The Sunday Telegraph
Two years ago, I was pregnant with my second boy. My husband had just started a new job as head of a small school farm, and Emma Watson was about to deliver her game changing 'He For She' speech to the United Nations.
Until then, feminism and I had never really hit it off. I’d spent most of my twenties working as a freelance writer; writing about things such as sex,travel and careers.
Title: Feminist Parenting
Emma Watson changed the way I'm raising my sons - here's how.
I did a bit of work on radio too, and I remember being interviewed on BBC London about why we could do without feminism. My perception was that feminists were divisive. They seemed to me mostly about pointing out what was wrong with men.
I like men. I’ve always liked men, and I didn’t ever feel that I had suffered because I was a woman. Back then, in my high heels and questionable hats, my life now, as a farmer’s wife -cum-feminist, seemed impossible.
Then, four years ago, I had my first child - a son we called Bear. And I started thinking about what kind of boy he would grow up to be; what kind of husband he might make.
What kind of role model was I being for him? What was he learning about women? Mostly that they did the cooking and, under great duress, the housework. My main job was now writing about expensive underwear. So my little boy was learning that women did fashion.
Outside, meanwhile, men got to do the cool stuff. Chopping logs, messing about with leaf blowers, drilling, sawing, building treehouses and the like. Reader, I married an Alpha. And I was glad I had, because I didn't want to be outside doing those jobs. I would much rather be cooking, preferably with a glass of wine and Radio 4 period drama, than re-fencing the garden in the rain.
But it was little wonder Bear preferred hanging out with his dad than his mum.
In September 2014, my husband’s new job meant we had to move on-site to the school farm. The opportunities for Bear to be outside with his dad increased a hundred-fold. He began helping with lambing, feeding, and fixing things; with very exciting, very noisy, machines. I, meanwhile, got on with the job of growing a little brother for him, and watching, and tearily re-watching, Emma Watson’s UN speech.
The combination of the Harry Potter actress's painfully shaky delivery and powerful, inclusive message, impressed me deeply. Here was not some ball breaking man-hater but a nervous young woman, passionately committed to making a difference.
She didn’t just talk about what women have suffered through gender inequality, but what men have lost too. She asked, “How can we affect change in the world when only half of it is invited, or feels welcome, to participate in the conversation?”
All of a sudden feminism wasn’t about putting men down. It was an invitation, an honest admittance that we can’t do this alone; in the fight for equality we need men’s help. Just as they have needed, and continue to need, our help in the success and happiness of their lives.
All this, of course, is just a matter of my own perception. Feminism didn’t suddenly transform with Emma Watson’s speech, but the way it was viewed did, massively. It was inclusive, kind, inspiring, something I wanted to be part of.
In the months that followed, and after the birth of our second boy Raffy, Watson’s speech made me take a long, hard look at myself.
Bear had begun saying things like ‘that’s a boy’s job’ and ‘girls can’t do that’ - purely because that’s what his experience was. So I started getting out on the farm and doing the hard, dirty, uncomfortable jobs myself.
I helped bring the sheep in, in the rain. I carried lambs, got defecated on by lambs, fed pigs, attempted to drive the quad bike and tractor. At times I was cold, bored, tired, and would have much rather been indoors reading magazines, or cooking the dinner. But I shut up about it, keen that my little boys saw someone helpful and competent, rather than whiny and useless.
I’m vegetarian. But even when the stench of the water beneath a plucked cockerel on a boiling hot day made me gag, even when the sheep’s flesh still clung to the skin they were turning into sheepskin rugs made me feel sick, I shut up. Even when the pigs we'd watched being born got turned into sausages that my carnivorous little boys wolfed down, I shut up.
Because sometimes it’s important to shut up. To stop complaining that the world isn’t exactly as we would like it, and do something about it instead. And for me, as a mum, the most important thing I can do is raise sons who not only love women but who enjoy being with them.
This little experiment of mine has been good for our family. Bear no longer says, as often, that girls can’t do things. We spend more time together, and I’ve discovered the childhood joys of just being with animals, of coming into a nice warm house after hours spent in the freezing wind or rain.
It’s toughened me up and opened me up to nature, and doing manual rather than ‘thinking’ work. I’ve also begun to share these experiences on a blog, mamasadirtyfeminist.com, which other mums have told me have inspired them to do the ‘boy’ jobs with their kids too.
Feminism is very much a two way thing. It’s fine to call out men when they’re not behaving as they should, but we need to keep up our end of the bargain too. Step up, show our kids that women are just as competent, just as fun, as men. And if that means standing in a freezing field and getting defecated on by an ungrateful sheep, then so be it.