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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An alternative reality…

As I woke up this morning, I suffered a horrible case of dejavu as I asked Dan to pass my phone so I could see the outcome of the US election. An ominous feeling, almost a physical manifestation of dread, sat in the pit of my stomach, like a twisted gleeful troll. The unthinkable (to most of us) had happened, the absolute joke that is Donald Trump has been elected to be the next President of the United States of America. For the third time in two years, politics has taken a surprising and wholly unwanted turn. 

Of course, it’s not actually unwanted by everyone or even the majority. A flawed democratic system it might be but it is still a democracy, the votes were cast that led to this result. If anything though, I find this even more depressing. That a significant proportion of the American electorate chose to back a sexist, racist, homophobic, inexperienced thug of a man over a woman who, whilst admittedly has many flaws of her own, is at least experienced with some semblance of moderation and equality. Misogyny is alive and well it seems.
Comparisons to the rise of Nazi Germany are rife, social media is (as it was post Brexit and after our general election last year) saturated with bewilderment, satirical memes, general despair and fear at what might happen next. I won’t add to the fray with my similar thoughts. I’m taking it as a given that many of us are outraged by these results and feeling even more stirred to action than we already were. But, will we follow through? Will our rage and desire for change grow and incite us to action? Or will it simply dissipate, returning us back to our lives as they were before in a matter of weeks? 

I will ashamedly put my hand up to the latter. Since last May I have done nothing more than sign petitions, go to the odd demo and complain loudly about the state of affairs. To be honest, I’m not quite sure what else I can do. I alternate between burying my head in the sand and focusing on trivial, personal matters and being your typical disillusioned middle class hippy who simply complains a lot. My ability to actually do anything more than that is somewhat hampered by the three small beings I seem to have almost permanently in tow but I’m sure there is something I could do. I just don’t know what.

So for now I’m sticking to my theory that you’ve got to start small and that doing something (anything!) is better than nothing. I am committing to building up the culture of love and inclusivity that already exists in our society at a grass roots level. We need to carry out acts of kindness and wherever possible, promote equality and acceptance. We need to teach the next generation to be better, to make better choices. We need to talk to our children about politics, about being brave and standing up to hatred. We can turn this result into something positive and I think it’s imperative that we do. 

HeForShe

I am mad. Really angry. Three nights ago I watched Emma Watson’s incredible speech launching the HeForShe initiative, a UN backed campaign for gender equality. I was inspired and so happy to see that the United Nations had recommitted to this cause, financially and through association. However, since the speech went viral, I have seen numerous articles (here, here and here are just three of the many articles that get thrown up on google) on my newsfeed about the threats Emma Watson has received as a result of her speech. A website has been set up with a countdown of 5 days at which point the consensus is that her personal nude photos will be leaked.

And why? Because she dared to stand up in front of the global media and people around the world and assert that not one country has achieved the goal of equal rights, that gender inequality (negatively) affects both men and women and that we need to be doing more about it. From girls in Africa with no access to secondary schooling (more info here) to women in the UK that still can’t expect the same wage as their male counterparts (information here and here) to the fact that suicide is still the most common cause of death in men under 35 in the UK due to the stigma around mental health support for men.

I just can’t get my head around what their problem is. Why do these anonymous bullies take so much issue with this?? One user reportedly said that feminism is a growing cancer. It’s just so depressing that such vile and vindictive people are out there. I can only assume that they are in the minority that like our current political, social and economic culture the way it is. Or they just get a kick out of bullying people and playing up to misogynistic stereotypes. Beyond that, I am grasping to conceive what their motives could be.

But I urge you to stand up to them by going and reading about the HeForShe campaign, sign up to get involved if it rings true for you and hopefully through supporting the fight for gender equality we can beat the bullies and create a better world for our children to grow up in.

To quote Miss Watson,

‘If we stop defining each other by what we are not and start defining ourselves by who we are we can all be freer and that is what HeForShe is about. It’s about freedom.’