Women. We've come a long way, and I have to admit, this last year has been quite cathartic. With the #WOMENSMARCH, the #METOO movement, and the #TIMESUP efforts to put women on equal playing sexual and financial fields, I think we could say we are moving in the right direction. Obviously we are not in the clear, and so much more needs to change in societal norms, but it's encouraging to me as a mother of a twelve year old girl and a ten year old boy to see the conversations being held and the actions being taken to set new standards of what is acceptable behavior.
The news cycle this year has sparked lots of interesting conversations over dinner between my husband, my kids and I, and some of the things we've discussed got me thinking about the deeper reasons why girls might find themselves in horrible situations, or why boys might grow into men who abuse their status or power to control women. I thought a lot about how I was raised, not just by my parents, but by my teachers, my mentors and coaches. My parents always encouraged me to try new things and gave me the confidence to pursue my dreams, but I couldn't help but think about some of the difficult situations I had endured as a young girl, and as I developed into a woman. There were times I lacked the strength and confidence to speak my mind, to call people out, and to stand up for myself. Why? Where was my bravery? And now, more importantly, how do I insure I'm teaching my daughter how to access her bravery?
I was browsing the web for answers and I came across a quick Ted Talks by the author Caroline Paul. She wrote the book, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure and I think she may be onto something. Caroline Paul explains in her presentation that from a very young age we, as parents, can tend to overly-caution our girls compared to boys, that boys are encouraged to take risks, and it's believed that boys should be gutsy and girls should be fearful. Instead, perhaps we need to shift the way we encourage our girls because this can have detrimental effects on our kids. Raising girls to be timid, cautious, and overly careful can manifest in other ways such as hesitating to speak out, deference so that she can be liked, or lack of confidence in her own decisions. How do we change that narrative? How do we break that habit?
Caroline Paul suggests that we "Stop cautioning our girls 'Willy Nilly' and notice when we say things like "Watch out, you're going to get hurt,' because what that can translate as is " You're not strong enough", "You're not good enough," or "You should be afraid." Instead she encourages us to allow our kids to engage in "risky play" where kids can learn hazard assessment, delayed gratification, and self-confidence. And it's not teaching kids to lack a sense of fear. Fear is an important emotion that serves to protect. It's more like teaching our girls to recognize their fears and how to access their bravery.
When our girls are encouraged to take risks and face their fears, they learn how to call upon their resilience . They grow up to be brave women. They grow up to be leaders. They grow up knowing that they can pave their own road and they have a voice that should be heard. They grow up learning that they don't need to apologize for their strength and confidence, and that they are as equally valued as the men in the room.
Guiding our girls to be brave also involves parents, teachers, and mentors to educate our boys to see our girls as equals. Our boys hear us suggesting that girls should be careful, timid, etc., and that has a subliminal effect on them. We don't like our girls to get dirty, but boys who come in from recess covered in mud are "just being boys". The "just being boys" is a phrase we hear when people give excuses for bad behavior as well. "They're mean to you because they like you." Does that even make sense?? I call bullshit. I think we need to put that phrase to rest and rethink the norms. I think the stories and the horrific experiences women face we've been reading about recently are related to this mindset. To truly change the narrative we have to include the way we raise our boys as well. If the only way boys know how to communicate with girls is by being jerks, they need to be taught better communication skills. That seems pretty simple.
I know my generation benefited from the feminist movement in the seventies, and I'm thankful for that, but clearly we still have quite a ways to go. As long as we can keep the conversations alive, encourage girls to have a voice, to speak up, to take risks, and to live authentically, I think we're on the right track. I actually feel very lucky to be parenting young kids right now. I think we're at a time when we can truly help with the shift in equality for our girls, and guide them toward the future to a world where they are valued for their strength, for being risk takers, and for being brave. Let's encourage bravery in our girls because gutsy girls ride skateboards, climb trees, fall down, play sports, scrape their knees, get right back up - and grow up to be brave women.