In this day and age we like to believe that things are pretty fair for girls and boys. Surely we must have reached a time when we can relax a little – surely everyone knows that girls can do anything and women no longer belong in the kitchen? Sadly, women still make up only 3.4% of CEOs in Global Fortune 500 companies. And women entrepreneurs struggle to access funding, in comparison to men.
And women continue to pay a huge ‘career price’ for choosing to have a family, compared to their male co-parents.
How can we raise daughters who will push themselves to reach their professional potential? It feels like a big responsibility and another one of those things to add to our mama guilt list. At the same time, how can we raise our sons to grow up respecting women as equals, to become fathers who will eagerly take paternity leave and look at household chores as an equal duty?
Here are six pointers to get you on your way:
1. Ditch the ‘girl aisle’ toys
Girls need to grow up with confidence in building and creation. Encourage fort-making and marble runs and science experiments! LEGO, Magformers and K’Nex are great, but you can also save recyclables in a big bag for kids to use for these projects. Barbie doesn’t have to be thrown away, but can she have a new house built, or a new super slide down from the top bunk?
Toys that continue to stress the fact that girls’ appearances are more important that their brains (dolls with heavily made-up faces; play make-up; brush my hair and decorate me with stars toys; or stick-on gem tattoo sets, for example) send the wrong message to young girls, especially if they are the only kind of toys your daughter receives at birthdays or festivals. Encourage the wider family to think differently with their gift-giving.
2. Watch your bias
Why do we always refer to animals as ‘he’? Stay gender neutral, or switch between male and female. Don’t always encourage girls to be ‘nice,’ ‘good girls’; instead praise them for being assertive, or a good leader, and encourage them to ask for what they need.
Look out for books that positively represent girls, too. A study of children’s books published between 1900 and 2000 showed that they were almost twice as likely to feature a male central character than a female one.
3. Don’t apologise!
If you are a working mum, don’t apologise to your kids for it — you are a great role model!
Likewise, if you are a stay at home mum, explain that you have taken time away from your career to care for your kids – and that was a decision you made. Let them know it wasn’t inevitable and that there were other options available.
4. Seek out female heroes
From finding women’s sports on TV (this can be a challenge) or on YouTube, to going to live sports events – sports are a great arena to show kids strong, assertive, powerful women. Events like the Olympics or S.E.A. Games are great for this!
Find other strong women for your kids to watch – on the stage, or at an author’s talk perhaps? If you can, bring your kids into work one day so they can see mama’s office and the concept of your ‘work’ will become more real. If you have a female friend with an interesting job take them for a site visit – with a list of questions prepared to ask beforehand.
5. Robust Play
I was introduced to the term ‘robust play’ by the amazing Chloe Chick, whose organisation Sisu Girls promotes determination, bravery, confidence and resilience in girls through sport and adventure. Letting girls play hard teaches them about failure and strength, and pushes them to take up their own space in the world.
Some tree climbing this weekend perhaps? (We’ve found some good ones by Big Splash on East Coast Park!)
6. Dads play a big role
A study published last year shows that the role of fathers in the household has a huge influence on their daughter’s career goals.
The study also showed that actions were much more important than words – fathers who were publically very pro-gender equality yet didn’t pull their weight at home had daughters who envisioned themselves in more ‘traditional’ roles, like nursing, teaching or being a stay-at-home-mum.
It can take some small tweaks to the everyday running of the household, along with a good dose of self-reflection by parents, to provide our children with the tools they need for a more gender equal world, but it really pays off in helping girls grow up being able to achieve anything they set their minds to.