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Adventures in Raising an Asian Feminist Daughter

02/13/2015 03:20 pm ET | Updated Apr 15, 2015
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The other morning, my 3 ½-year-old daughter was throwing a fit about not wanting to go to school.

Because I was trying to put her socks on her feet at the time, she felt it was necessary to grab onto me by the hair and pull as hard as she could, crying and yelling into my face, "I do not want to go school, Mama. Please," she pleaded. "I do not want to go to school!"

Instead of throwing my own tantrum, which honestly is how I wanted to respond, I looked at my toddler straight in the eye and asked her if she knew how lucky she was to even have the choice to go to school.

"Do you know how many girls around the world would do anything to be in your place, Ava?" I questioned my daughter, big tears streaming down her little face. "Do you know how many girls risk their lives everyday to try to even get to school?"

I explained to my child that even though it is 2015, globally in countries like Bangladesh, where mommy is from, millions of girls are still denied the right to an education simply because they are girls.

"Can you imagine that, Ava?"

"No, mommy, I can't," she answered in her tiny, sincere voice.

Although my baby is just under the age of four, and many parents would consider this quite an intense morning conversation to have with a toddler, the truth is, as parents, every moment is an opportunity to teach.

But these windows can be more intense for mothers, especially if you are a feminist. Being a feminist mom, this point really hits home with me -- literally. Growing up in the 1980s in Bangladesh, my parents never wasted a second to point out the gender discrimination that surrounded us, embedded in countless ways in our culture.

Despite being raised by a feminist, my own mother could not shield her daughters from the fact that our country valued us less than boys; that women in Bangladesh were worth less than men.

That morning, I decided to turn my American daughter's tantrum into a lesson on how gender inequality is still a reality, in Bangladesh and the U.S.

The truth is for young girls, gender inequality is already present especially in the toys that are targeted to them.

My husband and I both feel strongly about having Ava involved in sports because of the training it will provide her to thrive in a competitive professional world.

However, just by being in her preschool, she has become princess obsessed, and some days it appears as though pink has taken over our existence. It seriously is all over my house.

Although I cannot banish princess-glitter junk from her life, I take the opportunity to tell her to be a "princess" who has her own money, a career, and is not just waiting around to be saved by a man. I want her to know the most important thing about her is not her looks.

I write about the long-term harmful effects of princess culture on our daughters, and I cannot just watch as what my child plays with things that subconsciously encourage her to grow up to be a woman who dreams of being saved by a man. I want my daughter to know that life is about being able to 100 percent rely on yourself.

At the end of the day however, all parents know that children do not do what you tell them; they do as you do.

So what is the best way to raise the next generation of Asian feminists? Lead by example and model feminism in your own life so she knows nothing is off-limits for her because she is a girl.

Easier said than done I know, but here are five tips that can help guide you in your own adventures in raising a future feminist:

1) Encourage your daughter in physical sport.

I think as South Asian moms, we are used to shying our girls way from physical activities in general; I know I was. But many child development experts applaud girls getting involved in athletics for confidence and for cultivating a competitive drive.

2) Point out sexism when you see it.

It does not have to be a dramatic lecture, but making a point while watching Disney classics, it is more than fine to state the fact of how little agency the female characters are given over their lives.

3) Give your sons and daughters equal freedom of movement.

Although I grew up with all sisters, I cannot tell you how many family friends back home let their sons out more than their daughters. This is a classic Desi parenting move that lets daughters know early on they do not power over their decisions the way men do.

4) Skip the marriage talk.

Seriously moms, it's 2015. Let's stop telling our kids, boys or girls, that the primary goal in their life is to get married. I am talking to you, Asian moms. Let's not place that marriage pressure, that we know all too well, on our kids.

5) Advocate higher education.

The best thing about living in North America is the access to education, and immigrants really have a unique perspective on this. We do not take it for granted. Push your children to embrace education, and tell your daughters to be as educated as they can because hopefully it will lead to financial security. As women, we all know that spells the ultimate independence.

What do your views on raising a feminist? How do you encourage equality at home?