Raising a Feminist/Raised a Feminist: A Mother’s and Daughter’s Perspective

As we gear up for Omega’s Women and Power conference next weekend, we find this week’s post in our partnership series on intergenerational feminism is by two women – a mother and daughter – on being raised/raising a feminist. Enjoy!

By Sil Reynolds
In one week my daughter leaves home. My 18-year-old baby turned young woman, Eliza, is packing the car for college: Botticelli posters, red and pink pillows, a desk lamp, closet organizers, a hat stand – nesting things for a nest that I will not be sharing with her. This is our sacred rite, our last great initiation and our milestone together: shopping, packing, planning, and giddy giggling energy. SHE’S LEAVING? Can’t I come too? I want to take her courses “Shakespeare’s Present Tense” and “Social Psychology”, I want to meet new people, I just want to stay at college with her and cuddle at night in one bed with my little girl and whisper about the world.
Yet, remarkably, I also find myself ready to release her because she is so ready for the world.
I intended to raise a daughter who lives authentically, passionately and on her own terms -a daughter who is open-minded and openhearted. In short, I intended to raise a feminist. My husband was a remarkably attuned father and I had extraordinary friends and family at my side. I have taken notes as I have mothered because I teach workshops for mothers and their teenage daughters. So as I pause at the dawn of this new era of empty nesting, I offer this list:
1. Find a village to raise your child. Take Hilary Clinton’s advice to heart and find village women and men to help you raise your child in a loving and supportive community. You cannot do everything or be everywhere – create that circle for her and for you.
2. Love your body. Then your daughter will be inspired to cherish her own unique feminine body. Teach about what is wrong about those too skinny images that are coming at her every day.

3. While I am on the subject–keep no scales in the house. A number in the morning should not have the right to determine how one feels about oneself.
4. Celebrate the sacred, invite it in, and make room for it in your home. Celebrate your daughter’s menarche even if she resists it. It may be just the two of you (red tulips and strawberries), or a circle of women that hold her.
5. Plant a garden with her if you can find a patch of earth. This will teach her the rhythms of the Earth, the cycles of life and the miracle of starting life from a seed.
6. Teach tolerance and celebrate differences: different bodies, different sexual orientations, different cultures and different points of view. Teach about injustice. Model compassion.
7. Keep talking. Always keep the lines of communication open. If you are having trouble with this, get help.
8. Bring your daughter to your workplace. If you don’t work, bring your daughter to your volunteer place. Make sure she sees you in the world.
So how do I know if I – and her father and the village–succeeded? How do I know if this feminist birthed another feminist? By letting her speak!
By Eliza Reynolds
I was raised to be a feminist, but I didn’t know it. I would say to anyone who would listen: my mom, my math teacher, my middle-school crush, “Oh no, I’m not a bra burner, I’m not angry, I’m not that girl who doesn’t shave her arm pits as a statement against the Man; I am no feminist, no thank you.”
But deep down I was.
It was a secret at first. Something that I didn’t want the middle school boys to know because then they might be scared of me–you never knew what those feminists might do. They demanded things; they liked the shock value of what they said, of how they dressed. They were rebels and I was no rebel. There was no part of that ugly label that I wanted.
But it turned out that I had it all wrong – middle school stereotypes should never be confused for the truth. I can shave my armpits and be a feminist. I can love my pink strawberry-patterned bra and be a feminist.
I was raised a feminist. I couldn’t have avoided it. Oh boy, I was actively prepared, consciously guided and snugly dressed for the world by Momma and Daddy, six godmothers, three teachers and a summer camp. I learned by heart the meanings behind the ‘badges’ that came to adorn my chest.
I am a feminist because I love my hips and my belly (because they are the same hips and belly that my mom has and loves). I am a feminist because when I’m angry with you I’m going to challenge you–yes my face in yours–to sit down and really talk it out.
I am a feminist because the morning I got my period my dad gave me a big hug and kiss and a bowl of strawberries. I am a feminist because I changed my car tire in a white dress and green heels (and I liked it) and because sometimes I kiss a boy before he gets up the guts to kiss me. I am a feminist because sometimes I cry for “no reason” and it makes me feel whole.
Feminism had snuck up on me. One day I realized that I just love women. And that hey, I am angry when they are hurt and happy when they are healed, and that because I want to protect them and be their champion, I am a feminist. All of the little acts that make up my life, all of the little stories that I would tell as “essence of Eliza”, mean feminism to me. I am a feminist because I, an 18-year-old, sarcastic, blog-reading, Starbucks-drinking college freshman, have this vision of the world embedded in me: a world where all people will have the right to be raised safe and free–just as I was.
Eliza Reynolds – Bio
Eliza Reynolds is a student, workshop leader, certified teen mediator and SOS trained counselor with Planned Parenthood. She is the co-director of New Moon, an alternative summer camp encouraging and celebrating the balance of the feminine and the masculine within teenagers, which is an affiliate of the Wayfinder Experience and Adventure Game Theater. She is in her first year at Brown University where she is studying psychology, literature and gender studies. She is currently at work on a book with her mother, Sil Reynolds RN, that is based on the workshops they lead for mothers and their preteen and teenage daughters.
Sil Reynolds – Bio
Sil Reynolds RN, is a nurse practitioner and therapist who has worked with women and couples for over twenty-five years. She specializes in the relational issues of intimacy and communication using a body/mind approach that incorporates Pathwork and Jungian concepts. Reynolds is also devoted to helping men and women make peace with food and their bodies.
Reynolds is a graduate of Marion Woodman’s BodySoul Rhythms Leadership training and a graduate of Brown University where she majored in Women’s Studies. She has been an ongoing advisor to Omega Institute’s Women and Power Conference since its inception and a consultant to V-Day. For 10 years, Reynolds assisted and led Geneen Roth’s Breaking Free From Emotional Eating workshops across the country. Reynolds leads Embodying Conscious Femininity workshops and mother/daughter workshops at Omega. She is currently at work on a book with her daughter Eliza that is based on the workshops they lead for mothers and their preteen and teenage daughters.

Join the Conversation

  • Hypatia

    That was very uplifting :)

  • http://clarissasbox.blogspot.com Clarissa

    God, it must be amazing to have this kind of relationship with your mother! Mine, unfortunately, is mostly like this:

  • Athenia

    Ooooo, I loved this article! More! More!

  • Nyah

    That made me smile :) I hope one day I can raise a daughter with those values too!

  • TeenMommy

    This makes me very happy. Though my daughter is just a baby, I often think about how to raise her as a feminist and, more broadly, a well-adjusted and smart woman. The above post is a lovely example of this.

  • evapriyana

    I am so glad to read this! It’s easy to relate to – I resisted the menarche celebration my mother insisted on, and now am so grateful for it. I cry for “no reason” sometimes. I woke up and realized I just “love” women (what a great way to put it, by the way) too! I’m happy to know that feminism is alive and well in many families. What a feel-good read. Thanks for sharing.

  • uberhausfrau

    most of this stuff works for boys, too. (i havent figured out a coming of age ritual yet, but ive got a few years to go yet.)
    i dont “take my boys to work” with me, but they do help me with the housework.

  • Hara

    and remember
    it takes a CHILD to raise a VILLAGE too

  • ColoKris

    Whoo-hoo! I love stories about raising feminists daughters. I am raising a 13 yr old, and it wasn’t even a choice for me. I am a feminist, so how could I possibly not raise her to be one also? It is just part of who we are.
    I try to be as honest as possible with her. Sometimes I do feel pressure to be skinnier, or I feel illogically bad about my body. I don’t dwell on these moments, but I do let her know that sometimes my inner feelings don’t mesh up quite so well with my beliefs. Those moments open the door for conversations about WHY we feel bad about our bodies at times. What is making us feel this way? If logically we know we are beautiful, healthy, smart women….why moments of doubt and sadness. I don’t believe we can just ignore societal influences, but we can talk about them, analyze them and figure out where these feelings are coming from. It puts it in perspective for both of us. Body image is hard to deal with – esp as a teen. Just having the conversation goes a looong way towards understanding that the feelings are not based in reality & therefore conquering them.
    Same goes for menstruation. I do think it is something to celebrate and honor. But it is also scary at first and can be a big pain in the ass to deal with (esp. in middle school if you have a heavy cycle). The most important part is not being embarrassed about it and once again being able to talk about it honestly, share stories, and laugh about it sometimes :)
    And the last big part of feminism I try to pass on to my daughter is understanding privilege and not taking it for granted. I try to teach her that our reality is not everyone’s reality. Not everyone just assumes they are going to college – cause it is expensive, and flippin hard to make happen for a lot of women. We all get caught up in our own bubbles that we ignore others experiences and assume everyone is like us. I try to let her know that having a house, good education opportunities, access to good medical care & such, is a privilege b/c we both happen to be born into the middle class. But a just world would make these opportunities available to everyone. It’s a heavy concept for a teen, but she gets it most of the time. And as a result I see her treating everyone with respect, and taking the time to think through complexities regarding equality, sexuality, religion, etc.
    Being a feminist mom isn’t always easy or pat, but it does totally rock!

  • chechelle

    where is this New Moon camp that is mentioned in the bio? I want to learn more about it!