Being a girl…

Since having a daughter, I have thought more and more about what it means to be a girl in this world.

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At times, I can look around at young women I see, or read the news, or speak to friends and feel really overwhelmed by how much of a minefield life still is for women.  And especially so for teenage girls, who are still bombarded by messages that they have to constantly be thinner, prettier, shinier. Who are told that what boys think of them matters more than anything. That their faces and their clothes count for more than their minds and their hearts.

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And that, later on, when they want to enter the workplace – that they will hold less positions of responsibility, and have to fight harder for the ones that they do have. And that for this privilege, they will probably be paid less than the equivalent man. And that, even later, when they want to have children, they will have fight to stay relevant in their job when they’re pregnant, and fight even harder to return to it afterwards. That men with children won’t be asked to validate the quality of their work every day, but that they will. And if they have to go back to work full-time (it so often is not a choice) that they will be vilified, but that if they have no option but to stay at home with the children (also, so often, not a choice), they will face equal scrutiny. And that – even if they do choose to work or not work or whatever else they choose (as is their right) to do – they will have to do it all while their parenting decisions are being constantly judged, questioned, dissected and critiqued.

Like I said. Minefield.

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And so, I think often about raising a girl who is able to know her own mind in the midst of this conflicting imbalance. Whose aspirations can be about knowledge and changing the world and making a difference and discovering new things, not just about looking and being perfect. How do I even begin to raise a girl who knows what it is to really know her own mind? To have the courage to be different? How do I raise someone kind and thoughtful and warm, while making sure she has the tools to be strong and resilient in a challenging world? How do I teach her that there are no limits, while also making sure she is safe?

And, while I don’t have the answers, there are some great places to get inspiration, and I’m encouraged by some of the people and initiavtives across the world that are starting to make changes and to help parents of girls, and boys, to raise children who want the best for each other.

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Like the amazing website A Mighty Girl – the world’s largest collection of books, toys and movies for ‘smart, confident, and courageous’ girls. Featuring resources which deal with topics covering everything from body confidence, assertiveness, compassion and self respect to female role models, friendships and women in science, the arts and even space, their impressive and expertly curated selection of books is a great place to start. Plus, their Facebook page features daily inspirational women who have changed – and are often still changing – our world, and covers an inspirational span of women from across the globe. Follow it here

The Good Men Project, which I have mentioned before, is another fantastic website that features so much inspiration for helping men – and women – think differently about their place in the world. The organisation started in 2009 and aimed to ‘create a space for a much-needed cultural conversation about manhood’. They write a lot on fatherhood and often cover important topics about how fathers – and not just mothers – can raise strong, confident women. Articles like this one – (Six Ways To Compliment Your Daughter Other Than ‘You’re Pretty’) are a great place to start.

Kids Call It Out is also a great initiative that aims to empower girls and boys to ‘stop #everydaysexism before it starts’. The goal of the project is to encourage children not to stand for sexist bullying and harassment and to help them shrug off harmful gender stereotypes. Their blog and Facebook page are full of interesting ideas and practical ways to communicate this to your children.

I also love to keep up with the writings of Joanna Schroeder, and LA-based writer, feminist and mother, whose incredible articles have a special focus on issues facing boys and gender in the media. Again, much like The Good Men Project, her approach is not so much just to look at girls, but to look raising boys who can create a safer, empowered space for girls. Some of her articles, such as 18 Easy Ways to Raise Feminist Boys and 60% of girls have Given Up on Something They Loved Because of How they Looked are real food for thought.

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On a more light-hearted, but no less heartfelt, note, I also love this letter from Caitlin Moran to her daughter as she turned 13 – you can read the whole letter here, but this extract below is especially poignant:

“Look – here are a couple of things I’ve learnt on the way that you might find useful in the coming years. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start… The main thing is just to try to be nice … Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy, and to read things more clearly. You will be bright and constant in a world of dark and flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things like ‘being cool’, ‘being more successful than everyone else’ and ‘being very thin’.

“…Choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them, because the jokes are easy and you feel like you’re in your best outfit when you’re with them, even though you’re just in a T-shirt. Never love someone whom you think you need to mend – or who makes you feel like you should be mended. There are boys out there who look for shining girls; they will stand next to you and say quiet things in your ear that only you can hear and that will slowly drain the joy out of your heart. The books about vampires are true, baby. Drive a stake through their hearts and run away.

Babyiest, see as many sunrises and sunsets as you can. Run across roads to smell fat roses. Always believe you can change the world – even if it’s only a tiny bit, because every tiny bit needed someone who changed it. Think of yourself as a silver rocket – use loud music as your fuel; books like maps and co-ordinates for how to get there.” 

And finally, this song, Daughter, by Sleeping at Last, (which always makes me cry), beautifully encapsulates all the hopes you have for your children, and all the potential that lies ahead of them. Listen to it here.

If only you knew
The sunlight shines a little brighter,
The weight of the world’s a little lighter,
The stars lean in a little closer
All because of you.

I want to see
You lift your chin a little higher,
Open your eyes a little wider,
Speak your mind a little louder,
’cause you are royalty.

This is your kingdom,
This is your crown,
This is your story.
This is your moment,
Don’t look down..

You’re ready, born ready.
And all you gotta do
Is put one foot in front of you.
Our ceiling is your floor,
And all you gotta do
Is put one foot in front of you,
If only you knew.

If only you knew
The forests grew a little greener,
The roots reach in little deeper,
The birds all sing a little sweeter,
All to welcome you.

I want to see
Your happily ever after,
That you know in your heart that you matter,
That you are royalty.

This is your kingdom,
This is your crown,
This is your story.
This is your moment,
Don’t look down.

You’re ready. born ready,
And all you gotta do
Is put one foot in front of you.
Our ceiling is your floor,
And all you gotta do
Is put one foot in front of you.

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