Raising Feminists in a Traditional Household

“Mom, you can’t drive, only boys drive!”

My three-year-old daughter shared this little nugget of insight with me last year while I was practising driving for my upcoming driver’s test.

Later that day, we had a conversation about girls, and the fact that we can do anything that boys do. It’s a lifelong conversation that I hope never ends in my household, and one which I find myself constantly reminding my three daughters of.

As a woman living in a traditional household, it can be really difficult to raise feminists who also understand and have empathy for the situations of others unlike them. My husband works a regular forty-hour work week, while I stay home and work a few hours a week as a writer. I typically take care of the majority of the household chores and childcare, because I’m the one who is home the majority of the time.

My kids have been raised in a home with a mother and father who tend to take on typical gender roles, but that doesn’t mean I believe that our way is the right way, or the only way. How do I reconcile my own feminist beliefs, and raise my children to have a broader view of the world, when my own lifestyle doesn’t reflect that?

One of the biggest ways that we combat this is introducing our children to families and individuals that are different than ours. They know all about my mom, who raised me as a single mother for my entire upbringing. I mention this often to my children, and share with them what my childhood was like with a working mother, and what that meant for me as a little girl. I also point out that I didn’t have a father, and not all of their friends will come from homes with a mother and a father. We also have friends with two mothers, or two fathers, and we talk openly about different families, and invite all types of families into our homes, hearts, and lives.

We also talk about jobs and opportunity, and let our children know that they can choose to do anything or be anything. It can be hard for them to grasp this, when they only know what they see, and media makes it difficult to break these barriers.

We introduce our children to books about feminist girls, and I try and empower them to embrace the idea that may seem counter-cultural.

The media still has a long way to go when it comes to gender neutral shows, toys, and clothes for younger kids. In their minds, movies like Cars, t-shirts with sharks, and Thomas toys are for boys. I encourage them to cross that line and venture into parts of the store that are labelled 'boy,' but I’ve noticed that my girls all have strong preferences for all things “girly.” How do I reconcile that? I just support what they choose and offer different options too. The door is always open and available, but I don’t push them in a direction that they don’t want to go in.

I know that, as their mother, I am the first woman that they see as an example, for both womanhood and feminism. That doesn’t mean that I need to dismantle our traditional household, because that is what works for us - I believe feminism is about honouring every side and every story - but it does mean that I need to be intentional with my words and actions.

Now that I have my driver’s license, my daughter no longer says that girls can’t drive. I drive often, even more than my husband now. I overcame my fear of driving for my daughters, to set that example for them.

Recently, I was given the opportunity to go to Downtown Toronto to do a interview on CBC Radio. It was a big and exciting opportunity for me, and I knew this was my chance to make a real and visible impact on my daughters. I decided to take them on a trip, and we rented a condo in the heart of downtown. In the morning ,our entire family of five walked to the CBC building, and my kids kissed me before I left my family to walk through the doors. It was a monumental moment for me, and I also believe, for them. They watched me walk into an opportunity that was exciting, and new, something that I had worked hard for and created for myself.

I might be at home for a lot of my day, washing dishes until my fingers crack, slathering sunscreen and changing diapers. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have an opportunity to show my children what women are capable of. We are strong and we are hardworking, whether it is inside our home, or outside shattering the glass ceiling.

Perhaps the biggest lesson I can teach my children is that they can do whatever they want as women, it is their choice to make, and it is our job to honour that choice.


Brianna Bell is a writer and journalist based out of Guelph, Ontario. She has written for many online and print publications, including Scary Mommy, The Penny Hoarder, and The Globe & Mail. 

Brianna's budget-savvy ways has attracted media attention, and led to newspaper coverage in The Globe & Mail and The Guelph Mercury. In April 2016 Brianna will be featured in Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less, alongside co-writer Brooke Burke. You can find Brianna's website at Brianna Bell Writes.