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How to be a feminist: Written by a toddler

Updated: Apr 25, 2019

When I was a toddler, my family visited my grandma who lived out of state. After our trip, my grandma sent my mom a book called Raising a Strong-Willed Child. My mom frequently reminds me of this, but we both (and my grandmother, too, for the record) wear our strong-willed status as a badge of honor. What is the alternative? we think. A weak will? Nah.

And yet, while I define myself as strong-willed, and I aim to be confident, determined, driven, steady, strong, direct, and unwavering… I waver all the time. In business, I hesitate to propose rates *too high* and drive away potential clients. In life, I often say yes when I know I’m too busy to take something on. In this moment in the world for women, for #metoo, for #timesup, I find myself advocating with less force than I would like to be.

Where is that strong-willed child? I wonder. And then I hear her:  

“Hey! Mommy! Lucy doesn’t like overalls! Lucy will NOT wear them again.”

Oh, there she is. I gave birth to her. The cycle continues.

And so, in my quest to be a stronger advocate for myself and for all women, I look no further than my two-year-old for a how-to guide. Here’s what she’s taught me:

Feminist Lesson #1: How to use “no” as a complete sentence

Me: Lucy, it’s time to get in the car.

Lucy: No.

That’s it. That’s the lesson. Lucy provides no rationale, no apology, no “let me think about how this might later affect our relationship.” Just no. It’s not currently in her own best interest to appease my needs, so she simply declines my request and carries on walking around the driveway and picking up acorns. It isn’t spiteful; in fact, it’s followed up with, “Hey! Mommy! Lucy hears a dog. Woof!”

How much easier would life be if we could unemotionally decline just some of the things that were not serving us?

Feminist Lesson #2: How to love what you see in the mirror

I had to take Lucy with me to an editorial meeting about a month ago. The meeting was in a team member’s home, and it was my first time meeting a few of the women there. Everyone welcomed Lucy and gave her free reign to wander around while I cringed and waited to hear a giant crash. We survived the meeting, but on the way out the door there was a large mirror leaning against the wall in the entryway. Lucy marched right up to it, smiled sideways at herself, put her hands on the glass, and gave her reflection a passionate, open mouth kiss. Her parting gifts to the mirror were two sticky handprints and some slobber.

I should have known. She does this to our mirrors at home. She catches a glimpse of herself and loves what she sees so much that she has to kiss it.

Can you imagine just feeling yourself at that level? I hope she never loses this quality.

Feminist Lesson #3: How to get more from every negotiation

The first thing you need to know is that you can negotiate anything: how much time you’re going to spend somewhere, how many raisins you’re going to eat, whether you’re going to wear your overly expensive and trendy new fall wardrobe or last summer’s too-small puppy t-shirts (I never, ever, win this one), and how many times you can go down the slide.

Me: Lucy, choose one more thing to do, then we have to go home.

Lucy: OK. Lucy chooses two more things. Ladder and slide.

And, you know all those times you wanted to negotiate but didn’t because you thought negotiation was off the table? Here’s a good trick:

Me: OK. You didn’t eat dinner. No ice cream.

Lucy: OK. Yes ice cream.

Try it. It really throws the other party off guard.

Feminist Lesson #4: How to accept a compliment

Me: Wow, Lucy! You run fast!

Lucy: Yeah!

Feminist Lesson #5: How to love what you love and be proud

Lucy: Hey! Mommy! Lucy likes purple, Mommy!

Lucy: Hey! Mommy! Lucy likes dogs, Mommy!

Lucy: Hey! Mommy! Lucy likes Peppa Pig, Mommy!

Lucy: Hey! Mommy! Lucy likes cheese, Mommy!

These are completely spontaneous interjections. There is never any context; they come in the car or at the dinner table or as interruptions when I’m talking to someone else. Little footsteps come thumping down the hall, “Hey! Mommy! Lucy likes this red car, Mommy!”

It’s like she learned how to talk, harnessed her little voice, and just wants to share what she likes with the world. She wants to shout it and stand up for it and wear it and talk about it because IT IS URGENTLY IMPORTANT.

Little woman, show me your ways!

When I first became a parent, when I first learned I was having a girl, (and when I learned that I’m having another one), my primary goal  became to raise my girls in a way that empowered them to know their strength, to love themselves, to go after what they want, and to be unapologetic about who they are.

As it turns out, I’m finding that girls are born this way. I don’t need to instill these qualities in them; they’re innate. My new goal as a parent is not to diminish the fierce strength that my girls come into the world bearing.

And the best way I know how to do that is to model the exact lessons my daughter models for me--to show her that girls can have a strong will at two, and they can keep it at thirty-two. I want to show my girls that they do not need to weaken their voices, their light, or their strength to appease others, to please others, or to avoid conflict. I want Lucy’s future to look and sound just like her present.

World: Lucy, it’s time to give up on that dream.

Lucy: No.


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