I wanted to be a prostitute for Halloween. My mother wouldn't let me. I wanted to be a cheerleader. My mother wouldn't let me. My mother only allowed gender neutral toys to cross my path until I wrapped up a bag of kitty litter in my blanket and rocked to it and sang it lullabies. Then she gave in.
I always hated how my mother's politics dictated my life. I wanted to be Sexy with a capital S, not wholesome, or pretty, or outdoorsy. I certainly didn't want anyone to know I was smart. I felt her feminism held me back from popularity, from dates, from happiness.
Then I grew up.
It took a lot of years for me to realize some dude checking out my rack wasn't the kind of attention I wanted. It took a long time to realize someone who saw my brain was a lot better than someone who liked my ass.
It took a long time to stop looking around at bars to see who was looking at me. I threw all Mom's feminist teachings out the window, you see. I chose barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen as my career goal. I'm sure it pissed her off, but she told me she had fought for my right to choose my destiny, even if it was a traditional path.
The problem was that I saw feminism as unfeminine. I saw slutty as sexy. I saw traditional as normal. I did not see the bigger picture.
If I had a daughter...
If I had a daughter, damn right I would want her to play sports, not cheer for boys playing sports. (Yes, cheerleaders are athletes, but they are still a sport supporting boys, not a sport celebrating women's rights to twirl and spin and throw themselves in the air. When boys cheer for girls' sports, we can talk.)
If I had a daughter, damn right I would tell her to go to college, even if she planned on staying home and raising children.
If I had a daughter, damn right I wouldn't want her to play with Barbie dolls.
If I had a daughter, damn right I wouldn't want her to dress as a cheap trick for Halloween.
But I don't have daughters, I have sons.
It's hard not to fall into sexism as the mother of sons. It's hard not to look at your friend's daughters as potential wives to your future head of the household. I know, I know, you can't say it. But you think it when no one is looking.
All I can do is teach my boys by example. There are fewer "damn right" moments. But I can show them what a strong woman is. I can do my homework in front of them and tell them why I am still in school at 40. I can tell them they are beautiful in their own right. I can treat all sexes equally, which means making them take their own dishes to the sink and vacuum their own bedroom, because it's not my job just because I'm a mother.
I can tell my boys to cheer for their friends on little league, because that's what friends do. Cheering is everyone's job, not just the girls' job.
I can buy my boys baby dolls and watch them nurture their babies.
I can refuse to allow words like "pussy" or 'girly man" to be used as an insult in their hearing.
I can use gender neutral terms for repairman and not qualify professions with the prefix of female, as in female lawyer, female doctor.
I can stop denigrating my stomach in front of the children, and just let them enjoy my huggy softness without worries about what is supposed to be beautiful. I can show them confidence instead of insecurity. I can teach them that beauty comes in all sizes and shapes. I can teach them intolerance for airheads that kowtow to get male attention.
I can voice my opinions strongly. I can throw the football and pitch the baseball and show them with my actions that Mamas can do anything Daddys do.
Mostly, I can raise them to be the people they already are. No one is born sexist, or racist, or elitist. That's all learned behavior, and I can refuse to teach it to them.