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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Raising Good Feminists

Whenever I find out about some hellraising woman in history that I never heard of before it makes me angry that I didn't know.  How many are there?  Whenever this happens I usually think back to 6th grade when we had to do a biography of a famous person, dress up like them, act like them, etc.  I was Eleanor Roosevelt.  I always think I wish I would have known about more of these women, so I had more choices.

I worry, raising boys, about all the subtle messages they receive that girls are somehow less than boys.  I guess if I had girls, I might worry even more. I take every opportunity to instruct and model for them that women can do anything men can do and in some cases they can do it better.  They hear things like "run like a girl" or "throw like a girl" all the time in our society.  Sometimes, if I refer to a senator or doctor or judge, they automatically assume it's a man.  I am swimming against the current.

I've come across two examples of hellraising women lately and I'll write about the first one today.  I'm working through a list of sports books recommended by the library for Tank.  Every week I put three or four on hold for him.  I have to be careful because about 25% of them are about female athletes.  I worry that he will pick it up and then just put it down again and not read it.  So when I get those I don't get more than one at a time and I try to talk about it with him.  This week I got a book called Mighty Jackie, The Strikeout Queen.

Baseball books about girls are the best because baseball is his favorite thing and that makes the topic both accessible and relevant for him.  Sunday morning, after a big breakfast, we all piled in to our bed and Tank read the book to all of us and then we talked about it.  It is the true story of a woman named Jackie Mitchell who was only 17 years old, 130 pounds, and 5’7” tall, when she struck out two legendary batters in a row – Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig!

It was fascinating.  On the back cover of the book it said "On June 23, 1952, organized baseball formally banned women from the minor leagues." Wow.  The boys saw that this was wrong all on their own.  What was shocking to me is how recent it was.

The NCAA college women's softball playoffs have been on tv lately.  I asked my husband why women play softball instead of baseball and he said it is because of the way women's shoulders are built.  They can't throw overhand as hard and fast as they can throw underhand.  Maybe.  But maybe it's because they weren't allowed to play baseball and they had to find an alternative.  I don't know; I'm no sports historian.

What I do know is that this was an important conversation with my boys. I told them that there have been lots of things that women haven't been allowed to vote.  And that there are still places in the world where women aren't allowed to have jobs or go to school or drive cars.

I'm not an athlete; I'm kind of a girly girl, so I have to work extra hard at setting my feminist example.  I think it was easier when I worked. My mom set the first example for me of a hellraising woman.  She's a feminist, she has always worked (which was a huge influence on me), and she never takes any crap from anyone.  One way I try to set my example with my boys is every chance I get I grab my glove and go out and play ball with them.

Tomorrow I'll post about the other hellraising feminist I recently became aware of.  Do you discuss or model gender equality in your family? How?


  1. I haven't had a proper conversation with DS about this topic yet ~ he's too young. But I am working on him in other ways: he has a pink polo shirt (pink is NOT just a colour for girls) and I tell him it's okay to hug his friends goodbye, even if other adults tell him he should be shaking hands.

  2. Ruth, what is with the pink shirt thing?? I can't get my boys to wear one even though their father does.