Yesterday, my daughter Elizabeth turned two years old. Although I pause and wonder at how big she is growing almost every day, birthdays obviously drive the point home. It also reveals to me a certain progression of change in my own thoughts and practices - namely, that the older my daughter gets, the more stringent a feminist I become.
Why? Oh, things like this article about mothers getting their 9- and 11-year-old daughters fake tans, leg waxes, and modeling gigs to become the next Kate Moss. Never too early to start on the self-esteem issues and drug habits, eh? Then there's the slut-tastic Bratz phenomenon, which brings in its wake stories of thongs for 7-year-olds and stripper poles being sold in toy aisles. And that doesn't even scratch the surface of all the movies, magazines and other media that already tortures young women's self-images into disorder and disease.
It is absolutely terrifying to think about what influences and pressures are going to face my daughter as she grows up. Earlier generations of progressive-thinking mothers worrying about their girls only learning cooking and household chores seems tame in comparison to things like this. How does a feminist mother fight? Sometimes it feels akin to attacking a tank with a plastic spoon. If you lock down your daughter's life according to your own fears and uncompromising values, you're not going to be raising a smart, independent-thinking woman capable of making her own choices. If you let popular culture have its way with her, however, you run the risk of her being saturated in ideas that literally turn your stomach and put her at risk of selling herself short, or serious harm.
What kills me, though, is how complicit some parents are in putting their daughters into these type of mindsets. In the first article I linked to, the mothers talking about their six-year-old's obsession with makeup and the attention a 14-year-old boy paid to her nine-year-old have a "what are you going to do" attitude. They say all their girls' friends are like that, they don't want them to be left out, and they let the girls "badger" them into doing what the girls want. It's not just the cold, hard corporate world feminist mothers of daughters have to fear. It's other mothers of daughters, the people we should be able to rely on the most for guidance and advice.
I've already learned that over-thinking parenting is not the way to go. You have to be flexible, adaptive, and open. So I know that there is no black-and-white solution I can come up with now. I do plan to try as hard as I can to provide my daughter with positive ideas to counterpoint the ones I disagree with, and letting her know I think she's smart and strong enough to make good choices. But I think there's another key aspect to it, which is insuring that I myself am living according to my values and potential. Kids learn much more from what you do than what you say. I think that if I work to be my daughter's first point of reference as a role model, that can continue to be her touchstone throughout her life.
Of course, parenting is where changes like these should start, but it hardly ends there. As a constant series of young, rich, troubled women parade through our news, the overall problem of taking care of our girls seems to be one society as a whole needs to address. It takes a village, and all that. Feminism's daughters and granddaughters are grown, and we haven't come close to solving the issues they took up arms against. Let's at least give the next generation some better weapons.