Bring­ing up our daugh­ters to be con­fi­dent go-get­ters isn’t an easy task, es­pe­cially when they’re sur­rounded by neg­a­tive mes­sages and less-than-ideal role mod­els. ANNA HIG­GINS dis­cov­ers ways to help par­ent our girls when it seems like the world is against

Little Treasures - - CONTENTS -

Bring­ing up girls in the mod­ern world

When our daugh­ter Lily was al­most two, we found out we were hav­ing another baby. It would be a boy, de­clared the ul­tra­sound tech­ni­cian, point­ing out the ob­vi­ous on the screen above. Boys and girls are so dif­fer­ent, my dad told me upon hear­ing the news. Pah, I thought. A kid is a kid. It’s so­ci­ety who forces girls into pink and boys into blue. We’ll live in a won­der­ful mag­i­cal land where ev­ery child wears grey and plays with wooden an­i­mals and there’s no such thing as Bar­bie. I thought the di­vide be­tween gen­ders was en­tirely im­parted on chil­dren by ex­ter­nal forces. Oh boy, was I wrong. By the time Louis was born Lily had spent her short life thus far grav­i­tat­ing to­wards dolls, frills and any shade of pink. Then out he shot – a huge, burly, in­sa­tiably hun­gry ball of pent up en­ergy. Whilst Lily would primly fill cups with tea and colour in, Louis bashed trucks into the fur­ni­ture and threw crayons across the room.

Pride of place

Girls are dif­fer­ent, and like the All Blacks siz­ing up the op­po­si­tion be­fore a big match, some­times we have to study up to tackle the task of the best way to deal with our daugh­ters. Like their broth­ers they need to grow with a sense of their worth and knowl­edge of the im­por­tance of be­ing kind, con­sid­er­ate, con­fi­dent hu­man be­ings. Re­cent po­lit­i­cal events in the United States may have had your daugh­ters pon­der­ing a woman’s place in the mod­ern world. Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign trail re­marks to­wards Hil­lary Clin­ton and other women were con­sid­ered im­ma­ture by some, of­fen­sive and misog­y­nis­tic by oth­ers. If the man in charge of the most pow­er­ful na­tion on earth has a cava­lier, dis­mis­sive at­ti­tude to half the peo­ple on this planet, how do we ex­plain to our girls that this isn’t and shouldn’t be the norm? Taryn Kl­jakovic is the co-founder of Auck­land-based move­ment Women’s Col­lec­tive, and hopes Trump’s elec­tion could be a cat­a­lyst for pos­i­tive change. “I think [his elec­tion] has made peo­ple less ap­a­thetic. They’re not go­ing to sit back any more and just let other peo­ple take con­trol of what’s hap­pen­ing around them. I think there’s go­ing to be a lot more com­mu­ni­ty­based ac­tion. “Within that there is a re­ally good way to teach our chil­dren about be­ing in­volved in their com­mu­ni­ties, about be­ing re­ally con­sci­en­tious about the way they treat other peo­ple, do­ing their bit and giv­ing back, and help­ing them to come out of them­selves.” A good place to start with our girls when dis­cussing the Trump fac­tor is to point out the re­sis­tance shown to his unique, er, charms. More than five mil­lion peo­ple marched in protests around the world in mid-jan­uary fol­low­ing Trump’s in­au­gu­ra­tion as Pres­i­dent of the United States. They united on the ba­sis that women’s rights are hu­man rights, in sol­i­dar­ity with LGBT rights and gen­der and race-based equal­ity. Al­most 700 marches took place on seven con­ti­nents, in­clud­ing Antarc­tica, and yes, of course there were men and boys in at­ten­dance – in­clud­ing for­mer US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry and film­maker Michael Moore. While a pre-pres­i­den­tial Don­ald Trump once an­nounced on ra­dio he would break up with any woman once she reached the age of 35, our girls need to know they are valu­able no mat­ter the num­ber of can­dles on their birthday cake or the num­ber of kilo­grams on the scales.


Mir­ror, mir­ror on the wall

Fo­cus­ing on the per­ceived im­por­tance of their phys­i­cal at­tributes is not con­struc­tive for any young per­son’s sense of self. It’s so es­sen­tial girls know their looks and body aren’t the only thing of worth in their life, and par­ents can in­flu­ence their views on this. That said, be­ing called pretty isn’t nec­es­sar­ily an in­sult, and a princess doesn’t have to be a frag­ile lit­tle flower – just look at Princess Leia. Or to Frozen, the high­est­gross­ing an­i­mated film of all time. In the Dis­ney tale two sis­ters save each other and their king­dom, and the das­tardly prince who was once in the run­ning to be the movie’s hero ends up ban­ished and hu­mil­i­ated. Pro­fes­sor Ni­cola Gavey from the Univer­sity of Auck­land’s School of Psy­chol­ogy be­lieves la­belling our young girls ‘pretty’, while not in­tended to be a loaded term, is some­thing gen­er­ally best avoided. “I know this seems like a nor­mal thing to do and it prob­a­bly seems like a wellinten­tioned com­pli­ment to most peo­ple,” she says. “But the mes­sage it can give is that your value lies in the way you look and, in par­tic­u­lar, a look that is ap­peal­ing to oth­ers. If a girl grows up in­ter­nal­is­ing this as a cen­tral part of her iden­tity, it can end up be­ing quite a vul­ner­a­ble po­si­tion.” More im­por­tant than what they look like is shining the spotlight on what qual­i­ties our girls pos­sess which will stand them in good stead for the fu­ture – an ac­tive, cu­ri­ous mind, phys­i­cal strength, health, kind­ness, com­pas­sion. And a worth­while sense of self. Giv­ing girls the con­fi­dence to feel good about what their bod­ies are ca­pa­ble of and what gives them feel­ings of fun, achieve­ment and sat­is­fac­tion is some­thing which should start in in­fancy, Gavey says. “Any­thing we can do to make it seem nor­mal to ap­pre­ci­ate your body for what it does and feels like in­side rather than what it looks like on the out­side, is go­ing to be help­ful.”


We are ca­pa­ble of fos­ter­ing an en­vi­ron­ment in which a healthy body im­age can flour­ish for our daugh­ters. En­cour­age phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity be­cause of the way it feels to have a strong, ca­pa­ble body, not for its calo­rie-burning prop­er­ties. En­cour­age team sports for the ben­e­fits of team­work, friend­ship and ca­ma­raderie. And let’s not for­get plain old fun. Pro­fes­sor Gavey says although our ex­pe­ri­ences around weight and body im­age are partly shaped by the wider so­cial con­text of pop­u­lar cul­ture, par­ents can play some part in help­ing dif­fuse the power of these mes­sages. Don’t talk about di­ets, or any un­hap­pi­ness you may have with your own body. Make it a non-is­sue in your home. Cer­tainly don’t pass com­ment on a child’s weight, size or body fea­tures. Com­ments about the size or shape of friends, fam­ily mem­bers, celebrities or even strangers can give young girls a harsh set of cri­te­ria with which to judge their own bod­ies.

Evolv­ing new ideals

Pop­u­lar cul­ture has ex­tended its reach through the ad­vent of the in­ter­net and the rise of so­cial me­dia, but Kl­jakovic be­lieves these meth­ods of ex­pan­sion are help­ing to slowly break down the bar­ri­ers of stereo­typ­i­cal at­trac­tive­ness. The blue-eyed blonde is no longer the be-all and end-all when it comes to the ideal type of beauty. Women like Michelle Obama, Sofia Ver­gara, Bey­oncé, Ser­ena Wil­liams and Rebel Wil­son have shown you don’t need the phys­i­cal at­tributes of a su­per­model to be con­fi­dent, happy and suc­cess­ful, or to build a plat­form from which to show­case your talent. “The in­ter­net has been a great gift for hu­man­ity in so many ways be­cause it has brought down some of the walls. We’re not so re­liant on those tra­di­tional chan­nels to dic­tate to us what we should be, what we should look like and how we should act, what we should do with our lives,” she says. “You can’t con­trol the way the world rep­re­sents peo­ple like you back to you, but you can help en­cour­age your chil­dren to find their own role mod­els.” Pro­fes­sor Gavey be­lieves par­ents can help en­cour­age me­dia lit­er­acy within their daugh­ters, as­sist­ing them to read be­tween the sub­ver­sive lines of the mes­sages sent to us in ad­ver­tis­ing. Tra­di­tional ad­ver­tis­ing in print me­dia, on tele­vi­sion and on­line can sub­tly give a ‘very re­stric­tive mes­sage to girls’, she says, and we can talk with our daugh­ters about why these mes­sages are in place, what they mean and what they’re aim­ing to achieve. Kl­jakovic’s day job in the mu­sic in­dus­try leads her to be­lieve a lot of peo­ple these days are ‘ob­sessed with them­selves’, a fix­a­tion which is be­ing passed down to our chil­dren and mag­ni­fied by so­cial me­dia. “I come across kids all the time who just want to be fa­mous. It’s aw­ful that they’re look­ing in­wards or com­pletely defin­ing their worth based on how they look, not what they’re think­ing or how they’re treat­ing

peo­ple or what they do in the com­mu­nity.” We cer­tainly don’t need an en­tire gen­er­a­tion with Kar­dashian-like lev­els of self-ab­sorp­tion. Talk to your girls about how their self-worth doesn’t de­pend on how many likes a so­cial me­dia post may get. The old adage ‘If you can’t say any­thing nice, don’t say any­thing at all’ still rings true, and un­nec­es­sary mean­ness or bul­ly­ing in any form is never ac­cept­able. Also, the in­ter­net is for­ever. They’re called pri­vate parts for a rea­son.

Gen­der mat­ters

Kl­jakovic and her wife have a one-year-old son, Miha, whom she says has been ex­posed to toys in all shapes and forms over his young life. Of late, Miha has for­gone the dolls and prams for an un­equiv­o­cal love of trucks, and his moth­ers are more than com­fort­able with his choice. Kl­jakovic be­lieves we should give a child the free­dom to be what they want to be with­out the typ­i­cal as­so­ci­a­tions made with ei­ther gen­der. While we should all be mind­ful of forc­ing the ‘trucks are for boys, dolls are for girls’ stereo­type onto kids, she says, ‘Some lit­tle girls love wear­ing pink and be­ing princesses and we shouldn’t stop that ei­ther.’ Pro­fes­sor Gavey has a dif­fer­ent take on the mat­ter, say­ing typ­i­cally ‘girly’ pas­times, such as play­ing with mum’s makeup and try­ing on high heels, aren’t nec­es­sar­ily go­ing to be harm­ful as part of a wide range of in­ter­ests, “but I cer­tainly wouldn’t pro­mote or en­cour­age it. I’m crit­i­cal of the cultural pres­sures that still ex­ist for girls to like this sort of thing, just be­cause they are girls.” While rais­ing well-rounded, con­fi­dent girls can re­quire a spe­cial ap­proach, our lovely boys also need some of that at­ten­tion. Show­ing our sons and neph­ews how we – not just as women, but as hu­man be­ings – treat each other ev­ery day can help shape their at­ti­tude to the fe­males in their lives as they grow older. Kl­jakovic says she and wife Sasha thought a lot about their son’s place in the world when they found out his sex dur­ing preg­nancy. “I want him to un­der­stand his own power and never use it to in­tim­i­date any­body, boy or girl. I want him to be strong and fierce but also to be in­tel­li­gent and em­pa­thetic and kind and gen­er­ous, and just to have a great respect for women. I think and hope he will.” We should strive to help boys see them­selves as full peo­ple who don’t have to fit into nar­row boxes to be­long in so­ci­ety, says Pro­fes­sor Gavey. “It’s okay to have feel­ings, be vul­ner­a­ble and get hurt as well as be strong and in­de­pen­dent; and be in­ter­ested in things we might think of as ‘girl things’ just as much as things we might think of as ‘boy things’. Help them see girls as full peo­ple too who are just as im­por­tant and diverse and tal­ented as they are.” Our girls are spe­cial, and while there are a lot of chal­lenges fac­ing women these days there is also joy in ac­knowl­edg­ing that New Zealand is a pretty great place to grow up fe­male. Be­ing fe­male is pretty great, full stop. In the words of the mar­vel­lous Betty White, “Why do peo­ple say, ‘Grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sen­si­tive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina.” 

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