I thought I would be the best feminist mom.
Here I am, an academic who studies feminism, motherhood, and families. I know about the glass ceiling, the maternal wall, and the second shift. I’ve read the studies on girls and self-esteem. I banished Disney princesses from my home when my children were small (to no avail, because they somehow figured out who they were anyway). I bought all the Goldie Blox toys, and there’s a Project Mc2 sitting on a shelf. I’ve introduced them to coding. Yet, I can’t even keep up with the do’s and don’ts of raising strong female leaders these days.
The other day, I called my daughter “bossy” and my husband reminded me that, according to Sheryl Sandberg, people shouldn’t use that word around girls anymore. It might teach them to be less assertive later in life. The next week I was attempting to help my daughter with her math homework, and I finally had to admit that I just wasn’t any good at math. Well, I now have to worry that my “parental math anxiety” may hurt my children’s math ability as well because they can sense and internalize my fear. This might be especially important for girls, who we know are already more likely to be ignored in science and math fields and even dismissed sometimes by math teachers (as this study finds).
Of course, I’ve put my daughters in sports because I’ve read the studies about girls and the benefits of sports, but the other day I was watching my daughter’s basketball practice game and witnessed one girl apologize to another girl for stealing the ball. Am I wrong because I thought that moment was sweet rather than an instance of a girl apologizing for engaging in a more masculine-defined role?
I noticed recently that my daughter helps me more with chores than my son. Is this my fault? Have I unfairly burdened her with the second shift even as a 9-year old? In an effort to reduce screen time, I hardly let my daughter play on the computer, and she loves to play dolls with her sister. Am I encouraging the girls to see themselves as potential moms first and potential computer programmers second? Is my son, who doesn’t play sports but is on the computer for what I think is far too much time, the one who is will be advantaged in adulthood?
One of my girls asked me recently why I shaved under my arms. I explained that it was an aspect of the beauty myth that I have chosen to follow. How can I teach her to reject beauty myths if I embrace some of them myself? I wonder whether these small moments will inform their world more than my general philosophy.
I can’t help but feel that I’m a better feminist teacher than I am a feminist mother. It’s must easier to avoid hypocrisy as a teacher than as a mom. I can talk about beauty myths without revealing whether or not I choose to adhere to them. I can discuss the burden of the second shift without students witnessing my own struggles with it. How do you apply (or not) feminism, or other theories, while being a mom and teacher? Do you struggle with living the theories that you teach?
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