Are We Leading Our Girls Over The Cliff?
When she looks at you… What does she see?
The person she has the potential to be?
And everything that you believe is true…
Is what she will say and what she will do.
A friend posted a picture of her newly born baby on Facebook. After congratulating my friend and asking what his/her name was, I noticed that in all the other comments, people seemed to know that the baby was a boy. How did they know? And then I noticed the blue outfit. Perhaps it should have been obvious, but as a girls’ empowerment coach, I have purposely trained myself not to subscribe to the gender stereotypes I grew up with.
Stereotyping amuses me. At one time, pink was used to denote baby boys and now, in our time, the same colour is considered very feminine. We all just seem to go with the flow – we don’t know who makes these things up, but we’re okay with accepting it. This doesn’t seem to be a very problematic phenomenon at first glance, but let’s consider the symbolic nature of pink in a very stereotypical society.
A mother-to-be learns that she is going to give birth to a girl. Right then and there, the child’s destiny is written in the stars by a very human society! Mom, aunts and sisters start shopping for cute little pink gifts for the little one they already love so much. Daddy wants his little girl to have everything and together with Mom, starts planning the nursery (which also has liberal splashes of pink in it). No disrespect to the colour – pink is a fine colour! But here’s what happens next. In this very stereotypical situation, when Baby is born, she lands up with toys that are cute, cuddly and the beginning of a preparation to be a 1950’s woman. Only, we’re not in the 1950’s – it’s the 21st century! Where is the toy crane, the building blocks, the superhero outfit? Even at a few months old, we have already given her the message that society doesn’t expect too much from her, that for her, there are limits (albeit invisible and unspoken limits).
By the time our little girl is eight years old, she isn’t too interested in mechanical stuff or science – not through her own choice, but simply because she hasn’t had enough exposure to those things and they seem foreign to her. By the time she’s a teenager, her teachers may have also reinforced those limits simply by virtue of their own beliefs that come through in their teaching. And then there will be those boys who joke around with their peers, oblivious to the damage they are causing: “You throw like a girl! Man up and stop being such a girl!”
At seventeen years old, our girl may be driving but has no idea how to change a tire. She doesn’t know how to change a plug either – her boyfriend or dad will do that. What we as a society have effectively done in these seventeen years is cut this young woman’s career choices in half. We’ve ensured that her earning capability is less than it should be, that she may have to depend on a man to maintain the lifestyle she is used to living. We have set her up for possible abuse, simply because she has learned to believe that she is worth less than a man and is less capable. We’ve been instrumental in limiting her freedom because we haven’t equipped her to deal with the dangers that accompany being a woman.
This is not about playing the blame game – the status quo stems from many complexities. A few months ago, while speaking to a bright eleven year old girl, I told her that she was a beautiful girl. I meant it – she has an innocence and a sensitivity about her that not many kids have these days, and that shines through. But I had to question myself afterwards – should I have complimented her with the word that most girls hear too many times and then associate with their self worth? A few seconds before that, her wonderful grandpa had mentioned what a bright girl she was and that she loved reading. Still, I had to look at my deepest intentions, and even then I wasn’t sure that I should have said what I did.
It’s time to examine the situation and ask ourselves what we want for our girls. If we want different results, then we need to change our course of action. When girls lose out, we all lose – girls, future women, the mothers of our society, have an influence on all genders, and the ripple effect of who they become is worldwide. When we, through our own well-intentioned ignorance, lead our girls over a cliff, we as a global community cannot thrive. Our society is only as strong as its leadership; our nations are a true reflection of how society has raised their creators – the girls who become the mothers of future generations. The answer lies in our hands and how we respond the moment we hear the words: “It’s a girl!”
Haseena Patel is an author, speaker and girls’ empowerment coach from South Africa, co-founder of Leave No Girl Behind International and co-creator of the Bubbles Beyond Borders worldwide campaign to support the rights and dreams of girls and women. As a certified Akashic Records Reader, and using her system of Truth-Walking, Haseena is committed to helping others find their voices and live their hearts’ truth – the ultimate journey to self-empowerment.