From as early as I can remember, my mom talked about inequality and my dad told me I could be anything I wanted to be. Although, he advised me to do something that made a lot of money, so I’d never be dependent on a man. My mom—a counsellor at a women’s shelter—regularly saw women who were financially dependent. While there were many, many, many other reasons the women took some time to leave their abusive partners, my parents didn’t want money to end up holding me back.
Both my parents were enraged when six-year-old me delivered my homemade cookies to my neighbor and he responded by saying I’d make a good housewife one day. If that’s what I chose to do with my life, my parents would have supported me, but at that particular time I was planning to be a lawyer and work alongside my dad. They didn’t want anyone even suggesting my only or best option was to stay at home to raise children. My neighbor’s comment hadn’t registered as anything but a compliment to me, but still, my parents’ indignation on my behalf felt good. They sent a strong message to me that I’d be supported, no matter what I chose to do, regardless of my gender.
At 10, I delighted in beating boys at chess tournaments. Even if I didn’t come in first, I considered the day a win if I made at least one of them cry. Bonus points if it’d been one of the cocky ones who thought he could win just because I was a girl. My dad drove me to all my coaching sessions and games, giving me pep talks beforehand that included references to male tears. On the way home, we’d laugh together at their temper tantrums.
When I tired of chess, my dad suggested we sign up for karate classes together. My parents wanted me to be able to defend myself. Since I was quite resistant to his jokes about buying me a gun or pepper spray, teaching me to fight was the next best thing. There was never any talk of a man protecting me. They didn’t want me to rely on a man for that, either. And, besides, as my mom frequently pointed out, I could be gay and end up with a woman. It wasn’t until more than a decade later that I appreciated my mom voicing the possibility of me not being heterosexual—it made telling her I’d been dating a woman much easier.
My mom somewhat regularly asked me if I’d been sexually assaulted. She knew the statistics and wanted to give me the support I needed, if and when I became a survivor. These conversations made me all too aware of the risk I was in as a woman. These conversations encouraged me to take a women’s and gender studies class in high school to learn more about what I could do to fight for my safety and equality. It also scared the shit out of me. Being so aware of the danger I was in, I wished I could be a boy. In high school, I dressed in T-shirts, jeans and baggy sweaters to try to hide my girl-ness. I thought that would protect me, but I also hated the clothes and wished I felt comfortable wearing shorts and dresses in the hot summers.
When I was 15, my mom started buying me subscriptions to magazines like Bitch, Bust and Ms. I had wanted to be a writer for years and these publications shifted my dreams into wanting to become a journalist and wanting to start my own feminist magazine, which I did only a few years later.
Now, I’m 27. A few months ago, when my mother-in-law lovingly called me Little Miss Feminist, I beamed, so happy that my beliefs come through enough in my day-to-day life to earn me that title.
I’m all grown up now, but my parents still call me weekly to give me the love and support I need to thrive in this world as a woman. My partner and I are talking about one day soon having children of our own and I’m glad to have had my parents role model feminist parenting for me. In a few years, there will be Young Little Miss and Mister Feminists running around my home.