My three year old daughter was up to no good, which is absolutely nothing new for her. She was doing something I had asked her repeatedly and nicely not to do and (of course) she kept right on doing it anyway. When I had finally had enough and told her that was the end of making the huge mess she was making she looked at me and said ‘Sorry Mom, I’m just a little girl.’ (which sounded like ‘ghoul’ in her toddler accent). Her inflection made it sound so small, insignificant and stupid to be a girl that I immediately dropped to my knees, looked her very seriously in the eye and said “don’t ever say just a little girl honey, one little girl can do anything, a little girl can change the whole world.”
I didn’t plan that speech at all. I never would have guessed that hearing her belittle her gender would affect me the way it did. I never gave much thought to the things I would say to my daughter or how they would vary (if they would vary) from the things I said to my son when he was the same age – after all, kids are kids right?
Turns out no. I find myself giving her very different “talks” in those quiet moments before bed or when it is just the two of us in the car and I have her attention. I notice I am building her self confidence from a different angle than the one I took with my son. Frankly, it’s surprised me. The older she gets the more I’m noticing the way I choose my words as they relate to gender equality.
I think it is safe to say I am a feminist. I embrace my gender and all things female with arms wide open. I make a point not to get religious or political with the blog, so don’t get nervous. It’s just the topic of women and our general awesomeness is one that has been on my mind a lot lately. As I age I only become more amazed by how resilient and unstoppable we women are.
I spend a disproportionate amount of time thinking and reading about the female role over the course of history and how the work of women has shaped families and civilizations. I want to believe that by now gender equality is just a given (all equality for that matter), but since we’re still talking about it…it’s not.
A colleague of mine sent me this article called “The Confidence Gap” written by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman. It’s long but worth the read.
The article talks about how women hold themselves back from positions of power by convincing ourselves we aren’t qualified. Our humility keeps us feeling like we somehow arrived to this place in life through a series of fortunate events, and not by virtue of working hard and being rightfully rewarded for our efforts. It talks about how the same test was given to two groups consisting of female and male subjects. The women interviewed after leaving the test reported feeling that they “did okay” while their male counterparts thought they killed it. In the end, their scores were the same.
For some reason I can remember third grade like it was yesterday. My super sweet, super southern, super awesome teacher Miss Finnegan was going over some complicated third grade math concept on the chalk board. She had lost me and I had no idea what the hell she was talking about. She turned around and asked “Is everyone following me? Do you see what I just did? Raise your hand if you didn’t understand.” Nobody raised their hand. I started to have anxiety and thought to myself ‘I am the only person who doesn’t understand this. I will never be good at Math. Everyone in this class is smarter than me.’
Looking back I can almost guarantee there were other kids in the class who didn’t get that tricky third grade Math. Like me, they were probably too embarrassed to raise their hand and admit they needed a little more time with the concept. Or maybe I just really do suck at Math. Either way, the point here is I started with negative self talk about my abilities and qualifications at the tender age of eight. It took me until my late 20’s to turn that shit around and I’ll be damned if my daughter sits in class thinking she doesn’t belong there. Why is it sometimes so hard to believe that we really are as smart/funny/strong/cultured/inspiring as we truly are?
Speaking of schools – I caught this in my news feed today, the idea of teaching Feminism in schools for five very good reasons.
In case you don’t feel like clicking on the link I’ll give you the lazy man’s lobster. Here are the five reasons why:
1) A woman’s words are more important than her appearance.
2) A woman’s body does not require a man—or a woman’s—evaluation.
3) A woman should not have to *”act like a man” in order to receive respect.
4) Women are not weak.
5) Nobody should be seen as conquerable and disposable.
A Feminism course that’s standard in high schools. Yes.
This past weekend I had the opportunity to get out of town with eight other women. Throughout the course of our “mini-break” I couldn’t help notice how supportive, caring and encouraging we were with one another. No negative self-talk was tolerated. No disrespecting of one’s own body in a bathing suit would be heard. Husbands and children were rarely discussed. We propped each other up, made one another feel bright and beautiful and generally embraced our feminine selves for three days straight. I can only speak for myself but I think we all ended our time together with our heads held a little higher and feeling a little stronger.
That is my hope for my daughter. I hope she sees other women as allies, not threats. I hope her girlfriends are mirrors that let her see all the best parts of herself – and that she can do the same for them. I hope she never listens to that little voice that says she doesn’t deserve “it” – whatever “it” is. I hope she sees her future partner as her complete equal, but not the person she needs to be complete herself. I hope she loves every little thing about her body and her mind.
I hope that if I say it over and over enough times she will eventually believe me – that one little girl really can change everything.