5 Things Parents Can Do To Challenge Everyday Sexism

Love trumps hate

It’s hard to know where to start, with the outrage, this week. I mean, thanks to the actions of Donald Trump and his administration, there’s just SO MUCH to feel angry about. Since the Women’s Marches last week  – and the gob-smacking response to them from people like Piers Morgan, who re-tweeted me when I challenged him –  I’ve been all fired up about women’s rights again. Because apparently we need to be. Apparently, 62,904,682 Americans voted for someone who has displayed misogynistic behaviour, has said he thinks it’s OK to grab women by the pussy and has been accused a number of times of sexual assault.

The marches were such a wonderful thing to see: the women, the men, the kids, the brilliantly clever placards, and the fact that the message was being shouted loud and clear – women and men are equals and should be treated as such. Even if the new US president doesn’t think so.

But what now? It’s sometimes tricky to know how we can help, aside from adding our voices to support the people Trump has decided to attack this week (muslim people, in case you haven’t been keeping up with the news) and trying to guess which group in society it will be, next week. Do you think he uses a roulette wheel in the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas to decide? “If it lands on red, it’s the Mexicans….”

As parents, we’re on the front line of raising the next generation. We’re here, every day, influencing our kids and helping to shape their views on what’s right and what’s wrong. On equality. Every now and then, I test my daughter on this. Just this morning, as I was pulling her hair into a ponytail, I said to her, “Is there anything girls can’t do, that boys can do?” To my relief, she frowned and firmly said, “No! Girls can do anything.” I told her how right she was, and chatted about how girls can do any job they like, from scientists to fire fighters to surgeons – anything.

But it feels like a constant battle because sexism, casual everyday sexism, is all around us (Richard Curtis thought it was love that’s all around us, but he forgot about sexism – that’s all around us too). We’ve been playing a lot of card games recently (Christmas has that effect on us) and one of the six-year-old’s favourites is Happy Families. Have you ever stopped to think about how sexist Happy Families is?

So, we’ve got Mr Bun the Baker and Mrs Bun the baker’s wife, Mr Field the farmer and Mrs Field the farmer’s wife, Mr Constable the policeman and Mrs Constable the policeman’s wife. Heaven forbid the women have any kind of identity – or job – that extends beyond being a wife. I know it’s a traditional game, but it’s these “traditional” things that still seep into our family life that have a subconscious effect on our kids. I’m tempted to take a marker pen to our Happy Families cards. Mrs Bun the baker’s wife  astro-physicist. Mrs Field the farmer’s wife headteacher. Mrs Constable the policeman’s wife newspaper editor.

But aside from defacing games, what can we do, as parents, to challenge everyday sexism?

  1. Buy books and toys that don’t fit the stereotypes. Give your three-year-old daughter a football, buy a colouring set as a gift for a little boy you know, buy books on space and dinosaurs for girls, buy your son a toy kitchen. Children veer towards certain toys or clothes or books because they’re copying what they see other kids doing and because of what we enable them to do. I see so many dads encourage their young sons to play football – far more than I see girls being encouraged. “Football’s for boys,” my daughter exclaimed when she was three. Aged three and she had already decided this – despite being brought up by me, Mrs I Love Equality Thank You Very Much. Once I picked my jaw off the ground, I explained why this isn’t the case.
  2. Think about our lives and whether we’re living an equal life. In my home, we split the housework and chores 50/50. Some weeks I do more, some weeks Mr P does more, it just depends on who is busier. He irons his own work shirts (as IF I’m going to do them for him!) and he cooks just as often as I do. This is partly because he married me, Mrs I Love Equality Thank You Very Much, but we also try to consciously set a good example to our daughter. There’s little point telling her she can be anything and do anything and that she is an equal to all the boys out there, if we then live our lives in a way that undermines and contradicts this.
  3. Go to events and marches and talks. This is something that’s quickly becoming more important – it’s the best way to be heard and to be seen and counted. I’ve joined the Women’s Equality Party (something I’d been meaning to do for ages) and will be going along to my local meetings. There are people like Anna Farquharson (aka Mother Pukka) organising rallies to speak out for flexible working rights – the next one is in Glasgow, find out more here. Get your likeminded friends together and go to the events that are about the issues that matter to you.
  4. Challenge everyday sexism when we see it. This is a hard one, because we’re all very British about things, and we don’t like to cause a fuss, do we? Take the time I was in M&S with my then-four-year-old daughter and an elderly lady walked past us and said “Oh aren’t you pretty? I bet your mummy is so proud.” I was very close to saying “Well, I am, but I’m proud because she is funny and great at writing letters and she can count to 100. Not because she is pretty.” But you know, that would have been a bit rude. I’m not saying we should suddenly start rugby-tackling old ladies who back up age-old stereotypes. But the one time I wish I’d been braver was when the lovely Rainbows leader proudly told me that the Guides, Brownies and Rainbows had all taken a section of the Church and dusted the pews and bibles. Community spirit and kindness is great, but were the Cubs, Beavers and Scouts also doing some dusting to help? (In fairness, they may well have been…. this is why I should have asked her.) It’s these little things, that are engrained into our society, that we should be gently challenging, whenever we can.
  5. Keep reaffirming the message with our kids. Whether you’re parents to a girl or a boy, or both, it’s so so important to keep quietly reminding them that girls and boys, men and women are equal. There’s no grey area, no ifs or buts, no situation  where this isn’t true. Teach your kids that no means no, that it’s not OK to make physical contact with someone else if they don’t want you to, that your body is worth respecting and loving. We need this new generation of girls – and boys – to understand this.





  1. January 31, 2017 / 8:49 am

    Love this! My son is 8 months old and I’m determined to make sure he grows up knowing that him and all of his girl-baby mates are just the same. My in-laws, however, seem equally determined to make this a tough job! I regularly hear my father-in-law telling my sister-in-law’s four and five year old boys about all the things that girls can’t do (add rugby to the list!) and my mother-in-law’s favourite rhyme to sing to my son is “Clap hands, clap hands ’til Daddy comes home. Daddy’s got money and Mammy’s got none!” Aaaarghh!!! I try to subtly challenge them each time it happens but it’s so hard to do so without sounding confrontational. Maybe I just need to ‘man-up’

  2. January 31, 2017 / 12:13 pm

    Really interesting post Alison. As a Mum to only boys I’m keen to make sure they grow up knowing everyone is equal. At this point in their lives they feel any type of injustice very strongly, and think sexism, and any other type of inequality, is terrible. I hope we can keep them feeling this way as they get older and less influenced by just us:)

  3. Sarah
    January 31, 2017 / 6:42 pm

    Yes! THIS! Because no, actually, it wasn’t pregnancy hormones that made me borderline lose it at a relative of an in-law who exclaimed at seeing my then 18 month old son playing with his newly bought baby and buggy (in anticipation of the arrival of his new sibling) – “aren’t you worried he’ll turn out soft?” *screams and hits head repeatedly on wall. Fortunately the hubs stepped in to explain we want to raise all of our kids to nurture others and our son wanted to copy his daddy who whenever possible would push him in the buggy, change his nappy, get up in the night, read his stories etc. Our now eight year old is right now playing Lego Friends with his sister. The Friends are developing scientific strategies to make exercise more fun, so I am not sure where we are going with that one but I’ll stick with it. The partnership is key on this I think – the household split you talk about and the explaining of roles needs to come from significant men AND women. That’s one thing that excited me about the march – even though I didn’t go or take the kids – that it wasn’t just women talking about gender equality – it was the guys too. Because nothing is going to change until we’re all in it together. This right now not being at all the world I envisaged my children growing in I can only hope and pray that us having to be so explicit in teaching them to stand against oppression of any kind might make the future a better place.

  4. February 1, 2017 / 9:13 pm

    You are such an amazing mum. For her to say that girls can do anything is a true sign of how she is being raised. You are doing such a wonderful job in teaching her that we are equal. It is so scary the message that is being given out by “him” right now and we need to protect our girls. x

  5. February 1, 2017 / 9:29 pm

    Love these ideas Alison. I really hope we’re doing (some of) our bit by bringing up balanced and passionate children who know right from wrong x

  6. February 1, 2017 / 9:38 pm

    I think you’re right setting that example to your kids is such an important start in setting children up to know they are equal. My parents are feminists and we grew up with our dad at home whilst my mum studied and then worked. We also all grew up with the message that kindness was the most important thing in the world and I try to do that with my own kids too x

  7. June 12, 2017 / 7:48 am

    I love this post and your proactive approach…great stuff!

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