Today is the International Day of the Girl, a day which has been marked since 2012, and in our opinion, is much needed in today’s world. Combine the forces of Trump, climate change and violent extremism, and global life is challenging enough. Add gender equality to the mix and, as a parent of daughters, you’ve got some serious responsibility resting on your shoulders (and that’s on top of all the everyday parenting dilemmas like disciplining your kids and having The Sex Talk). Now more than ever we must have conversations about gender equality with our daughters from an early age, and today seems a good time to start!
If you’re reading this, chances are you’re not facing the kinds of challenges the International Day of the Girl intends to raise awareness of, such as the displacement of women and girls due to armed conflict or natural disaster, or a lack of access to quality education. But, all girls, no matter their situation, should grow up feeling empowered, and to have their human rights fulfilled. Gender equality is a tough nut to crack, but it starts at home, where we can raise questions with our children (both girls and boys), and lead by example to quash the societal norms suggesting that women are somehow inferior. We love that wise Emma Watson demystified feminism with one quick quip: “If you believe in equality, you’re a feminist. Sorry to tell you.” Here are a few things we should be saying to our daughters to raise the next generation of kick-ass, empowered women.
Girls are badass
Girls can do EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING that boys can do. And by this we mean doing acts of kick-assery like leading a country (we were behind you Hillary), riding diggers in pink tutus and becoming one of the world’s biggest pop stars (hail Beyoncé!). Arming our daughters with enough self confidence and self worth to stand up for themselves and what they believe in will stand them in good stead to fight for what they deserve (like equal pay and opportunity).
Toys are not gender specific
Just because department stores have gender specific toy aisles, doesn’t mean trucks are for boys and dolls are for girls. It’s super-important that we buy all types of toys for our girls because conventionally “boy branded” science kits may just inspire them to become the next NASA astronaut. And don’t even get us started on pink princess LEGO… We say leave it to girls to decide what they want to play with and when (quite likely, babies one day and toy soldiers the next).
There is no such thing as a girly activity
Taunts like “you run like a girl” and “boys don’t cry” echo long-held ridiculous beliefs that football is for boys and ballet is for girls. Not in 2017, people! Demonstrate that gender is not a limitation by encouraging your daughter to play soccer and teaching them to include that little boy in their flower-arranging workshop. The aim of the game is equality and not reverse-stereotyping, so it’s okay if your daughter wants to drop karate in favour of singing. Whatever makes them happy!
You are perfect just the way you are
It is all too tempting to say to a little girl “Oh, don’t you look pretty today.” Instead, notice something unique about them – like the fact that they’re carrying a favourite book or toy hamster – and talk about that. Ideas of traditional, external beauty are out-dated. Tell girls that they are perfect as they are, not because of their face, their hair colour, or their dress size, but because they are beautiful on the inside (kind, clever, confident, and a good friend).
At the same time it’s important to encourage positive body image. Celebrate the fact that bodies come in a wonderful array of shapes and sizes, and teach girls to love and care for themselves throughout their lives. This lesson starts at home with you showing your daughters that you love and appreciate your own (post-baby) body.
You can make your own fashion decisions
There’s no law that girls have to wear pink dresses and have long, flowing locks. It’s a whole lot easier to pull stunts on your skateboard when wearing jeans and Converse sneakers. Fashion should always be an expression of how you feel and what you love. If your daughter wants to cut her hair short like Shiloh (yes, Angelina Jolie’s daughter) and wear shorts and T-shirts, that’s awesome. And if she insists on wearing a princess Sophia or superwoman costume for a week straight, that’s okay too (provided it’s washed once in a while). Allow your girls to build a varied wardrobe of clothes that they love. And have the strength to tolerate eyebrow-raising outfits without judgement or comment.
If you say nothing else to your daughters, tell them to always stay true to themselves. Teach them to never underestimate the importance of being yourself, not a version of yourself that you think other people find more likable. Under no circumstances should they change who they are to please others. Reassure them that they shouldn’t care if not everyone likes them. That is normal and okay. They won’t want to be friends with everyone they meet either.
Call out sexism!
Gender equality has come a long way since the Mad Men days. But there are still loads of examples of sexism in everyday life. If you’re watching a TV show with your kids and notice that all the doctors are men and the nurses are women – call out the sexism. And as your girls become older, simply ask them, “do you think anything seems wrong with this picture?” Chances are they’ll pretty quickly pick up negative gender stereotyping without your prompting.
Learn from how we act as parents
As their first teachers, kids look up to us and learn from our behaviour. By role modelling an equal, unbiased relationship with your partner, your daughters will see that gender really is irrelevant in the modern home. Regardless of whether your family has a stay at home mum, stay at home dad or two working parents, make sure to share the housework, childcare and other roles (like nappy changing, cooking, cleaning and lawn mowing). Empower your girls by teaching them conventionally male jobs (like fixing a leaking tap or hanging a painting) as well as how to make a mean lasagne.
Never lose sight of who you are
Life doesn’t end when you become a mum. Teach your daughters that being a mum and a career woman are not mutually exclusive. Tell them they’ll continue to be brilliant, independent women with hopes and dreams. They’ll just have more love in their hearts.
Like this story? Here’s more we think you’ll enjoy:
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Disney princesses we want as role models for our kids
Motherhood, marriage and career: can we have it all?
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