Photo Credit: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash
I spent a lot of my childhood and most of my adolescence in a religious country that had a very conservative culture at the time, especially toward women. As a young girl, I would often find it challenging to live in a place that had seemingly so many rules and so few resources to expand my horizons.
Somehow, my parents found ways to make sure that, at least at home, I could be whatever I wanted to be. And I’m the woman I am today because I was given opportunities to explore the type of person I could become.
This was a privilege when I was younger, and it is still a privilege in many parts of the world today. But, every young girl deserves to have every opportunity to learn exactly what she is capable of. As women continue to face gender inequality, it’s up to all of us to empower this generation of young girls so that they may grow up reaching their full potential and empowering others.
Here are some ways we can set an example for the young girls we have in our lives.
Validate Their Dreams and Choices
My fondness for telling stories first manifested when I was about 3 or 4 years old, and I became interested in writing them when I was 10. My parents, deep down, had dreams of seeing their firstborn grow up to become a doctor, but they also wanted me to be a well-rounded kid. And so they got me my first journal and would buy me one or two books every few weeks.
They encouraged my writing, but mostly as a hobby. They encouraged the neurosurgeon stuff a little more. My ambitions would shift later on, as ambitions tend to do when you’re young, and I’d develop an interest in several other things as I navigated college — only to land right where I began as a little kid. And here I am today with a handful of published works to my name and thousands of pieces of content that I’ve written or edited for dozens of clients.
Let young girls explore their interests and discover what they can excel at. Somewhere out there, a little girl could grow up touching other people’s lives as a neurosurgeon or a psychologist or a filmmaker or a writer. Tell her that she has the option and watch her blossom.
Teach Them About Privilege
When my brothers and I were growing up, our parents taught us that many of the things we enjoyed could be luxuries for other children. We were taught to eat whatever was on the table and to always appreciate what we had. We were also taught to treat everyone we met with kindness and respect.
Of course, as my understanding of the world evolved, so did my views on society. But the first lessons that my parents taught me about privilege served as the foundation of these views. Those simple lessons helped shape my values and eventually guided my education on diverse identities and experiences.
When we teach young girls about privilege, we’re really teaching them that there are realities outside of their own. We’re teaching them about empathy and compassion, and they will carry these lessons through adulthood. And, as we teach them to be grateful for the advantages they may enjoy, let’s also teach them to reach beyond gratitude and to use their privilege to amplify marginalized voices.
Inspire Them to Break Gender Stereotypes
I was always a little bit of a tomboy as a kid, and it clearly frustrated my parents, especially my mom, who seemed to want nothing more than to see her only daughter being a girly-girl, at least on occasion.
But then, I’d also come to realize that, despite the way she’d try to urge me to behave in a more feminine way, I also grew up seeing her take on traditionally masculine tasks around our apartment. We’d come back from school and find that she had DIY’d parts of our home that needed fixing, unfazed about operating heavy tools or painting entire rooms by herself while we were all away during the day.
Years later, when she and my dad moved closer to the water, they'd pick up fishing as a hobby. And my mom would catch several dinners’ worth of food for them both. And I, looking at my dad’s photos of her expertly wielding her fishing rod, would realize that my mother is a woman who does not only what needs to get done, but also exactly what she wants to do. And I suppose that also explains a lot about why I am the way I am.
We need to teach the young girls in our lives to ignore the boxes that society tends to put people in. The more that young girls today ignore smaller boxes, the sooner the bigger ones will eventually disappear. After all, a young girl who takes up whatever hobby she wants will very likely grow up to create spaces in her industry of choice not only for herself, but for everyone.
Teach Boys the Same Lessons
My brothers were taught a lot of the same lessons as I was growing up. They know how to look after themselves, they like doing a few traditionally feminine things, and they are inclusive and understand their privileges as men. Although it’s true that there have been a few times when I’ve had to teach them a few more things, they have been open-minded and receptive to what I had to say.
It’s important to teach young boys the same lessons we teach young girls because so many young boys need to feel strong, too — the kind of strong that doesn’t need to stifle weakness. And when everyone has the same foundation, they can grow up to build a more equitable society where people of all genders and backgrounds empower each other, where everyone can be their true selves without fear.