It should come as no surprise that the concept of womanhood is constantly evolving. In a world where gender roles are as hot a topic as cinnamon rolls, parents beg the question…
How do you raise your little girl to be a feminist?
In doing research for this article, I came across many different sources all claiming to be "five simple steps for raising the perfect lady". Gentlemen, on the other hand, were given a different toolbox. I could not help but wonder…would teaching my daughter to “shake someone’s hand” or “open the door for someone else” really make her any less of a women? Good manners should not be gendered and we can all stand to profit from being a gentle-women or a lovely man. Here are some traditional tips for teaching our sons to be gentlemen and our daughters to be ladies…
- Accept a compliment with humility and grace. Say thank you!
- Lead by example
- Write a “thank you” note within 24 hours of receiving a gift.
- Learn to listen – patience is a virtue!
- Push your seat in when you leave a table.
- Make eye contact during conversation
- Place a napkin on your lap during a meal
- Choose your words with grace – be kind!
Which ones will you teach your little feminist?
Harvard’s Educational School found that girls are most commonly held back by other girls, their male peers and even some parents. In order to break through these barriers, Harvard’s Making Caring Common Projects gives us Four Simple Steps for raising leaders.
Check your own biases.
Engage in self-reflection and notice how biases affect your attitude and behavior.
- Expose yourself to images or behaviors that don’t fit traditional gender norms.
- Be cognizant of your word choice. Avoid absolutes and shy away from statements that begin with “all boys” or “all girls.”
- Ask for feedback from a family member or friend! Hold yourself (and others) accountable.
Engage your kids in making your home a bias-free environment.
Kids are very observant and will notice gender differences in the household. Work with your child to develop routines and habits that prevent stereotypes.
- Engage in conversation. Talk about gender stereotypes and how they act as barriers to both women and men.
- Tell your story! Make this conversation a relatable one. Show your child that this is something you fight too!
- Make a list of chores that counteract traditional gender roles. Rotate chores weekly so everyone is held accountable.
- Provide your child with games, books, art, movies, and TV programming that feature healthy gender dynamics. Expose your child to a variety of activities and let him / her figure out what he / she likes.
Help kids kick stereotypes to the curb.
Kids, like most adults, are usually unaware of their own gender biases. Challenge them to pick out stereotypes or biases that they experience every day and provide them with strategies to counteract them.
- Create a list (with your children) of traditional stereotypes / gender norms. Talk about how these biases make them feel.
- Provide them with strategies on how to act if they see stereotyping in practice. Talk with them about words they can use, who they can talk to and why it is important to act.
- Watch their language. Common words like “fireman” hold gender biases that often go unnoticed.
- Hold them accountable and give them feedback.
Build girls’ leadership skills and self-confidence.
This is the next step. The final step. Expose your daughter to examples of strong and powerful women and encourage her to go confidently!
- Expose girls to leadership opportunities that would interest them.
- Work on developing specific leadership skills like public speaking.
- Talk to girls about their fears and vulnerabilities. Be a source of encouragement.
- Expose girls to diversity. Be that of gender, race, ethnicity, socio-economic, etc. Encourage collaboration with all people of the world.
Remember – it is a marathon, not a sprint. Every child is at a different stage developmentally, emotionally, socially and intellectually. A change of mindset is not going to happen overnight –in the world or in your own household. So, tell your daughter to always say “please” and “thank you”, encourage her to hold herself with grace and dignity, and reminder her to always be a l(e)ad(er)y.
Kristin is an undergraduate student at the University of Virginia, Class of 2017. She is currently enrolled in the B/MT program at the Curry School of Education majoring in French and Elementary Education with an endorsement in English as a Second Language. She works as an America Reads tutor at Buford Middle School and Venable Elementary School and spends most of her time working in the English as a Second Language classroom. At the University of Virginia, Kristin has volunteered in several Madison House programs such as Cavs in the Classroom, Day Care at the International School of Charlottesville and Day in the Life. She spends her summers working as a Residential Assistant for the Center for Talent Development at Northwestern University. Kristin is from the southwest suburbs of Chicago where she enjoys(?) cold winters and nasally vowels. She finds great joy in working with exceptional youth and hopes to use her experience to support children and their families as they learn to fly together!0