On Raising My Daughter in a Sexist World

When my daughter was born, my wife and I decided to raise her to be proud of who and what she is.  She’s beautiful–and this isn’t just parental opinion–and she’s smart, and we began, from a very early age, praising her intelligence as much, if not more than, her beauty.  We want her to know she’s smart, and we want her to know she’s beautiful, but we want her to prize the smarts more.

When she was four, I asked for a kiss.  She said no.  Like a lot of dads, I pressed the issue.  She got angry, and I realized what I was doing and, horrified at myself, put her down.  She thought she’d done something wrong.  I explained to her that, no, she has every right to say “no,” and nobody, not me, not her mom, not her grandparents or aunts or cousins or even the President–she was fixated on Obama at the time–had the right to make her do anything she didn’t want to.  Ever since then, I’ve respected her boundaries.  If she says no, that’s it.

I do this because I don’t want to have a child who feels pressured, ever, to show affection in any way.  I want her to be herself, and I want her to be strong.  Since she was four, we’ve let her choose her clothing (most of the time).  We let her decide what’s in her daily snack pack, and if she wants a home lunch instead of what her school provides, we do it.*

I worry probably more than I should about the mixed messages our society is going to send her.  We try very hard to make sure she doesn’t grow up thinking she has to be some kind of chaste sex goddess, and we’re honest with her–as much as is wise with someone so young–about the world she’s going to be dealing with.

At the same time, we’re doing what we can to make the world better for her.  My wife models what being a strong woman is.  I model respecting that woman, and all others.  And we make sure she sees other models of womanhood, from housewives to career-oriented women, from families with more kids than we have to families who’ve chosen to have no children.  We’ve placed choosing her clothes in her control, with only occasional parental overrides if she chooses something inappropriate (and my wife and I have to sometimes negotiate, because sometimes our standards differ–and we let her see how that works).

In short, we try to model for her a marriage based on respect.  When we argue, we try not to do it in front of her, but if we must, we’re honest about it, and work very hard to keep her from taking any sides.

Though it’s not entirely because of my child, my novel includes not one but two strong, intelligent female characters at least partly because I want her to see these things in fiction.

She loves superheroes, and I proudly guide her to the best–her favorites are Black Widow and Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel.  She’s happy as hell that when the Captain Marvel movie comes out she’ll be old enough to see it without me having to see it first to judge its suitability.  She’s very upset that there’s still no Black Widow movie, but hopeful there will be one when she’s older.

But at the end of the day, I worry.  I worry none of this will be enough, and she’ll be hit so hard by advertising and the idiotic expectations of others that she’ll be hurt beyond my ability to see or help.  I read stories like this one and I cringe, because it could happen to my baby, too.

We do what we can, I guess.  Bottom line, I will support her, no matter what.

<small>* If you’re drawing breath to tell me how awful it is she eats school lunch: she goes to a private school that serves healthy food.  So don’t go there. </small>

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About Michael Johnston

Father of a third grader, high school English teacher, writer. Forty-three years old and feeling almost every bit of it on some days, and not a bit of it on others. Based in Sacramento, California, USA
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2 Responses to On Raising My Daughter in a Sexist World

  1. Labs says:

    Best of luck on your efforts! May they pay off, and may she feel as good about herself, as a PERSON, as you do when you look at her and see how special she is.

  2. RSAGARCIA says:

    I often think how difficult this must be. My cousin had 5 boys. One of them, unfortunately, passed right after his 21st birthday. But his funereal was filled with women and the elderly whom he helped and left an impression on. As a family unit, we all tried to raise them to respect women and to understand that it’s not about superiority. Now, they have nothing but respect for everyone. This was probably the hardest won battle of a mother who had to do it all alone. I believe you are doing the right thing for your girl and you can’t do more than that. Trust her to be strong enough to handle the inevitable pitfalls and backlash. The rest of us will keep trying to make this world worthy of who she will be.

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