Friday, April 20, 2012

Her Strength; Her Voice

A girl feels good about herself when she is loud and bold. Too often, she runs into the notion (sometimes reinforced by Dad) that loud behavior is not ladylike. 

As she approaches adolescence, she hears that it’s unattractive to recognize your own needs and speak up openly for them. People (sometimes within her family) begin seeing her as a sexual object rather than as a person. She begins to wear the gender straight-jacket that squeezes out her breath while rewarding her more for her looks, passivity and being soft-spoken than for her passions, insights and beliefs.

A girl also gets strong messages that silencing herself is the only way to maintain her relationships with girlfriends, boyfriends, family and anyone who is important to her. She learns the myth that loudness and friction will threaten the survival of relationships – and that a relationship will not continue if she demands that it meet her needs. 

It’s not a pretty picture in which to imagine our daughters. Many adult women spend years trying to emerge from this underground and reconnect with that spunky 10-year-old.

Fortunately, we can help address many of these problems. Since the father-daughter relationship is one of her most important ones, we are in a unique position to counter these negative cultural messages by encouraging our daughters to speak up and rewarding them when they do. The best way of doing this is to actively listen to our daughters.

When we turn our attention to what a daughter says, does and cares about, we show her that a crucial man in her life—her father—cares about who she is, above all else. When we respect what our daughters’ voices say, we build up their inner strength.

Listen, and honor her voice.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Dad + Daughter = Less Gender Stereotyping

For 20 years, I've shared stories of dads and daughter which show how having a daughter or stepdaughter can (and should) change a man's perspective on our culture's treatment of women, and gender equity in particular.

Now, in a recent article in the journal Social Forces (90 (1): 209-222), researchers Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer and Neil Malhotra have some data to support this idea.

They report that both men who have children (regardless of the child's gender) show a decrease in support for traditional gender roles, but that men who have daughters show a much steeper decline.

As their abstract states:
We examine whether sex of child affects parents' beliefs about traditional gender roles. Using an improved methodological approach that explicitly analyzes the natural experiment via differences in differences, we find that having a daughter (vs. having a son) causes men to reduce their support for traditional gender roles, but a female child has no such effect among women, representing less than 4 percent of the size of the standard deviation of the attitude scale.
Has this been your experience? Share your stories of how the world looks different when you start seeing it through the eyes of your daughter and/or stepdaughter.