"Feminism is for boys...men are a huge piece of equality, just like my husband played a role in my own understanding of feminism. We need them to be a part of it. "
ELIZABETH AND RUSSELL ON RAISING A DAUGHTER (1)
PORTLAND | OREGON
Feminism is for boys
E: About a year ago, when we had our child, we knew that we wanted to raise her to understand what feminism is - and hopefully to eventually become an advocate for that as well. When she was born, we started our collection of books that would help us teach her what feminism means. We got all of these books for her that celebrate female character leads, or talk about inspirational women. I have a lot of friends who were having boys and I felt that even my friends who identified as feminists had a hard time transitioning their feminism to their boys even with the help of the books that we were using. I think these types of inspirations and stories are very important for boys to see as well girls, but also that each gender should be given the opportunity to see themselves represented in them. A big inspiration for the book was seeing a disconnect between boys and their ability to connect to the word feminism.
I had reached a point in my own feminist journey where I wanted to start sharing and being more active in feminist ideas. This book has allowed me to focus some of that energy. I'm a graphic designer and love illustrations, so I thought there must be a way that I can use this talent to bring these ideas together and start sharing it - maybe helping others to get to a place where they see this as something that's helpful for them.
I’m hoping to diminish gender stereotypes and norms. Hopefully, there won't be taboos around boys wearing dresses, boys playing with dolls, boys cooking, or boys expressing their emotions freely. The book was partly making sure that boys had an understanding that feminism and their gender identity go together and partly about teaching them the things that feminism has to offer them - such as removing those stereotypes - and helping them to see their bigger part in it all.
There’s a lot of misconception of feminism. It's not what people thought it was, and I want to help those that are misinformed not to be afraid of it. I want to make sure that our boys have the word feminism in their vocabulary. On the first page of the Feminism is for Boys book, it says “Feminism is for everybody… including boys!”. On every single page I have the word “feminism” or “feminist” with the word “boy.” I wanted to repeat it over and over so it’s ingrained, so those two words together aren’t strange or foreign for people to hear.
For us, a big part of our goal with feminist parenting, is making sure that the security we have here in our home, allows our daughter to feel safe to talk to us as things in her life change. Modeling behavior and positive communication is so important. We hope that it’s a muscle that is well-developed in her. Every day, it's a conscious choice. Russel does a lot of traditionally non male roles: shopping, cleaning, cooking - things he loves to do to take care of our family. Our daughter gets to see a stay-at-home dad kind of situation and that makes both of us happy. Elizabeth gets to work from home a lot so we get to all interact together. She gets to see us have good days and bad days and how we handle that. I think seeing that is prepping her for being a feminist, a woman, and a human being.
Establishing all this groundwork is important so that in the future she'll be prepared to find and call out sexism as its happening. If you give something a name, you give it the attention that it needs for you to change it. By giving it that name and attention, you have the ability to have power over it instead of allowing it to have power over you. All of this is laying groundwork for her to have that confidence to be able to see those lies that our culture is telling her and change the conversation, moving herself forward without it changing who she is in a negative way.
E: I have a dedication in the beginning of the book to my daughter. It says that I hope that she'll always have strong allies in her pursuit for equality. For me, this book was about ensuring that she has allies who fight alongside her in this challenge to change our culture.
At this fundamental age, it’s the most important time to hardwire our souls to being open to new ideas and new things. I know that men are a huge piece of equality, just as my husband has played a role in my own understanding of feminism. We need them to be a part of it.
Men can be feminist inspirations
E: Before I really understood that I was a feminist, my husband was a feminist. The way that he went about things and the way he championed the ideas of feminism, I felt like it opened up my eyes to the true meaning of being a feminist. Eventually, I started to really see how the majority of men don't connect with that word and how there's this big disconnect between the ideas of what feminism is and how a man can fit into that world. With my book, I wanted to put something together that starts that conversation really early for boys so that they see the word feminism and they see their identity as a boy connected to that word.
My husband was a huge inspiration in the creation of the book. He help not only come up with the overall idea, but also helped to call out places he felt feminism had helped him. What I want to do with the book is to help boys, men, and parents understand how to discuss these issues, - because it's not just equality for women, it's equality for all sexes. There is benefit for everybody in that equality, and once everybody feels like they have an equal part, we have a better chance of reaching our ideals.
Strong women figures
R: I grew up here in Portland and was picked on, not just by my peers, but also by my own family and other adults for being feminine, emotional and creative. I was a happy, smiley kid and all these things that you're not supposed be as a projection of your manhood. I grew up thinking that there was something desperately wrong with the way we relate to children. I didn't know how to really come to terms with that until I worked through many issues of my own, and struggled through finding out my own sexual, personal, and spiritual identities. Feminism felt like the obvious choice growing up and I never understood why everybody treated it like a bad word.
I grew up hearing the word feminism in pop culture in both a negative and positive label. I hated that machismo male mentality and that has never been my personal view. A large part of that has to do with the immediate men around me. My dad was not always around, so I got to be around a lot of other men and then was adopted by my ex-stepfather - I still carry his last name. There are many men in my life who have shown me negative things. Part of my journey to being a feminist was reclaiming my manhood and knowing that being a good man is being a good feminist and pursuing equality for everyone.
My great-grandmother helped raise me and my mom was the only one who was stable for most of my life. The women in my life were the ones who allowed me to be myself. My great-grandmother was probably my greatest influence. I don't think she would identify as a feminist at all, but she was a riveter in World War II and she would travel to a different country every year - she was just a powerhouse. She was my aura and my energy. She always said you can do anything.
Females as sexual beings
E: I have a hard time figuring out the story of my relationship with the concept of feminism. For me it was either in junior high or high school… When I was a little kid, I was very confident and outgoing. In junior high and high school there was this shift that happened where I started realizing other people had ideas about who I was. I got really caught up in this cycle in junior high and high school where I was really concerned with how people viewed me. That was also when I realized that people, especially men, were sexualizing my body – this was reinforced, not only by actions, but by words and warnings adults would tell me about my body.
It felt uncomfortable. The message I was receiving was, that if I'm going to be a female, I have to fit into this sexual role, and I have to use my sexuality to get the things that I want in my life. That led to unhealthy relationships in high school as well as college.
When I met my husband, it was a big shift because he didn't push any expectations on me and he allowed me to try to figure out for myself who I was. It really changed the conversations I was having with myself about what my worth in a relationship was as well as my worth in our culture. It has slowly morphed into understanding that, for me, feminism was acknowledgment and power against the things that put me into that previous negative place.
Being with someone who is really open, really honest and encouraging of deep conversation has been instrumental to my emotional journey and growth as a person. These things have absolutely been essential in creating the path in which I was able to pursue this book idea.