Why we cannot empower our girls until we raise our boys to be feminists

Feminism does not mean feminine, it means equality.

 |  5-minute read |   16-10-2017
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There have been women who have paved the way. Women we never thought of as feminists - perhaps our mothers, daughters, aunts, teachers at school, someone who lived next door - who were silently championing the cause for our empowerment. Very often, it was men too, and we cannot underestimate their role in women’s empowerment.

But it all needs to start quite young, and conversations about empowerment for girls needs to begin quite early in their childhood. Because girl empowerment is a real thing and the only way we can truly strengthen our young girls, is to collaboratively share the principles of empowerment on a larger scale. Every single one of us has the capacity and bandwidth and a unique platform to empower the girls we come in contact with on a day-to-day basis.

A mother can seed kindness, strength, compassion and self-love in her young daughter. A teacher can show young girls how to access their own intuition to resolve conflicts and challenges. A mentor at work or school can open up dialogues about empowerment in totally new contexts.

“Girl empowerment” is not about teaching young girls that women are better than men. It is simply about encouraging every girl to know and realise that there are no limits to what she can do. That there are opportunities and possibilities that exist for her beyond the realm of her imagination. All she has to do is claim them and work towards what she wants for herself.

The empowerment of girls and women starts at home and gets further wings in school, with quality education and access to culture and information. Gender equality starts with literacy. It means genuine possibilities for girls to become everything they wish for and to make their own informed choices.

men-body_101617020559.jpgFeminism does not mean feminine, it means equality.

There are various reasons why empowering girls is a thing we all need to think about. First of all, it is her right, which makes girl empowerment a human rights issue. Discrimination has no place in today’s world and every girl has the right to go to school, stay safe from violence, have access to health services, and be able to participate fully in her community.

When girls are educated, healthy, and empowered, families are healthier - emotionally, mentally and financially. Empowered girls help their families break out of the cycle of poverty all over the world. Every additional year of school increases a girls’ earning capacity in later years - earnings she invests back into her family. Empowered, educated girls also have healthier, better educated children who eventually will be empowered themselves. Such women contribute significantly to the GDP of a nation.

Empowering our girls helps promote a healthier, more equitable world where every girl has the right to be in charge of her future and her fate, but we all have the collective responsibility to protect her rights and promote her well-being.

But more importantly, girl empowerment cannot begin until we raise our boys to be feminists. This implies boys who believe that feminism does not mean feminine, it means equality. Girl empowerment needs a healthy ecosystem of boy feminists. Of boys who believe in equality as much as girls do. Of boys who are in touch with their feminine side - who are unafraid to cry, who can be friends with girls, who are raised to believe that strong and sensitive are not mutually exclusive. Who believe that equal work merits equal pay and vice versa.

Girl empowerment does not mean not letting girls play with dolls. It simply means that dolls are just one of the many things girls can play with. Similarly it does not scoff at boys who play with dolls. Not all girls who like princesses at age three grow up to be vacuous, just as not all “tomboys” who love decapitating dolls grow up to be independent and strong. But with the new wave of "superficial" feminism, I see mothers frothing at the mouth when their girls go through the princess or Barbie phase, wondering what the hell went down when they had done their best to simulate conditions for this not to happen.

Often, mothers who have been conscious about the whole "no princess" thing discover that their three-year-old daughter obsessively wants everything to be pink and loves “tacky Disney Cinderella”. Mothers say it quite proudly when their daughters don’t like pink, or that they prefer green instead. If we celebrate our girls doing "boy" things and not enough when our boys do "girl" things, we are not about to create a generation of truly empowered children.

It’s become commonplace to tell our daughters they can be anything they want: tomboy, doctor, mother, lawyer or soldier. But we’re less apt to do that for our sons, who we encourage to be rough and tough and discourage from choices that are considered feminine. But lots of research suggests it would be better for everyone if we gave our sons more choices, and raised them more like daughters. 

As Gloria Steinem says, “I’m glad we’ve begun to raise our daughters more like our sons, but it will never work until we raise our sons more like our daughters.”

Also read: Open letter to Lisa Haydon: Why we need feminism now more than ever

Writer

Sashwati Banerjee Sashwati Banerjee @bongchild

Managing director, Sesame Workshop in India

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