POLITENESS IS NOT A TRAIT VAL­UED ABOVE ALL ELSE IN A GIRL

Your Baby & Toddler - - TALKING POINT -

tool it is. Don’t shame her for be­ing heavy, and don’t praise her for los­ing weight. In fact, in a cul­ture ob­sessed with women’s bod­ies, try say­ing as lit­tle as pos­si­ble about the shape of her body and as much as you can about the good things that her body can do in­stead. “Con­grat­u­la­tions, you ran right across the field su­per fast,” beats, “I am glad to see you get­ting some ex­er­cise, we need to tone you up a bit,” ev­ery time.

Also watch how you talk about other women’s ap­pear­ances. Lastly, try to make peace, finally, with your own body. If you are al­ways crit­i­cal of your ap­pear­ance you can­not model self-love and ac­cep­tance to your daugh­ter.

BE SEX-POS­I­TIVE

Our chil­dren’s first (and sub­se­quent) sex­ual en­coun­ters should be con­sen­sual, it goes with­out say­ing. In fact, this should be the norm; but South Africa’s women are be­ing abused at un­be­liev­able rates. Vi­o­lence against women is tied up with the unique and com­plex so­cio-po­lit­i­cal his­tory of our land, with poverty and anger and the dis­rup­tion of the fam­ily struc­ture by the Apartheid sys­tem’s land grabs and mi­grant labour sys­tem. A 2002 study by Jewkes et al, found 97 per­cent of the black women in­ter­viewed had ex­pe­ri­enced phys­i­cal vi­o­lence at some point. It’s en­demic, and it needs to stop.

Con­sent starts with what you model! It’s a great idea to teach boys and girls that “no means no”, and even bet­ter to teach them to en­sure that they and their part­ner both feel an en­thu­si­as­tic “yes” be­fore do­ing any­thing sex­ual to­gether. But be con­sis­tent. You can’t teach a girl that she and only she can de­cide when and how to ex­plore her sex­u­al­ity – that no­body may ca­jole or beg or co­erce or bully her into any form of sex­ual con­tact – and then force her to kiss creepy Un­cle Ge­orge hello.

Over­come your own shy­ness. You have to ac­tu­ally speak about sex if you want to shield your daugh­ter from abuse. For that, she needs ac­cess to vo­cab­u­lary, the cor­rect words that will help her speak clearly if she needs to tell you some­thing. Teach the words: vagina, vulva, cli­toris, pe­nis, tes­ti­cles.

Teach her that politeness is not a trait val­ued above all else in a girl, and specif­i­cally not if any­body wants to touch her body. Teach her to shout her “no!” Think about any un­wel­come for­ma­tive sex­ual en­counter you have prob­a­bly had (one study in KZN es­ti­mated that half of South Africa’s women’s first sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence was not con­sen­sual – a hor­ri­fy­ing statis­tic) and re­alise it can be dif­fer­ent for your daugh­ter. If you your­self are in an abu­sive re­la­tion­ship, seek help ur­gently for the sake of your­self and your daugh­ter (we know chil­dren who wit­ness do­mes­tic abuse are more likely to per­pet­u­ate the cy­cle in their own adult re­la­tion­ships). Start at Life­line (0861 322 322) or Famsa (011 975 7106/7). Think, too, about whether you ap­ply the same sex rules to your sons and daugh­ters – are you be­ing con­sis­tent? Are boys “slut-shamed” in your fam­ily? (Un­likely.) Do boys and girls re­ceive dif­fer­ent sex ad­vice in your home? And is that right?

PAY AT­TEN­TION TO YOUR WORDS

Gen­dered, dis­crim­i­na­tory lan­guage is en­trenched in our so­ci­ety and we prob­a­bly all use such lan­guage some­times – but we can aim to be­come more aware of what we are do­ing when, for in­stance, we call a group of women the in­fan­til­is­ing “girls” but men the ma­cho-sound­ing “guys” (never “boys”). When teach­ers greet their stu­dents with a “Good morn­ing, boys and girls,” why are boys rou­tinely greeted first, and what does that teach girls about their place in so­ci­ety?

When we crit­i­cise our boys, is it for be­ing scared, emo­tional or shy? When we crit­i­cise our girls, is it for be­ing bossy or loud? When we praise our boys, we are more likely to em­pha­sise ac­tive and phys­i­cal at­tributes, such as be­ing brave or strong. Girls tend to be praised for be­ing kind, gen­tle, and help­ful. All are good traits, at dif­fer­ent times. But nei­ther trait is just for boys or girls. Our daugh­ters should not grow up think­ing girls can only be val­ued for ac­qui­es­cent be­hav­iour.

Our at­ti­tudes to­wards girls and women have sug­gested they should be phys­i­cally and emo­tion­ally lim­ited. A 2010 study found women say sorry far more of­ten than men do. Let’s stop that non­sense and give girls back their agency.

BE A SAFE HAVEN

Ev­ery par­ent­ing man­ual in the world sup­ports “open lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion” be­tween par­ents and chil­dren in or­der to fos­ter good, trust­ing re­la­tion­ships. You need to be will­ing to lis­ten to what your daugh­ter says, and your at­ti­tude needs to be one that al­lows her to speak up for her­self even if you dis­agree with her. Shelve the judge­ment for now and fo­cus on just lis­ten­ing. If your daugh­ter wants to play soc­cer, play-fight with swords, wres­tle or jump tram­po­line in­stead of wear­ing dresses, hav­ing tea par­ties and be­hav­ing in other ways that have been con­sid­ered “fem­i­nine”, can you ac­cept her? En­cour­ag­ing, or al­low­ing or at least tol­er­at­ing be­hav­iours that fall out­side gen­der norms go a long way to show­ing your daugh­ter an ac­cep­tance of who she is, and that you be­lieve she is ca­pa­ble of pur­su­ing her in­ter­ests, what­ever they may be. YB

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