How can we raise girls to be strong, independent women?

How can we raise girls to be strong, independent women
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The stereotypical woman is a mother who bears children, works in ‘softer’ environments (if at all), drives poorly and submits to the man of the house and his rules. Women are homemakers (and cleaners), the cooks, the nurturers, the ones to bath the kids and the ones to fetch them from school.

The stereotypical woman is rarely a business owner or lawyer – and if she is, she’s hardcore! A woman can be all of these things, but this is not all she is, nor is it who she has to be.

Women should be independent if this is what they want. They should be able to make their own choices about their lives. They should be able to stand up for themselves and accept the efforts of men who stand up for them too.

They should not be afraid to show their intelligence and to use it. They should feel confident in their abilities and proud of their achievements.

While all of this is true, we really shouldn’t have to differentiate between the qualities of men and women. These characteristics, and so many more, should be the qualities of human beings in general, of responsible members of our society.

But, while South Africa has come a long way in terms of gender equality and conjugal roles in the home, there are still situations where ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ qualities, characteristics and roles are determined. Within schools, it is more acceptable for girls to take Home Economics than Business, and to play tennis rather than soccer.

Girls are expected to be quieter, daintier and gentler, while boys are allowed to be louder, rougher and more active. Our daughters are expected to help with the cooking at home, while our sons need to help with the pool.

“Accept your daughter’s decisions and interests – even if they differ from your expectations, or the gender norm.”

Expectations of our differently sexed children need to be the same, with skills being taught and learnt in a variety of areas inside and outside the home environment. We need to allow our little girls to play with blocks and in the sandpit. We need to accept that they may not want to be nurturers and moms, or that they may like to work on a building site. We need to acknowledge our young women’s needs for independence and drive for success in the pathways they choose to follow. We need girls’ soccer teams at schools, and we need more female politicians and spokespeople. While the last 22 years (since the institution of the Bill of Rights in South Africa in 1996) have opened up so many possibilities for women in our country, we still have a way to go.

How can we raise strong, independent women?

  1. Lead by example. If our little girls have positive male or female role models, they will learn appropriate ways to be in the world.
  2. Fathers can show their daughters how women deserve to be treated.
  3. Mothers can model how to respond to men, stand up for themselves where necessary and how stereotyped female roles can be a thing of the past.
  4. Encourage assertiveness.
  5. Encourage play like and with the boys.
  6. Point out positive female role models in history and society.
  7. Build up her self-esteem by making her feel worthwhile and a meaningful member of society.
  8. Accept your daughter’s decisions and interests – even if they differ from your expectations, or the gender norm. Don’t shame her by letting her think that her decisions are wrong.
  9. Encourage a healthy body image and contentment with oneself – strive for inner beauty!
  10. Don’t treat her as a damsel in distress. Rather show her how to change a tyre or a plug for herself.

Role models in the media

Movies and literature with female role models include Frozen; Matilda; Mona Lisa Smile; Nancy Drew; Whale Rider; Moana; Brave; Wonder Woman. In politics, we have the venerable Thuli Madonsela and Michelle Obama. We have Caster Semenya and Penny Heyns who have overcome obstacles to make their name in sporting history.

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