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.

International Women’s Day

When I woke up this morning and realised it was Women’s Day, I felt compelled to write something, my first real, non-column post on the blog for a while. But now I’m here I’m not quite sure where to start. We’ve come so far but still have far to go? I’m acutely aware that as I sit in the hallway sandwiched between listening to the big two in the bath and the baby sleeping, what on earth do I know? I’m a healthy white, British, basically middle class woman, I’ve had the priviledge of not being in paid employment and spending the day at a natural learning group with the children, they are now in a warm bath ran with clean water of which we have quite literally on tap. In the grand global scale of things, I’m pretty priviledged, bless, rich…

Although issues of gender discrimination are undoubtedly still prevalent in the richer nations, we know nothing of inequality, of hardship compared to women in certain countries. Countries where women are still not allowed to vote, to drive, to go out without a chaperone. Countries where mothers are fighting daily for their daughter’s right to education, are walking miles for clean water for all their children, where sadly, female genital mutilation is still a practice performed on young girls, where access to menstrual sanitation is at best, limited, where rape is an ingrained and almost accepted part of culture.

It leaves one despairing at the world we live in and feeling lost as to how we can help make a difference. But, each and every person that decides they want to do something to effect  change is capable of making a difference. Thankfully, in part due to the rise of social media and virtual community, these trodden down people are gaining a voice. People are becoming more and more aware of the struggles of those on the other side of the globe to them.  And the action you take might only seem like a small contribution but it could make the world of difference to a real life person somewhere in the world. Whether you choose to sponsor a child, to donate regularly to a charity, to become an advocate for someone who needs a voice, to campaign, to spread the word and rally others or even to go and volunteer in a country many miles away, you can do something. And surely, something is better than nothing.

A great friend of mine, wrote a beautiful song about Marie Colvin, the brave Times journalist who sadly was killed whilst reporting from Homs, Syria in 2012. It seems like a very fitting song to leave you with today on International Women’s Day 2016, a tribute to a strong woman who continued to stand for those less fortunate than herself right until her last breath.