Wednesday, January 18, 2017

I always type the title of my blog posts last. Mostly because I never really know where my mind will carry me. At first I titled this post “What it means to raise a girl in South Africa”. Then I changed it to “How to raise a feminist”. Then I changed it once again to “Raise your daughter to feel empowered”. Basically, I know what I want to say; I just don’t know how to say it well. So stay with me here.

Not so long ago I wrote a post about that bullying video (here)1 and yesterday when another video from the same troubled little girl surfaced, I couldn’t help revisit my thoughts on the matter. Before we continue, I am not going to be naming the child in the video or sharing the video, or even talking all that much about it, so if you don’t know what I am referring to, count your blessing and move along.

I’m not going to go into the specifics of the video because it’s not really the focus of this post. What I want to talk about is how it made me feel… in a word? Terrified. Watching this young girl made me realize how important it is to raise your daughters to be strong and respectful of themselves and their bodies in a culture that allows them none of these things.

How do you raise a girl to feel empowered in a hyper-sexualised, porn-obsessed, media-driven rape culture?

Every time I turn on the tv (whether I am watching Henry Danger, Trace Urban, E! or Totally Spies) I am overwhelmed by the message that my value, my daughters’ value, any women’s value is purely based on sex:
What we look like.
What we are wearing.
Which parts of our bodies are exposed.

Every thing we see, listen to and allow our daughters (and sons) to be exposed to sends one terrifying message: Sexuality is a tool for advancement. Getting a man’s attention is important. “Winning” a man’s heart is the ultimate achievement. How do we stop the subjugation of women and raise daughters that are strong enough to say, “fuck you” when necessary?

My oldest daughter is turning 4 and in her short little life she has already had to deal with the disease of rape culture. When a little boy in her class pulled her hair and “boys will be boys” gets flung in my face, what does that teach her? That men can hurt her because they’re men. Letting a little boy or girl pull up her dress or skirt as a joke just reinforces the belief that she does not have autonomy over her own body. Teaching my child that her sense of modesty (or acting lady-like) is central to her sense of self worth is really just low-key slut shaming.

Now let’s circle back to this video, here is a young girl that is not empowered. She does not know that she is worthwhile. She does not know that is worthy of respect. How do we change this? As a society our responsibility is not just to our own children. We will never stop rape culture if our efforts start and end at home. So what do we do?

Let’s start with these:
1.     Call body parts by the proper names, if you can’t say vagina without feeling shame you’re just teaching your kids that these are shameful words. It’s not shameful to say lung or pancreas or liver, so why shudder at saying vagina?

2.     “Boys will be boys” needs to die a swift death. Don’t let your child’s gender be an excuse for unacceptable behavior.

3.     Speak up when inappropriate things happen at school. Don’t ignore it. Don’t sweep it under the rug. And don’t accept weak excuses from teachers and principles.

4.     Teach your children the meaning of no.

5.     Set an example: don’t laugh when men in your family crack a joke about women. Don’t slut shame other women. Don’t find ways to excuse toxic masculinity.

Someone once said that when you have a son you have to worry about 1 penis, but when you have a daughter you have to worry about all the penises. All I want is to raise my girls in a society where your son’s penis isn’t my problem. 

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