The help desk: A faint-hearted feminist


Q. I am a single mother of a 13-year-old boy, and my sister and her family recently moved in next door. It's lovely for all of us, and my son spends lots of time at her house. But one thing's been worrying me. My sister and my teenage niece are strongly feminist. I'm most definitely a feminist myself, but they seem to see sexism everywhere and are very vocal about it.

My son is at a vulnerable age and just becoming interested in girls and I worry about him being exposed to the constant denigration of his sex (though he's never said anything about it). As a feminist, I feel slightly ashamed to be fretting about this. Am I wrong to worry? Or should I say something?

A. Ok, so you're a feminist who's fine with feminism until it threatens to nobble her son. That was my reaction when I first read this. Then I tried to picture what life would be like for any boy who lived in our house, home to two teenage girls who make Andrea Dworkin look like a bit of a girl's blouse, if you'll excuse the language.

My 14-year-old is still fuming after I encouraged her to watch My Fair Lady, because the heroine ends up ecstatically succumbing to the "charms" of the man who has treated her like a pile of cack from the off. (HOW did I forget this? Perhaps we should have watched Pygmalion instead, in which Eliza goes off to run a flower shop with the lovely Freddy – but the songs aren't as good.)

Little escapes her socio-political critique. On investigating the habits of lions in the wild, she learnt that the females do most of the hunting but are at the bottom of the pecking order when it comes to the eating. "Oh my god – even in other species!" she huffed.

All this might be a little wearing for a boy, I grant you. But on the other hand, would it do him any harm? Perhaps your son still has a father around, or perhaps an uncle next door, who could give him some perspective and offer a more positive view of the ways of men.

The fact is that your sister and niece see examples of sexism everywhere because there are examples of sexism everywhere. I think I'd be very happy to raise a son with such a strong awareness of that. He'll be comfortable around women and treat them with respect – and hence be irresistibly attractive to them. In fact, it sounds like you're raising a babe magnet. A feminist babe magnet. What's not to like?

Naturally, you are concerned about his self-esteem. But the puff that can go along with simply being born male is not the same as true self-worth, which is a far more complex thing.

So should you say anything? Well, if your sister or niece says something you disagree with, or you think they're going a bit far, using lazy thinking or generalising, then pipe up. If not, then what is there to say?

Your problem shared

Have a dilemma? email your predicament, no matter how big or small, to Louisa at

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Alexis Sanchez, Alan Pardew and Graziano Pelle
footballAfter QPR draw, follow Villa vs Arsenal, Newcastle vs Hull and Swansea vs Southampton
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Cover Supervisor

    £75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

    Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

    Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

    £22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

    SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

    £1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam