I spent the weekend interviewing my seven-year-old niece about women’s rights. She had a lot to say.
So, let’s get this interview started. How old are you?
Well, I’m basically eight. Ok, seven and a half. Ok, more than a half.
We’ve talked about what I do… Do you remember what that is?
You help women around the world. You help women get their rights.
Because people think men can be more strong and can do other things that women can’t. So we don’t get treated the same. But that’s not true. We are very important. Not just very important, but as important as boys.
What do you think it means to be a girl?
I like being a girl. Girls can talk it out. Well, girls can get into fights too. But boys can’t talk it out. They usually use their body to express their feelings. But girls can talk it out. That’s easier. And then they feel better. I know how to express my feelings.
Do the boys and girls get along?
The boys are not usually nice to any of the girls unless it’s like a school project, because they don’t want to get in trouble. The boys just hang out together and then play and fight. The girls and boys don’t like each other. There’s this thing they do, it’s very mean. They put the girls on girl island so the boys can stay alone on boy island.
Is there a difference between the girls and the boys?
Well, the girls want to do girl things. But there are some girls who want to do boy things. The boys don’t like that. And they don’t like playing with girl things. They would never. Never!
In school we just did Women’s History Month. The girls were happy. The boys said “Oh. Women.” They wanted to study men’s history only. They said “What about us?!” And we said we wanted to learn about women’s stuff. Like the only woman who goes diving for pearls. She’s the only woman! And that famous woman painter. The one from Mexico.
In school, the boys don’t actually do anything. They literally just stomp. Some of them just sit there in class and don’t even do their worksheets. Really there’s only one boy that does his math worksheets. So the girls are already smarter than the boys.
What if someone told you that girls were not as important as boys… what would you say?
I would tell them no, that’s not true. I would say it in a strong way. You need to say in a strong way that they’ll actually understand. They’re exactly the same and equal. Well, we’re not exactly the same person. We have a lot of different personalities. But we get the same respect and we need to get the same peace.
That’s right. That’s why I do this work. Because it’s wrong when people think girls aren’t important. It is a problem. And I want to fix that problem. Because we all deserve the same peace.
The conversation got me thinking…how are we teaching the next generation about feminism? And more importantly, how should we be teaching them about feminism?
It’s not an easy word — not even for grown-ups. We need to boil down to basics. Get tangible. Help them understand what it means concretely — in their own world. In their lives and their homes and their classroom.
Focus on equality when explaining feminism to children. Tell them that feminism means that girls should have every opportunity that boys have. My niece reminds us that we’re “exactly the same and equal.” And it’s ok to say it “in a strong way.”
Kryss Shane, author of The Educator’s Guide to LGBT+ Inclusion, suggests offering to split a cookie, and asking if girls should get less of the cookie simply because they are girls. Kids often see things through the lens of what is fair. And they know when things feel wrong — or unfair. They will understand that we all deserve an equal share of the cookie. That’s fair.
Kids need to understand that feminism is better for everyone. It isn’t about being anti-men or boys.
One way is to point out sexism when it exists.
Most young girls have already experienced or witnessed some degree of sexism in the classroom or in their lives already. Teach them ways to call out that behavior.
At the same time, we need to highlight the impact of feminism on the lives of women and girls. Many of the rights we have today are due to the feminist movement.
Tell kids that boys and men can — and should — be feminists too, because a feminist is a human being who believes that women and girls are equal and whole individuals whose lives are valuable.
But teaching the next generation about feminism goes beyond telling kids what feminism is. That behavior must be modeled for it to be understood, and replicated. We cannot be what we cannot see.
And there is something terrible that happens when a girl realizes that the world sees her as less-than. We can’t allow that to happen. As my niece said: “We get the same respect and we need to get the same peace.”
Keep messages simple. Kids are smart, they get it.
My niece certainly does.
Full piece lives here: https://linaabirafeh.medium.com/the-f-word-every-child-should-know-c8621285c700