Whether you are a parent, educator, relation or friend we all play a vital role in influencing the views and aspirations of the young girls around us. Following your positive feedback to ‘What should we tell our daughters?’ in February, this month we hope you enjoy reading contributions from Aunts, Dads, teachers and daughters themselves on this important subject.
We are now taking submissions for April’s GRIT – Women and the Vote. As we lead up to the General Election on May 7th we want to hear your political views. Do you believe there should be more women in parliament? Is it important to vote or do you think one vote can’t change anything? Please send us your article to firstname.lastname@example.org before 20th March, 2015.
We hope to hear from you.
I do not have children myself but I have two twin nieces. They are 18 years old and they are stunningly beautiful. Mother Nature has obviously been very generous with them but their looks are also the result of an obsession with physical appearance. They go to the gym regularly, they are careful about what they eat and they spend a lot of time and money on beauty treatments and products.
Whilst there is nothing wrong with taking care of our bodies, I fear that such extreme behaviour stems from the idea that beauty is a woman’s most important – if not her only – asset. They post pictures of themselves on social media and are flattered when men praise the universe for producing such “beautiful things”. They are completely oblivious to the fact that they are just reflecting the image of the ideal woman as created by man, that is to say beautiful, available and brainless.
The first thing I would tell my daughter is that the idea that a woman is worthless if she is not beautiful is made by and for men. Qualities that are often valued in men, such as intelligence and talent, are not only unimportant but can even be seen as a negative trait in a woman. Unfortunately, this idea has been going on for so long and is powerfully endorsed by the media. The message is everywhere – from glossy magazines to television to social media – a woman’s success is constantly associated with her beauty.
In my view it is important that young girls begin to question this message. Our duty as mothers or educators is to make them understand that what we are fed on a daily basis is not a universal truth but a product of a sexist and shallow society. This is no easy task but it can be done day by day by delivering opposite messages to the ones they get from the media. For example, instead of telling them they are pretty all the time – something I have myself been guilty of doing – we could tell them how clever, how insightful, how skilled they are. We could talk to them about successful women who have not relied on their beauty to achieve their goals. We could ourselves become a role model of a confident and independent woman.
Once our girls realise that beauty is not everything the possibilities are endless. They can begin to focus on their other multiple qualities and talents – the things that make them grow as a person. They can build their confidence and never have to worry about not being attractive enough. They can stop starving themselves to death to resemble some photo-shopped version of a human being. They can stop obsessing about that little wrinkle that is the natural consequence of aging. Taking care of their bodies should become something that they do because they feel like doing it and for their health, not because they have an obligation to be beautiful to fit into society.
Reclaiming our rights not to be all about beauty is not of course going to solve the problem of gender inequality. But it is an important step towards self-awareness, for every woman.
The Sharan Project is charity that helps women, particularly of South Asian origin, who have left home voluntarily, or have been forced to do so. They provide assistance and advice to help build an independent life. For more information please visit www.sharan.org.uk
As a Father of three daughters I am acutely aware that the world my girls are growing up in is very different to when I was young. Everything from the economic landscape, educational standards to our social hierarchy has changed. This rate of change is so phenomenal, that it is our role as parents to keep up with the pace.
In our busy everyday lives it is so important not to forget the positive impact that small gestures of encouragement, praise, and support can have on our daughters. They are growing up at breakneck speed; fashion, facials, Facebook and football (playing, not watching!). Those infamous words “in my day…” are defunct. So, if you find yourself falling into the trap, and echoing the same words of ‘encouragement’ that your parents gave to you, STOP. It is different now and we need to be prepared.
But don’t panic, some things remain constant; I have found that my daughters still need their parent’s guidance, support and advice. They may turn to Google for the answer, but there is no substitute for what we as their parent, coach, mentor and shoulder to cry on can provide. We are honorary members of the ‘Parent Club’ – the people who will really give them an honest opinion on whether that outfit looks right!
A Father is his daughters’ male role model and with this comes a huge responsibility. The way we fulfil our parental role can influence the young woman that our daughter will become. Of course, individuals develop their own style, personality and character, but parents still heavily influence the values that underpin this. Helping to guide our daughters on how they should tackle difficult situations or develop essential ‘Life Skills’ will remain with them forever.
As a parent, communicating with our children makes all the difference. Discussing situations which have gone well are easy. However, it’s when circumstances are more challenging, and you need to have difficult conversations, that you can tackle those deeper routed issues. In a professional environment open questions can be very effective such as ‘If you could do it differently, what would you do?’ or ‘How do you feel about that?’ These types of questions can also play a role in deepening our relationships with our daughters too. Most importantly open communication from an early age sets the tone for the future, so we are able and available for dialogue with our daughters, as they become young adults.
The pressures on our daughters come from a multitude of channels. We are a results-driven bunch from getting full marks in a spelling test to landing that important first job. Being results-driven can be a positive trait, but only if handled with care.
However, the opportunities available to our daughters today are so diverse that pursuing a career in music, sport or following in the footsteps of numerous entrepreneurial role models are just as valuable and lucrative as the traditional, professional route. There is no right or wrong here. Our role as parents is simply to encourage and support. As long as commitment, dedication and effort are displayed, there is every chance of success. I constantly remind my daughters that ‘There are no limits!’
In our family we have found open communication and creating a caring, supportive environment helps us to give our daughters the best chance of developing both personally and professionally. It can be challenging at times, but we can’t leave the crucial role that both Fathers and Mothers play in our daughter’s lives to chance.
As a male teacher working in an all-girl school, I am no stranger to seeing, hearing and experiencing first-hand, the increasing challenges that teenagers face today. It is our responsibility and duty to ensure the right messages are communicated, so that girls can exceed their own expectations, and become risk-takers in their future study and career choices.
Here is my advice, based on my teaching experience, that I would share with my daughter:
One size doesn’t fit all
There is a perception that all teenagers should study A- levels and then move onto university. This is unrealistic and we must stop comparing them to their siblings, neighbours or community members. The beauty of the current curriculum is that it is rich in options and pathways for the next generation to pursue. Vocational courses in business, healthcare, catering, beauty or information technology are all acceptable and growing pathways. This should be promoted and celebrated. We must educate our daughters that they must choose the course that ‘fits them best’, and support and encourage their thirst for learning, whatever that may be. I would reassure my daughter that it is perfectly fine for her not to go to university. That her dreams and aspirations of wealth and status will not suffer as a consequence; so long as she has the direction and commitment to working hard.
Develop a strong work ethic
This is one of the biggest ingredients for academic success and needs cultivation and time to grow. It will prove to be a tremendous asset to any young girl as a life skill in the future. Teachers at school must work with parents at home to ensure that children are resilient workers. Determination, persistence and solution-based thinking to challenges are core values of a strong work ethic. I would always ask my daughter before she submits any homework or assignment if she is proud of it; and if there is any doubt, to improve on it.
Stand on your own two feet
There is still a perception amongst some girls that they will able to rely financially on their future partner. This is outdated. All girls, regardless of background and ability, should possess high expectations for themselves. Gone are the stereotypical days of the man being the main breadwinner and the woman assuming all the domestic responsibilities. I would advise my daughter to work hard and aim high. She should have high expectations of herself as an individual. In order to enjoy the future, she must make the most of the present while at school.
Technology is a ‘double-edged’ sword
Access to Google has transformed teaching and learning in the classroom. It has made it more exciting, engaging and enlightening. Equally, the use of internet is critical to help children develop independent learning and research skills. However, the use of Whatsapp on smart phones, the ‘tweeting’ on Twitter, the ‘posting’ on Facebook and simply clicking ‘change’ when auto-spelling in Microsoft Word has eroded the literacy skills of children to varying degrees. I have feedback on exams where students have written “U” instead of “you”. I have marked essays containing confusions over the correct use of ‘their’, ‘there’ and ‘they’. I have witnessed presentations where the use of slang goes unnoticed by the students. I appreciate we live in a technological driven society. However, I would encourage and support my daughter to not forget the grassroots skills of reading a book, using a dictionary/ thesaurus and putting pen to paper.
Finally, I would advise my daughter to be truly reflective on all her actions and decision making, in school and out. The expression, “What got you here, won’t get you there” is a testimony to the need to adapt and change in a very competitive society.
I believe Mothers have the greatest potential influence over their daughter’s lives. All the great advice, teachings and values that my mother taught me, I proudly pass on to my daughters.
As a child I adored my Mum’s beautiful face and felt that she was the prettiest and most fashionable Mum around. She encouraged me to present myself attractively and speak with eloquence. Through her kindness and love, she was always there to comfort and nourish my soul.
My Mum guided me to be best I can be even when I was challenging as a teenager and wasn’t always easy to get along with. I refused to go to university and caused turmoil, however, my Mum didn’t give up – she gently guided me using her wisdom and perseverance. She knew that my future depended on my education. I shall never forget my Mum’s words when she advised me that education was the passport to my future. She often shared that it would make me independent, resourceful and fulfilled in my life. I only understood the wisdom of her insight much later in life – I was ten years into my challenging marriage and I discovered that my passion as a science teacher would became my sanctuary.
My Mum had a profound effect on my thinking. She empowered me through the tool of education which opened a whole new world of possibilities for me. Over the last twenty years, I proceeded to inspire thousands of young women through my teaching. For this, I thank my Mum, her vision for me has always been great.
When I gave birth to my beautiful daughter over seventeen years ago, my Mum was my saviour. This was one of the many times she gave me her undivided attention, strength and support. She adored me during my pregnancy and comforted me when I was downhearted. She taught me how to take care of my new born baby, as I was so lost and immature. The guidance she gave me through Motherhood was so precious- she always told me that she knew more than the midwives! I used to laugh but I had faith and trusted her always. She never let me down.
My Mum taught me the art of respecting and serving others. I watched how she made everyone that came to our house feel so welcome. My cooking skills are not my strength, but my Mum would always say- ‘let me show you the shortcut way!’ Thanks to my Mum I can now cook at top speed and everyone in the family is happy!
My Mum not only taught me to admire my femininity, but also encouraged me to be strong and courageous. Her overwhelming patience still inspires me today and I try to practice this in all areas of my life.
My Mum has been the greatest influence over my life. As her daughter I am grateful for my Mum as she is first my mother and forever my friend.
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Everyone is beautiful in their own way
I am fortunate to have grown up in a home where I was never influenced to look a certain way. In fact Bollywood movies and music videos were banned in our household until I was 18 purely because of the way women are portrayed. A little deprived some might say but I’m glad for it. I didn’t know how hyper-sexualised many of these videos were and therefore didn’t feel any need to conform. I didn’t feel pressured to wear make-up and dress a particular way at school. Nor did I feel that I had to seize the attention of my male peers, like many other girls of that age.
Today I see girls as young as three getting manicures and vying to be complemented for their looks and told how beautiful they are. I sadly hear parents encourage this behaviour by criticising other people’s appearance in front of their young children. Something about this does not sit comfortably with me. Surely this will only make young girls more self-conscious about looks in an already superficial society? Why can’t we just let our daughters be carefree, inquisitive and enjoy the many things that life has to offer instead?
Reach your potential
It is important for every girl to know that there is so much she can achieve, not just her male counterparts. She does not need to be from a privileged background to make a name for herself. She simply needs to have faith, motivation and inspiration. It’s our responsibility to show that she can be anything she wants, and mitigate whatever obstacles may come her way.
I would encourage my daughter to reach her potential in whatever she chooses. If this is Medicine or Law, then that’s great! Isn’t that what every South Asian parent wants? But if she begins a tech start-up or decides on a career in acting then I won’t get in her way. And neither should anyone else. I would urge my daughter to choose a path that fits with her ambitions and lifestyle.
If my daughter wants to be a working Mum and feels that she is comfortable to do both to the best of her ability, then I applaud her. If she feels she would rather put her career on hold to focus on her family then I would support that decision too. However whatever she chooses she must feel that she has been successful and achieved her goals.
Marry when the time is right
I was lucky that that my parents were liberal and open-minded about when I got married. There wasn’t any urgency – my studies and career were the priority. However they definitely had a view about the type of guy I should marry. Most parents have your best interests at heart and can somehow correctly discern when something isn’t right for you. My father always told me that if a man or his family asked me to change the way that I look, or my career and ambitions, then he was not the right one for me.
A girl should not feel that she needs to change her appearance, or professional aspirations for the man of her dreams. She must do whatever her heart chooses. Whether she dreams of being a homemaker, entrepreneur or CEO she should have the support of her loved ones. I have lived by this motto and will ensure that any daughters I may have in the future never feel that they have to succumb to any pressures. Your Prince Charming will love you for who you are!
Over the past two years, I have become acutely aware of my mannerisms, favourite phrases and choice of words thanks to my two year old niece, Bobbi. Her observations do not end there – she has learnt how to build a Lego house, hold a telephone conversation, count to 20 and sing her favourite songs (unaided). When she can’t do something, I find her devising a way to work around the problem so that she can. It is amazing to watch.
During this I have come to realise how important my actions are in shaping her understanding of our world. I have often thought about what I would tell her about life and how I would advise her if she ever faced any difficulty. I never really liked those ‘practical’ conversations about the reality of life with my Dad – they felt overwhelming. My Dad was a man who lived by his principles. This demonstrated much more to me than anything he ever said.
We often start these conversations about what we would like to teach our next generation of daughters, however, in all honesty, Bobbi’s gender is a non-entity to me. If we want to progress in the conversation about equality and how to promote it, it should start with teaching both boys and girls the same values and principles.
Why? Because our principles act as our compass in life, enabling us to navigate to where we want to be.
So, here goes. Bobbi, in some way, shape or form, I hope I can teach you the meaning and value of these principles:
Know who you are
People can spend their entire lives searching for who they are and what they believe. Think about the things that matter most to you and never be apologetic for standing by them.
Create your own definition of success
You are who you allow yourself to be. Don’t let others’ definition of success determine your perception of your own achievements. For example, if you say the word ‘creative’, every individual will conjure up their own interpretation of, and associations with, that word. That is the beauty of individuality.
Allow yourself to be happy
This has been stipulated as one of the top five regrets that people state when they know they are the dying1. Our ambition to achieve means we are seldom in a state of being content; when you have a penny, you want a pound; when you have a pound, you want several. Happiness is a self-made choice.
The world is like a mirror – you get back what you give. Feelings are not a weakness.
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I have been a teacher and personal development coach for over 28 years. During this time I’ve had my brain picked countless times on the question of parenting and I am often asked what advice to give our daughters. So, what do I think?
Pressures are part and parcel of life; there has always been, and always will be, pressure in varying forms for every generation. I suppose the main difference that our young daughters face today is finding themselves expecting to succeed in many more ways than one – not only at school, at having the perfect home and family life, a vibrant social life, but also in striving for the best career.
In today’s age, more is available to our daughters and so the prospect of achieving all your ambitions can be daunting. I want to share some of the advice I live by and encourage those I coach and mentor, including my own daughters, to utilise as a way of managing pressure and harnessing success.
Believe in your abilities
‘There are two kinds of people: those who think they can and those who think they can’t, and they’re both right’ – Henry Ford
Know what you want for yourself, work hard for it, and trust that you can achieve it. It is usually the lessons learnt outside of the classroom or boardroom that define who we are and what we want out of life. I have always encouraged my children, and those I teach, to expand their horizons; travel, take on a challenge, support a charity. Develop socially and understand that success doesn’t have to be just about academics and making money.
Maintain good relationships
‘Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future’ – John Kuebler
Maintain a strong support system of friends and family. It is important to surround yourself with the right people, because they can have a big influence on the choices we make. If a child is acting out, look at who they socialise with. Being surrounded by honest, hardworking, ambitious people with positive attitudes will encourage a similar mentality when it comes to tackling your own pressures in order to develop and grow.
Have shiny shoes and a shiny mind
‘You can never be over educated or overdressed’ – Oscar Wilde
First impressions count – so give yourself a head start by looking your best. The way you present yourself gives others an insight into the kind of person you want to be. If you dress for success, your mind follows suit, helping you to feel good about yourself and allowing your most valuable qualities to shine through with confidence.
Practice good karma
‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ The Golden Rule
Having a good set of moral principles to fall back on when you feel overwhelmed can help guide you. I believe in the simple premise that what goes around comes around and so it is important to be good to those around us. This is a universal approach that can be applied to all walks of life like the golden rule above.
I am passionate about helping our younger generation to realise their potential and not be discouraged by the pressures they face. Anything is possible if you set your mind to it.
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Being a 21st century woman can sometimes feel like a burden. There are growing expectations to succeed in every aspect of our life while holding on to traditional beliefs and thoughts from many years ago too. This adds to the pressure that young women may feel under and is something I have personally had to face and stand up to. However, through this I have learnt valuable lessons that will stay with me for life, that I would like to share with others and that I would tell my daughter.
1. Always follow your heart and listen to your instinct
When you are surrounded by the noise of society your own passions may get drowned out. However, it is so important to make time for yourself so you can listen to your voice inside. It’s the one way of ensuring that you lead the life you want to lead and what you were born to do. Many women often feel they ‘should’ do something or are obliged to follow a certain path. The truth is you won’t be truly happy unless you do what you feel is right in your heart or what your inner voice tells you. And if you do, the joy and happiness you will feel is liberating.
2. Never let anyone tell you that you are incapable of doing something
This applies to everything whether an academic route or career choice or related to your culture, an interest or hobby. Whatever it is that you enjoy doing – just DO IT! Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise. And more importantly don’t tell yourself that you can’t do it either! Believe in yourself and go beyond your own boundaries and limitations. Man has made this society and rules by which we all live today so there is no reason why women can’t create their own too (within reason of course). Before you know it, you will have people and society saying ‘I want to be like her’.
3. Don’t underestimate the strength and power of a woman
We have so many strong and influential women around us in the form of our mothers, sisters, friends and colleagues. It is often women who make the biggest difference to someone or within a relationship. This isn’t a new revelation. Women have been making homes, maintaining relationships, building careers and changing lives for decades. There are so many stories, old and new, of women making the difference or ‘being the change’. No matter what you hear or experience, in what can sometimes seem like a cruel world, you can try and make a difference, no matter how big or small. Whether you have a positive influence over just one life or thousands, as a woman, you have it within you to make a change.
After remembering these simple messages I realise that being a woman is never a burden. It is a blessing. It’s how we use the attributes we have, that make all the difference.