Raising daughters in today’s world

This month, Mabel looks at some of the realities that hit home when trying to raise a daughter in today’s world.

 

“…women should be free to decide who they want to be and not have to conform to what society or the media feels that they should be, look, dress or behaved.”

 

Sugar and spice, and everything nice. If only it were that simple. They left out the bits that come with having baby girls. A friend once told me that raising children in today’s world is a challenging task, all the more the case if you are raising daughters.

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The world we grew up in is no longer the same. Where once we had Disney cartoons and nursery rhymes to contend ourselves with (or at least I did), our daughters face a world of skimpy bikinis, stick thin models, MTV and Lady Gaga. Then I come across shows like Toddlers & Tiaras, news reports about sexual abuse happening to young girls perpetrated by their family members, and watch as teenage girls barely 16 walk the streets talking about sex with their boyfriends.

And I wonder.

How am I going to raise a daughter with healthy self-esteem and gender identity? How do I tell her that the value of a person is not in their appearance or attire but in their character? How do I get across the point that your opinions and ideas matter just as much as the next man’s?

I remember my own childhood and subsequent years as a teen and young adult that were peppered with social expectations and comments like:

“Girls are to be seen but not heard”

“Education is only for men. Women are better off married.”

“If a man strays, it’s always the wife’s fault no matter what.”

“A woman is expected to be a cook in the kitchen, a whore in the bedroom and a beauty in the living room”

Glass ceilings in the government and corporate world show evidence that while women have advanced since the time of our bra-burning sisters, they still have a long way more to go in order to catch up with the men.

I must be clear, I’m not championing equality of the sexes and neither am I a feminist. I just believe in women should be free to decide who they want to be and not have to conform to what society or the media feels that they should be, look, dress or behaved.

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When Body Shop launched a campaign challenging stereotypes of body image and media as well as the function of the cosmetics industry, their representative was a Rubenesque doll in the form of Ruby. She was the opposite of the well-known leggy curves of Barbie and the slogan that accompanied Ruby read “There are 3 billion women who don’t look like supermodels and only 8 who do”. Mattel ordered for a cease-and-desist and the reason was that Ruby made Barbie look bad. In Hong Kong, when the late Dame Anita Roddick (founder of the Body Shop) blogged about Ruby (anitaroddick.com), posters of Ruby was banned because it could be offensive to passengers. Never mind that advertisements with skimpily dressed women were allowed.

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Looking at my nearly two year old daughter, I am thankful that I still have a while more to go before she starts to worry about her body image. It doesn’t mean that I’m free from social expectations. My daughter doesn’t like wearing ribbons, headbands, flowers or anything remotely girly. She will tolerate a hat but only when it’s ultra cold, which is hardly ever the case here in the tropics. Yet, I get people asking me why I don’t let her wear all those girly things. My mother drowns her with girly pink hairclips and equally girly and frilly frocks. Even disposable diapers for girls come in pink!

From birth till toddlerhood, our children are bombarded with stereotypes of what girls and boys should wear and play with. Boys are not allowed to have security blankets or soft toys; it’s just unmanly. Girls should be in dresses, hairclips or they’ll grow up as tomboys.

Suddenly I find myself becoming a champion for space and freedom of choice for not just myself but for my daughter. The choice to decide that pants, blue and cars are not just for boys but also for girls and loving them doesn’t make one a tomboy but just another human being out there.

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