7 Lessons You Must Teach Your Daughter If You Want To Raise A Feminist

How to raise them in a world that wants to see them fail.

Mom raises feminist daughter by empowering girl through parenting. StefanDahl | Canva

My mother taught me how to be a woman. Her mother taught her. And I taught my daughter. The old lessons die hard. Even though I have spent many years focused on growth and new ideas, I can still see, in myself, the second-class person I learned to be. How much of this have I already passed along to my child?  I grew up in the 50s when everything was "great." It was easy for me to follow the rules and give the right answers. I had a rude awakening in young adulthood, when I couldn’t "do it all."


I fought the idea of failure tooth and nail and lost the battle. But that was when I really began to grow.  To grow, to change, to become something — someone — more, that is the lesson. (Sorry, William, I couldn’t resist!) I can’t undo my heritage, but I can model the process of change. Life is short, the work is great… "It is not your task to finish the work but neither are you free to exempt yourself from it.” To my daughter, her daughters, and their daughters — here are some lessons learned, some still to be learned.

Here are 7 lessons you must teach your daughter if you want to raise a feminist:

1. You are lovable, you matter

You don’t have to "earn" love. Your job is to be yourself, not to please others. You don’t have to sacrifice your own self to love and be loved. You are beautiful just as you were made. Your feelings are "right" — emotions are information, like sight and hearing, that tell you about yourself and your world. Let yourself own them. In this, you may feel "different." Some people may not approve. Keep in mind that your difference is what makes you, you. And you’re not here to win everyone else’s approval. 


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2. Your body belongs to you, and to no one else

Touching one another is a basic human need. An appropriate touch can speak volumes about affection and care. 

But no one has the right to touch you unless you invite it

When you know you matter, you can also believe in your right to say "no," and to be respected. 


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3. Your voice is important

When you have something to say, say it. Speak your truth. You are smart, you are savvy, and your message is valuable. Even if you don’t have something "original" to say, join your voice with others — the sound we make together is incredibly rich. When you don’t speak up, you seldom get to talk. When you don’t get to talk, you feel less important. When you feel less important, you feel small. When you feel small… well, you get the picture, and it isn’t pretty.

4. Ask for what you need

So often we don’t. We hope, we wish, we yearn … but we don’t ask. Learn to expect help. When you ask, you are giving the other person an opportunity — to be generous, to be in a relationship with you, to be loving. You are giving them the pleasure of pleasing you. And that’s one of the best feelings I know.

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5. But follow your instincts

There is a lot of unconscious male privilege out there. You can learn to see it, to smell it. You don’t have to offer up your precious insides to someone who isn’t interested, or who will take advantage. Powerful women indeed have a harder time than powerful men — even among us women. You don’t have to be militant to be self-possessed and strong. It requires a lot of effort to object to every micro-aggression.


If a stranger is rude, I’m not sure there’s any gain in hunting him down and giving him a piece of your mind. This is no excuse for rudeness, just the old question, "How Important Is It?" If the answer is, "very" then go for it! If the answer is, "not so much" then save your breath. Learn to judge the atmosphere. Keep your eye on your goal. Pick your battles.

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6. You are strong enough to fail

That sounds odd. Aren't we supposed to get straight A’s? We’ve all heard that mistakes are opportunities, but do we believe it? We’re so busy trying to avoid failure that we can’t see it for the gift it can be. I had to fall on my face before I could start to change the way I live. A client of mine had to lose her job (her #1 fear) to discover that she was much happier without it.

Mistakes offer new knowledge — if only to understand why we made them. Better than that, they can offer us a new direction. The story goes that Lucite was "discovered" when a cat was accidentally left in the laboratory overnight, and knocked over some chemicals. It takes strength of character to risk being embarrassed. You have to step out of your safe zone to do something unfamiliar. But once you’re out there…. who can put limits on you?


7. You are part of a sisterhood

Just before signing the Declaration of Independence, Ben Franklin remarked, "We must all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately." The Women’s Movement of the 1970s brought to our awareness the fact that we are more alike than different. We can share, rather than compete. We can enjoy one another’s accomplishments, knowing that it is reciprocal. When we come from fear of one another, we become our own worst enemies. There is a resurgence of feminism in our culture. Let’s recognize that we are in this together, that we are strong, and that the human race depends on us for survival! So join me, won’t you?

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Cheryl Gerson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and Board Certified Diplomate, in private practice in New York City.