The best thing about blogging is meeting people from all around the world – entrepreneurs, writers, parents, artists, and activists with innovative ideas and dynamic personalities.
Through this platform, I’ve connected with parents from Seattle to Sydney who believe that society’s hypergendering of children can inhibit their growth and potential. They believe we need to do things differently. And they’re speaking up about it!
You need to meet these inspiring feminists, too. They might not be headlining the Women’s Convention…. YET. But soon they will be! And you’ll say you were one of the first to soak in their awesomeness.
With that, welcome to Think or Blue’s new interview series, Feminist Changemakers.
I’m thrilled to introduce Charlotte Archibald from Musing Mum. Her blog explores the everyday joys, humors, and terrors of parenting, with a focus on gender equality. Based in South Wales, she is one of the first pals I met through Instagram. We bonded over our crazy toddlers born a few weeks apart, and a shared hatred of bibs that say “Daddy’s Little Princess.”
Hi Charlotte, thanks for agreeing to be our very first interviewee in the Feminist Changemaker Interview Series! You joke on Musing Mum that you started it after quitting your job and needing to do something constructive with your time (besides raising a small human). But what pushed you to jump in there and publish your voice?
I genuinely only started the blog because I felt I needed to show future employers I had been keeping my mind active and my writing sharp since having a baby. It was only when I started reading blogs myself and connecting with likeminded parents via my social media channels that I realized its true value. I feel very lucky to belong to a supportive and engaging online community of parents, and I feel honored that I’m able to add my voice to the conversation in relation to feminism and parenting.
Let’s talk about your campaign, #DressDownFriday, which is how we first connected on Instagram. It’s truly my favorite thing about kicking off the weekend. What motivated you to start it, and what’s the response been like?
Thank you! Before having my daughter, I’d never really considered gender in relation to children’s clothing. Soon after she was born, however, I became increasingly frustrated with the lack of diversity I was seeing in the girls’ section when I was buying clothes. It was obvious that retailers were responsible for the trend of very separate clothing styles and designs for children depending on their sex, and I found this completely unnecessary.
There are many retailers and small businesses out there who are rallying against this hyper-gendered trend with gender-neutral themes and empowering designs, and I wanted to shine a spotlight on these businesses whilst encouraging other parents to consider the impact of gendered clothing on their children.
Each week, parents from around the world share pictures using the hashtag #dressdownfriday to show how they’re challenging gender stereotypes that can place unnecessary limits on both boys and girls. I’ve been blown away by the response – I wasn’t sure if anyone shared my point of view when I first started talking about this issue on my blog but it’s been great to see how much the tsunami of ‘pink and blue’ has riled so many people, and I’ve loved the community of parents that have taken up the #dressdownfriday ethos. The campaign has won the backing of a number of online retailers and a few TV personalities here in the UK. I never imagined this would happen but I’m so pleased it’s catching on and challenging the status quo in kids’ fashion.
For some reason, it feels to me that the U.K. is more progressive than the U.S. in terms of gender norms, especially when it comes to children. Why do you think that is?
I definitely think people here in the U.K. are willing to have more of a conversation about gender; in recent months we’ve seen major retailers like John Lewis launch gender-neutral fashion lines for kids. A major kids’ shoe retailer also came under a considerable amount of fire for its ‘Leader’ boy’s range and its ‘Dolly Babe’ girl’s range until it was abandoned because of the outcry.
There are still conservative factions here that think a move away from traditional gender norms is over-the-top political correctness, but thankfully they’re in the minority. In terms of the U.S., I can’t really say if it’s more or less progressive, but it’s been great to see a number of independent online retailers appear in the US in the last couple of years who are committed to challenging outdated concepts about gender and fashion. I’m sure this trend will only increase in future years too.
You’ve talked before about not having solid options for work that allow you to be a parent to your child. And you were a vocal supporter of the recent “March of the Mummies” in the U.K. to raise the visibility of discrimination against mothers in the workplace. For my American readers, tell us a little bit about the march. What do you see as the biggest challenges for working parents, and are things getting better or worse?
March of the Mummies was a U.K.-wide day of protest on Halloween, orchestrated by the organisation Pregnant Then Screwed to demand recognition, respect and change for working mums and dads. Thousands of parents took part, and we dressed as Halloween ‘mummies’ to draw attention to our cause. I’m a passionate supporter of Pregnant Then Screwed, as they advocate for and support women who have faced maternity discrimination, and often have no idea how to fight back.
I feel that the biggest challenge for working parents is the lack of flexibility in the U.K. workplace. The concept of job-sharing and ‘flexible working’ is still very rarely embraced, and our culture is still married to the idea of ‘butts on seats’ working, rather than productivity and how this could be increased with flexible, at-home working. It’s a real shame, as there’s a huge talent pool of mums out there who are under-utilised and unemployed, simply because they can’t find work that allows them to be a parent too.
Things are heading in the right direction thanks to organisations like Pregnant Then Screwed who stimulate the debate about flexible working, but we’ve still got a long way to go to make flexible working a real option for most parents.
Congratulations on your pregnancy with your second child! You recently wrote about not finding out the sex of your unborn child (I didn’t either!) and why. Are people furious with you? How do you respond?
Luckily, most people have been pretty understanding about my reasons as to why I’m not finding out, and I’ve found it easier than I thought to prepare for a ‘gender neutral’ baby – I’m just buying clothes that aren’t pink or blue! What I’ve experienced more is that because I already have a daughter, people say ‘I bet you’re hoping for a boy though’. I find this so strange as I honestly don’t care either way – as long as the baby is healthy!
The word “feminist” has gone through many transformations, and it still alienates some people. When did you first identify as a feminist and what do you hope for the future of feminism?
I think I’ve always identified as a feminist, but it wasn’t until I became pregnant and had my daughter that I felt like I found my ‘feminist voice’. As the mother of a young girl, it saddens me that she has been born into a world where she’s still seen as ‘the second sex’ and I’m keen to do what I can to make the world a fairer place for her.
I’m incredibly optimistic when it comes to the future of feminism. The idea of challenging the status-quo of male dominance will always draw critics, but I’ve been heartened by the recent coming together of people around the world via the online ‘#metoo’ movement and the global outcry that resulted from the Hollywood sexual harassment claims. This banding together against institutional misogyny and an open discussion about how we can overcome it holds us in good stead for being able to stamp out such behaviors and move towards a more equal society.
I also think this current generation of parents is probably the most socially conscious when it comes to issues like gender inequality, racism, homophobia, and the messages of tolerance and acceptance that they’re passing down to their children reassures me that future generations will view gender equality as a matter of fact, rather than something to work towards.
If you could tell your 15 year-old self one thing, what would it be?
I think I would say, “don’t be afraid to be yourself.” I spent a lot of my teens trying to be the person I thought people wanted me to be; trying to dumb myself down or look a certain way because I thought that was the best way to attract boys and make popular friends. What I didn’t realize at the time (and I’m pretty sure most girls are like this) is that any friend or love-interest who is worthy of you will like you for you, not for who you’re trying to be.
In three words, what do you hope for your children’s future?
Peace, love and equality – it’s as simple as that!
Thank you, Charlotte! For more about Musing Mum, check out her blog here.