Sometimes I find myself feeling inadequate. Bills to pay, school to attend, work to find, mothering to do. I find myself asking at least seven million times a day, whether the decisions I am making regarding myself, and consequently my son, will positively or negatively affect him. I want him to be confident, to have faith in his own abilities, to be happy and creative. I want him to be successful (however he defines it). I want him to be loved. I want my son to have more opportunities than I had growing up. I want to indulge him, but not spoil him. I want to make sure he respects women. I want him to understand he only has control over his own person, that because he has a penis there is no inherent right to have control over another’s person.
But this, all at once, seems impossible to teach a six year old. At what age does one start talking about sex? In our society, sex and all its “trappings” are taboo at any age, so there is no answer to the question. Yet, throughout history and in many current cultures, sex is something freely spoken of and not shamed. Children become educated about “where babies come from” when they begin to talk.
It is in this way I frame the question, “how-to raise a pro-choice child.” There is no “how-to” manual that will give anyone a page by page account on what to say, do, act like in order for your child grow up to respect a woman’s right to chose. Our culture’s obsession with keeping sex out of the public realm means more children are going to have less information about sex and less information about the importance of women having autonomy over their bodies. Ironically, we are constantly bombarded with sex messaging in the media, yet we’re not supposed to talk openly about sex.
I know I said there isn’t a “how-to” guide, but I am going to list out three simple rules that I follow to reinforce the message that women deserve respect and autonomy over their own bodies.
One, television, even cartoons are limited. I like TV, don’t get me wrong, and my son and I like (no, LOVE) to watch movies, but we as parents must be careful about what subliminal messages or blatant sexism or harmful images may appear in the content we let our children watch. For instance, I like the movie Beauty and the Beast (Disney), but it was not until I started college that I learned the movie has one messed up message. That no matter how violent, emotionally and physically abusive a man is to you, if you just love him enough, eventually he’ll change. If that doesn’t reinforce and ingrain in young girls’ minds the domestic violence cycle of abuse, I don’t know what does.
And I grew up watching that stuff.
So no movies (as much as possible) that depict women as helpless creatures that submit to and are controlled by men. If we watch something that includes this, I have to explain over and over that the way Beast treated Belle is not okay.
Two, I have begun explaining basic information about sex to my son. Nothing graphic, no pictures and no shaming; just plain language explaining the mechanics, so to speak. This is what is controversial, some (especially those on the right and “anti-choicers”) believe talking about sex to young children is like child abuse or sexual abuse. The truth is informing kids about the mechanics of their bodies, how the appropriate ways to use reproductive parts and why, is vital in instilling values that will create an adult that respects a woman’s right to chose and a woman’s autonomy over her body. Furthermore, if my son comes to me with a question regarding sex, I answer in the most frank and appropriate way possible. Once again, no sex-shaming.
Finally, the most important advice I have been given from another parent to me about parenting, is no matter what, love your child. This goes so far in creating happy, confident and well-adjusted children, and then adults, later in life. I don’t mean to imply that anti-choicers are not happy, simply that happy and confident children will be more receptive to constructive and intellectually stimulating conversations, including talks about why he or she should be pro-choice.
Raising children isn’t easy. Counteracting the barrage of degrading messages about women that are everywhere is not easy and talking about sex with your kids isn’t easy. But overcoming our personal insecurities and uncomfortableness is key in helping our kids recognize that women have the right to chose and have the right to total autonomy over their bodies.