Funny family Mother and her child daughter girl with a paper accWe live in a world in which women still earn “only 80 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 20 percent. Women, on average, earn less than men in virtually every single occupation for which there is sufficient earnings data for both men and women to calculate an earnings ratio.”

Women are subsequently undervalued in both the professional and interpersonal realms. A video that has gone viral, features fathers and their little girls, affirming their abilities, strengths, inner and outer beauty. What is particularly powerful about it is the obvious bond between the daddy and daughter teams.  The men are proud of them and want them to be proud of themselves.

What are girls told about themselves?

Unhealthy Messages

  • You are primarily valued for appearance.
  • Men matter more than women.
  • You need a man to take care of you.
  • You should apologize for taking up too much space.
  • You are to follow proscribed gender roles.
  • Your career and educational options are limited.
  • You are responsible for making sure that other people’s needs come before yours.

What we need to tell them:

Healthy Messages

  • Who you are is more important than how you look.
  • You need not please others to be loved and accepted.
  • Speak your mind without hesitation.
  • Own your body; no one has the right to touch you without consent.
  • Maintain a sense of personal dignity.
  • You are strong and resilient.
  • You can achieve your dreams and goals.
  • You can succeed on the playing field as an athlete.
  • Being assertive is a value to encourage.
  • Setting boundaries is acceptable.

JoAnn Deak, PhD, a psychologist and author of Girls Will Be Girls: Raising Competent and Courageous Daughters, makes clear that, “Girls face an extraordinary challenge in our changing world. They are dealing with more sophisticated issues than ever before, and they are doing so with less adult contact and guidance than ever before. Statistics tell the story of a population at risk both physically and emotionally: One in four girls shows signs of depression. Compared to males, twice as many females attempt suicide, and there is a sharp rise in actual suicides for females beginning at age ten and peaking at age twenty-four. One in four girls has been in an abusive relationship.”

In a 2000 Harris poll for the national nonprofit organization Girls Incorporated, girls in grades 3-12 were asked about gender stereotypes, their quality of life, and their plans for the future. Their answers — and their parents’ comments — indicate that if anything, life for girls today is more difficult than it used to be.

  • 52% of girls said people think girls are only interested in love and romance.
  • 59% of girls said girls are told not to brag about things they do well.
  • 62% of girls said in school, boys think they have a right to discuss girls’ bodies in public.

Confidence vs. Conceit

The advice I was given by my mother, who did not always walk the talk, was to “walk in like you own the joint, “with head held high, shoulders back and making eye contact with those I approached.  Her intention was that I not be intimidated by anyone. It has served me well personally and professionally.

“One of the overriding messages for girls is that if they’re confident, they’re conceited,” says Catherine Steiner-Adair, EdD, director of the Eating Disorders Education and Prevention, McLean Hospital; clinical instructor, Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School. “Girls need to know that claiming their strengths doesn’t mean they’re stuck up,” she says.

According to Rachel Simmons, The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence, “Confident girls develop an attitude of “I can do this.”  Confidence and competence go hand in hand.

When girls feel that the people in their lives believe in them, they are more likely to excel. Success breeds success.

My Father’s Daughter

As a daughter, whose father raised my younger sister and me as kids in general; not only those with XX chromosomes, I felt valued for who I was and not just my appearance. Although there were times when we were expected to be ‘ladies’, we did our fair share of getting dirty and playing rambunctiously.

A telling incident occurred when I was 18. I had returned from college on a Friday night in April. As was our ritual, we would have dinner and go to services. My mother stayed home that night and my sister and I accompanied my dad. There was an unexpected snow storm, so when we arrived, we saw that there were only seven others there, including the rabbi.

My father announced that since there were now 10 of us present, we should be able to start. In the Jewish religion, there is a need for 10 people (called a Minyan) for certain prayers to be said. The rabbi responded that they still needed to wait for two more men.

My father again spoke up and said that “My daughters should count,” since we had both become Bat Mitzvah when we were 13 and thus were considered adult members of the congregation.

“That’s very nice,” the rabbi replied condescendingly and still insisted that we wait. Thirty minutes later, two more congregants with the proper ‘plumbing’ came through the door and the service commenced. I was grateful that my father had spoken up even though I wished he had driven the point home by leaving with us and stating, “Now you need three more.”

On Sunday morning, he would take us with him to Jerry and Joe’s Deli to pick up bagels, lox and cream cheese and then go to the weekly gathering of boys at our synagogue who both prayed and did activities together. My sister and I broke the gender barrier and then other girls were invited as well. He made sure that we felt included. The boys followed suit.

I have fond memories of sitting in High Holy Day services with his tallis (prayer shawl) wrapped around me as well, back when girls and women didn’t wear them. He took great joy in seeing me dressed up in ‘girl clothes’ and makeup and expressed that being feminine was a positive thing which didn’t mean I was weak.

From my father, I have learned resilience and a stubborn intensity. He offered what I called “Moishisms”; (his name was Moish) bits of wisdom such as “They put their pants on one leg at a time just like you do.” “Your life is in the hands of any fool who makes you lose your temper,” helps keep me centered when my buttons get pushed.

I am my father’s daughter in a multitude of ways. I chafe at the idea of being incapacitated in any manner. I am ultra-responsible, not wanting to disappoint or let anyone down. I have little compassion for the aspects of myself that need TLC, seeing it as loss of control. I wonder if he taught me too well to be an independent woman. I question whether it makes me less of a feminist if I were to allow a man to take care of me sometimes. I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty literally or figuratively as I roll up my sleeves and dig in to what is before me, knowing that the man with the work roughened hands that changed diapers, danced with me on his feet when I was little, patched up skinned knees, cried and laughed with me, is now beaming from Heaven, cheering me on with his South Philly accented voice “You can do it, doll baby!”