As I’ve become aware of the complexities of sexism, I see the world much differently than I did before. I am beginning to look for ways to raise my children to not “drink the kool-aid” of sexism that is so ingrained in American society, especially in evangelical culture.
Recently, my 6-year-old son and I have been playing Super Nintendo. We’ve successfully beaten Super Mario World, and we are nearing the defeat of the last boss in Zelda. It is fun to connect with him and work toward a common goal together, but with my new awareness of systemic sexism, I now see that I am unwittingly endorsing the same sexist narratives that I have come to despise. These games nearly always have a male hero, while the weak damsel in distress needs saving. I hear my children in the playroom where Selah, my daughter, is trapped by Bowser, and my son is attempting to save her. While I love my son’s good heart to rescue, what am I teaching my daughter–that she is less than? That she is weaker than her brother; that she needs rescuing and cannot save herself? I attempt to intervene in their game, have them switch roles, and speak to my daughter about her power and strength, but this is not enough. The sexist narratives that we live with are powerful, and our children need strong and consistent voices in their lives for these lies to be countered.
For far too long, many Christians have consciously or unconsciously been complicit in this issue or simply looked the other way. This is a Christian problem. When we reduce a woman to a powerless, subservient stereotype, we strip the very image of God out of her face. As Christians, we must not only speak out against sexism in the world, but call it out in our own tribes. I’m referring to things like the recent rectal turbulence disguised as an article from Desiring God. In this asinine piece about the “feminist agenda” in the new Captain Marvel movie, this organization effectively promoted evil against women. They seem to be intent upon preserving gender stereotypes to keep women in “their place”–barefoot, pregnant, and cooking biscuits in the kitchen. The writer of this article, Greg Morse, bemoans,
“Along with Disney, we abandon the traditional princess vibe, and seek to empower little girls everywhere to be strong like men. Cinderella trades her glass slipper for combat boots; Belle, her books for a bazooka. Does the insanity bother us anymore?”
The only insanity that bothers me is that these words were allowed to be published, or that anyone would agree that this piece represents a Christian worldview and the heart of Jesus towards women. Why not celebrate the modeling of feminine strength, which has seldom been demonstrated on the big screen? Greg Morse ought to read his Bible and learn about the heroics of Deborah, or, as Kelly Ladd Bishop explains,
“We see another fierce woman leader in the text. God delivered the enemy army commander into the tent of a woman named Jael. Jael drove a tent peg through the temple of the enemy commander. When Deborah’s army commander shows up later looking for the enemy commander, Jael tells him she’s got the man he’s looking for. Deborah and Jael were not neglecting their “roles” as women, or trying to become like men. They were both living into their identities as strong women, and doing exactly what God called them to do!”
I want my daughter to fully embrace the strength that God created her for, just as the Bible describes. I want her to be powerful; to call men to be more than insecure imposters; to fight battles against evil. May she grow up not to make excuses for men’s cowardice, but to embrace her radical beauty and power. I want my daughter to be inspired by the heroines on the big screen just like I was as a youngster.
Here are a few practical steps that we can take as parents to help prevent our kids from becoming full-fledged sexists.
Modeling Non-Sexist Behavior
The most important part of raising children who are not unconsciously sexist is modeling non-sexist behavior ourselves. Are you aware of your own sexist bias? Are you honest with yourself regarding your own blind spots?
Consider examining the roles in your household. Is the workload equal? Are chores and duties shared? Is there, for example, a chauvinistic expectation that you or your partner will watch football all day Sunday, while the other makes sure the beer is fresh and nachos are freshly queso’d and refilled? Does Dad change diapers and cook for the family? It’s fine if your home fits more with the conventional gender roles (Mom at home with kids, Dad at an outside job) but do you share the family workload? All work is difficult, and Mom’s job is probably the hardest. It is vital to give honor for the work being done in the home.
Over the past 6 years, I have been with my kids at least two days a week while my wife has continued her counseling practice. I have learned a lot, as my only prior experience caring for children was taking care of my own internal child. (I know, lame psychotherapist joke.) What I have learned, and what I am still learning now while taking care of our 8-month-old 3rd child, is that I would much rather be at “work” counseling, fighting evil, and talking through the most horrific sexual abuse and betrayal, than being dominated by a 19-pound boss baby, the endless hemorrhoid of laundry, and the mountain of dishes that never seems die. What my wife does the majority of the time is way more difficult and much more work than what I do.
Complimenting Your Daughter on More Than Just Her Looks
The non-verbal and, sometimes verbal, message young girls pick up in our pornified society is that their looks matter more than any other singular trait. It is important as parents that we mature in our giving of compliments. Kind words about her appearance should be not be totally eliminated, but are they equal to or outweighed by the other blessings you are offering your daughter?
Teaching Your Children About Boundaries and Consent
Regularly talking to your children about their bodies, consent, and safe touch vs. unsafe touch is vital to creating a non-sexist home environment. Our bodies can be used as weapons, and our children must learn how to honor all bodies, including their own. A perfect example of a parenting job well done is this tweet below.
Clearly, this mother has talked with her son about proper and improper use of his body. She has empowered him to see a sexist narrative without even having the language to name it. Sadly, even most men wouldn’t recognize the sexual lines crossed in Sleeping Beauty.
Be Aware of Microaggressions
“You throw like a girl”, “Man up”, degrading comments about female drivers, remarks about women belonging in the kitchen, comments about a woman’s body that are disguised as “jokes”; these are all ways that we degrade and undermine a woman’s value. We must be aware of how our language impacts our culture and is quickly internalized by little ears. Our sons and daughters will learn how to talk to each other by listening to us and how we use language to define the world.
It is crucial for us, as parents, to raise our collective awareness of our own personal and societal sexism. Our sons and daughters rely on us to help shape this world into a place where they can be safe to fully live into their own unique glory.