Teaching My Little Sisters About Feminism
I’ve been through many phases in my less-than-two-decades life. I would prance around in flowery dresses with sparkly chapsticks plastered on my mouth as a child but soon came to resent these in favour of soccer and Pokemon cards. Eventually, I eased my way into a world of endless TBR piles with stacks of books in random corners of my room. So much of who I’ve left behind and grown into throughout my life has been dictated by my interpretations of what it means to be a girl in this world. Should I embrace my femininity? Should I pursue more traditionally masculine activities? Is there an equilibrium- a happy medium? Would I even be happy there?
This spectrum faded away as I learned about feminism. Who I wanted to be was no longer constrained by gender roles and misogynist expectations. Who I wanted to become a right of choice. Of course, the world around me hadn’t reached this point yet. The media was lagging in its diverse and humanizing representations of all women, sexist microaggressions have become a common dialectical component of Western culture, stigmas based off of stereotypes continued to limit opportunities for women, sexual misconduct in which women are the victims is still a large issue, to list a few problems. It was too much of hassle for this world to see females as humans and treat us as so. I quickly realized I could not depend on the world to teach young girls about what it really means to be a female in this world. And so I began teaching my little sisters about feminism.
It was small things at first. I pointed out female characters in the shows and movies we would watch, explaining their strengths and why those strengths are important. Strength is an integral part of a woman’s being. I told them of the beauty of diversity. They would not grow up thinking of white as the default, as too many of us have. There are beauty and goodness to be found in all of us, not just what the media claims acceptable through said object’s conventionality. Conventionality is simply a construct I would tell them that being a girl could not stop them from doing anything- the world belongs to them. Gender roles are not the dictators of your life; you own your life. Consent is important, ask permission before you touch others. No one has the right to deprive you of your comfort and personal space. I would explain police brutality to them, white supremacy, civil rights, as per their requests. Their interest was growing, in learning about the different identities of different people, the struggles others faced and what they could do to help and be educated. I would go to the library and find children’s books fighting against racism, sexism, and other forms of intolerance. Essentially, I wanted to create an environment for my sisters in which tolerance and open-mindedness was the norm. Teaching my sister’s these lessons normalized the power and diversity of women and minorities to them.
These small things grew into larger changes; more noticeable behaviour from my sisters showing they had learned. They would draw pictures and instead of the peach-faced blue-eyed girls I always saw staring back up at me from the pages as a kid, I saw on their papers an array of browns- I saw the reality of human diversity. Seeing movies like Home and Moana, Black Panther, A Wrinkle in Time, all with their strong women of colour leads, is the normal my sisters are growing up in. Their reality is one in which their colour and gender is not only presented to them but illustrated to them in terms of ability and ambition- not constraints and rigid expectations. While packing loot bags to hand out to classmates for her birthday, my sister was putting pencils into each bag. My other sister watched intently, and then asked, “but what if one the boys get a girl pencil?” I was about to correct her, to remind her it doesn’t matter- a pencil is a pencil and it doesn’t matter whose hand it’s in. But she got to it first, saying, “You know what? It doesn’t matter. Girls and boys can like whatever they want.”
One of my little sisters now tells me she wants to be a politician. And I see it in her. She has an incredible determination to learn about this world she lives in every day, she knows there is so of it she doesn’t yet know about. She is ready to take in that information and retain it. She wants to use that knowledge to fight for justice, for what she knows is right. It’s incredible to see a generation of young girls growing up and seeing themselves pursuing these empowering careers. It’s heartwarming to see them want to learn and use their knowledge for good. They know their identities are not burdens, rather they are capable and strong beings ready to take on the world.
At the end of the day, the underlying message of all of these lessons is a simple one: be respectful. One of the biggest problems with many of our societies is that these beliefs of intolerance, superiority, and bigotry are embedded into our systems and mindsets to the point of normalization. But these things should not be the norm. Respectfulness should. Women and minorities are human too, and deserve to feel safe, accepted, and respected in their communities. I teach my sisters to be respectful to others regardless of our differences and to love themselves unapologetically. Who we are is never something to apologize for; showing tolerance and acceptance of others and yourself makes this world a beautiful place for everyone.