Raising Girls Who Are Switched On, Not Scared

When I’m running on my own on trails or secluded country roads and I spot a man coming the other way, regardless of the time of day or light levels, I make a mental note of his appearance and what he’s wearing. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

When a man in a pub makes lewd comments about my appearance, I do not always respond the way I’d like to. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

When heading home by myself at night, I will choose the route that is more public and better lit, even if it’s a substantial detour. Just in case. I am not alone in doing this.

I’ve been having lots of conversations with the women in my life about this recently. And how about how frustrating, unfair and angering it is that in 2019, we still need to take these precautions more than our male counterparts. We’ve discussed how we first knew that we needed to take these precautions, about the undercurrent of fear that we experienced as we first started to venture into the world by ourselves as teenagers, all those years ago. About how really, by doing these things, we are perpetuating the myth of victim blaming; that if she was more careful, she would have been safe. And this is not OK. Violence against women (and obviously men) is the fault of the perpetrator. Always. End of story.

But more pressingly for me at least at the moment, is how to raise girls to be women that are switched on, smart and safe but not scared. How do we prepare them for the reality of the world once they’ve left home or are starting to be out without parental protection. You don’t want to put the fear of God into them, to leave them instantly distrustful of anyone who crosses their path. But you also want them to be sensible and have a good awareness of how to stay safe. Obviously this is something we teach all of our children. Learning how to behave in society is essential for a future world that is hopefully kinder and more productive than the one we currently exist in. But it breaks my heart that I will have to teach my daughter this with more of an emphasis on personal safety than I will my sons.

When it comes to the how though, I am so very open to receiving wisdom and suggestions from those around me raising girls, whether they be younger or older than mine or already grown up. My instinct is that it will come down to lots of honest, open conversations. It will mean answering hard questions truthfully, to philosophical discussions about why things are the way they are. We’ve already spent a long time dissecting why I’m less comfortable with her being topless in public spaces than her brothers even though she’s only 9. She wasn’t satisifed with the reasons and I don’t really blame her.

We’ve come a long way since the suffragettes in terms of representation and rights of men and women. We no longer need male guarantors to have a mortgage or a credit card. We can spend our own money in a pub (up until 1982, we could be refused service). We have the right to equal pay (although the pay gap is far from closed). We can work on the London Stock Exchange, access the contraceptive pill and obtain a court order against a violent spouse. All these examples have come from this list, a simultaneously depressing and celebratory read. But not far enough. I want my daughter to live in a world where she’s feel as safe as her male counterparts. To feel as valued and listened to as her male counterparts. To feel as powerful as her male counterparts.

And for want of knowing what else to do, I think it starts with talking. Talking to her, to her brothers, to anyone who will listen! So please join the conversation with me and let’s raise our girls to be switched on, but not scared.

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