Too often, it seems like this dichotomy is presented: We can raise girls who are tame and meek, or they need to be fully empowered and fearless. We don’t want to needlessly frighten girls yet in some ways, it’s a frightening world in which to grow up female.
So how do we walk that line and find that middle ground? How do we help our girls find their confidence and their voices?
I’m the parent of a six-year-old girl. I want her to skin her knees. I want her to climb high. I want her to soar.
I don’t want her objectified. I don’t want her limited. I don’t want her worrying how she looks more than how she feels. I don’t want her to be made to feel small or uncomfortable. I don’t want her to be touched without her consent.
I want her to know what consent is, and that it’s hers to give and to take away.
And yes, I want her to know that at age six. Sometimes I wonder if I should have told her at age four. But I like to think that I’ve shown her through our behavior. Like, she doesn’t have to hug people when she doesn’t want to; she does have to politely say hello and goodbye.
The reason I’m talking so much about consent is that it’s the backbone of so many other things I wrote about above, of my hopes for her and for all girls as they become women.
They can say ‘yes’ to experiences; they can say ‘no.’ And they need to be able to evaluate risk. They need to assess safety versus danger. They have to make informed choices and then speak up clearly.
A lot of this can be modeled. You can do it out loud: Let your girls hear your thought process. Avoid “because I said so.” If your decisions are about them, then make it a dialogue. Help them to talk through the risks versus the rewards and allow them to negotiate. Honor their voices, whether you ultimately say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Because you want them to be able to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’
Sometimes they can say ‘maybe.’ Present that as an option. A ‘maybe’ can become a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ based on the information you (and they) gather. They may feel the pressure to be immediately definite. We can help them to resist that pressure.
The world may try to bend them to its–and other people’s–wills. They do need to know that. Sometimes they can bend with it like a willow; sometimes they need to withstand.
How do they know the difference?
Because you’ll be there beside them, modeling and teaching and listening.