I worked hard to raise a feminist daughter, but her racy online selfies make me feel I failed

Young people don't necessarily see feminism the way their parents do. Here are two points of view.

A mother and daughter present their take on what they believe a modern feminist is

Clara, left, holds a Beyoncé candle and her mom, Jennifer, holds one of Virginia Woolf. They picked their favourites from a feminist candle collection by Montreal artist Janina Anderson. (Submitted by Jennifer Morrow)

This point-counterpoint is part of CBC's Opinion coverage. For more information, please read our FAQ

To some, "feminist" is a label that every empowered woman and progressive man should wear proudly. It is not controversial — it stands for the idea that every woman is a complete human being. Women are not less than men. Women deserve equal pay, equal say and equal rights in any society. 

To others, "feminist" is a problematic term because of the biases and expectations that accompany it.

Within the world of women, a feminist can be rejected as such for not following certain rules or can find herself scrutinized for failing the movement — because a feminist is expected to look a certain way, speak a certain way and live a certain way.

Here are two conflicting views of what feminism means today, as told in this point-counterpoint by one Montreal mother and her teenage daughter. 

I don't think expecting my daughter not to post sexed-up selfies amounts to 'slut-shaming': Jennifer Morrow

Last summer, I stumbled onto my teenage daughter's social media account. What I found confirmed my worst fear: I had failed to raise a feminist. 

There, among the pouty-faced selfies, was a photo of her posing, Sports Illustrated-style, on a jet ski in her bikini, brandishing her middle finger at the camera with a smirk on her face.

My heart sank. 

"Who is this person?" I asked myself.

'Ever since I first held her in my arms, all I wanted was for her to be happy and safe,' Morrow writes of her daughter. (Submitted by Jennifer Morrow)

All her life, I've tried to model feminism: taking her on marches for women's rights, reading to her from books like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should all be Feminists and surrounding her with a community of strong, independent female friends. 

I realize now that the wisdom of my mother's "Women's Lib" generation doesn't cover the challenges of raising a feminist daughter in the 21st century. 

Indeed, most young women seem so put off by the identity politics that come with calling themselves feminists that they're rejecting the label altogether. 

"What's the big deal?" Clara asked me when I confronted her about the offending photo. "It's just a picture."

Where do I start? 

As I write this, 14 beacons of light are shining in the night sky over Montreal, in memory of the women killed in the Polytechnique shooting. 

They are stark reminders that our daughters are still vulnerable to violent men who will do whatever it takes to keep women silent and subservient. 

Feminism seeks to create a new world where that isn't the reality they face. 

My daughter believes a photo of herself sitting on a jet ski in her bikini represents girl power. But it actually just looks like the media has poisoned that message entirely and used it to perpetuate the status quo. 

'We want our girls to grow up brave, confident and assertive,' Morrow says. (Submitted by Jennifer Morrow)

We want our girls to grow up brave, confident and assertive. 

But they are drip-fed gender-conforming, sexualized images to the point where they think it's perfectly normal to strive to meet male-defined expectations of them — the more performative and sexy the better. 

What is the point of these images? The question answers itself, and I find the porny subtext deeply disturbing. 

Girls like my daughter can afford to be ambivalent about feminism. They live in a society that is relatively safe for girls, especially if they are privileged and white.

As far as she is concerned, my pontificating about the need to fight gender stereotypes is just an old-fashioned demand to cover up her body — also known as slut-shaming. What is a mother to do?

Ever since I first held her in my arms, all I wanted was for her to be happy and safe. This thing called feminism is a complicated gift. 

One day, when she's out of the house and I can't hold her daily, I hope she will unwrap this complicated gift and find what she needs inside — the tools to navigate an even more complicated world while staying true to herself.

'Would a boy be punished for looking too sexy?' asks Clara Morrow-Coffrant

When my mother confronted me with the pictures on my Instagram, I thought "What's the issue? It's not that big a deal." 

I told her that everyone posts photos like this. Also, it's not like this is anything new to our society. For example, Barbie is a hypersexualized children's toy that is given to girls as a sort of role model. Yes, she now comes in more shapes and colours, but we still think of her as having a perfect body and perfect blond hair.

My mother thinks I'm too young to be putting this sort of image online, but I am not ashamed of it.

What I, as a young woman of 15, post on social media doesn't define me. It is not the whole of who I am. 

Am I a feminist? I don't know. The fact is that feminism today is much too difficult to define because everybody has a different perspective on what it means. 

Of course, I believe in equality, but you are putting all the burden on me to police my self-expression in the interest of feminism — something I don't completely understand and can't get a real definition of. 

Clara Morrow-Coffrant says that since statistics show women's safety isn't affected by what clothes they wear, she doesn't know why so much attention is still paid to how she dresses. (Submitted by Jennifer Morrow)

Would a boy sitting on a jet ski be punished for looking too sexy? 

Anyway, statistics show that my personal safety doesn't depend on what I wear.

I also think that people are much too quick to judge a girl based on how she looks.

You can judge me if you want to, I really don't care. My posts are for me and my friends. They are meant to be funny and ironic.

It's not that deep. It's not political. 

Instagram is just for fun. I'm still young, and I am allowed to make a few mistakes as I figure out who I want to be.

This point-counterpoint is part of CBC's Opinion coverage. For more information, please read our FAQ.