a role model. Even when it's hard. Even if it's your closest relative or friend who makes a comment you disagree with, don't let it sit. If you absolutely must, wait until that person is gone, then address it with your kids, but if you can, address it in the moment. It feels rude at first when you do this, but if you don't, you let that message sit uncontested and become a part of your child's framework.
- Point out positive examples of equality or people breaking sexist tropes and winning at it. Talk about gender equality and the wins we do have.
- Be careful not to go too far the other way. One thing I'm particularly sensitive to is people who hold the view that choosing to be a stay at home mom is anti-feminist in some way. It's not. The beauty of feminism is that it supports women's choices, whatever they are, and the freedom for them to make those choices. I also know people who refuse to let their daughters wear dresses, because they want them to wear pants and shorts only.
- Allow them to ask questions about what they may have seen or heard that is sexist. Talk about it. Encourage them to think about these examples and how to debunk them.
- Ask them to point out examples to you of things that are sexist, whether it's in print media or tv/movies, or songs. Talk about how those things are damaging or "not good" for the group they're restricting.
- And, be willing to be vulnerable and honest. Admit to things that you may have said or done that are a little sexist. Catch yourself making comments or jokes and reframe and talk about why you don't want to say that anymore.
- Finally, the biggest thing is just to practice. Talk about it more with your partner or a friend. Talk about it with other parents you know. And talk about it with your kids. Not every conversation will go the way you wanted it to, and you may remember things later that would have been better examples or neater ways to phrase something ... that's okay. Every time you talk about it, you're building the conversation between you and your child, and you're both getting better at it. It's good to talk to kids about all sorts of things, good and bad, in our world, and I always try to do more of it. I benefit, for sure, and I hope they do also.