March 8 is International Women’s Day. International Women's Day is a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. In recent years, what has become clear is that the advancement of women’s rights can also recede if we are not persistent, insistent, and assertive in championing them.
Celebration, reflection, advocacy and action at a local level are what International Women’s Day is all about. And by having local celebrations on the same day around the world, we unite for global gender parity. International Women's Day has been in existence since the early 1900’s, which is a great reminder that even though women have come so far, equality for women will always be something that needs to be expected and protected around the world.
So why not let International Women’s Day inspire you to have some important and inspiring conversations with your daughters? Don’t expect your kids to learn any of these important truths in school, at church or anywhere else. Discuss them at home first. The way we remain a country of empowered women is by passing on what we have learned from experience to our girls. Here are some talking points to get your started.
1. Expecting Equality. Equality is not only for women and girls; it’s for every member of a healthy society. So talk to your daughter about parity and fairness. Ask her if she is experiencing any treatment where she has gotten the impression that opportunities, which should be available to her, are not. Ask if she thinks the same opportunities that are available to her are accessible to others. Challenge her to think.
2. Treasuring Her Body. Your body is the vehicle for the energy that expresses itself as you in the world. And a neglected or ill body impedes your ability to move through the world freely and express yourself. So talk to your daughter about her body. Does she love it? Does she hate it? Does she wish it were different? How are you modeling self-love and self-care for your body? Work together to create more body awareness and acceptance in your family.
3. Riding The Hormonal Waves. Women have menstrual cycles. There is no reason to pretend we don’t. Girls becoming women need to make peace with their hormones and how they make them feel, which can vary depending on the individual. Ask your daughter how she feels about being female. Does she need help managing her cycles and moods? Talk to her about what has been helpful for you. If there are consistent challenges or discomforts, seek assistance through traditional or alternative medicines until you address them.
4. Living Her Values. One of our most important roles as parents is helping our children think for themselves. And as kids mature they long to think for themselves and adulthood is inevitable. So talk to your daughters about their values as they grow. Really listen and ask thoughtful questions to help them understand how they think. You can say, “In this family, we believe…” for now. But remember, some day, she is going to say, “This is what I have come to believe,” and you will need to respect her choices.
5. Speaking Up And Being Heard. If you are always speaking on your child’s behalf, she is not going to learn to speak up for herself. So, next time she needs to straighten something out with a friend, teacher or coach, why not talk to her about it and then let her do it herself? Your role is to assist. But let her ask a busy teacher for what she needs or confront a girl on her sports team who is often unkind. Then ask how she did afterwards and offer support. If you are always coming to your child’s emotional rescue, she won’t learn how to speak up.
6. Dressing Expressively And Appropriately. All girls are attractive in their own ways but they should not feel like they have to flash their assets all the time as if they were up for auction. Don’t let your daughter dress like a hussy and justify it as expressing herself. That’s promotion, not attraction. She will be more magnetic to quality attention if she can keep her assets off continual display and walk tall and proud knowing she is worth more than just her physical appearance. Talk about dressing to express, not to seduce.
7. Never Missing A Chance To Vote. The 19th amendment granted women in U.S. the right to vote in 1920. Make sure she understands that voting allows every person in the United States to participate in the selection of elected officials including members of congress, senators, governors, and the president. However, politics can be complicated and often devolves into melodrama in public arenas. So talk to your daughter about knowing and voting her own conscience. Let her catch you debating choices and selecting wisely. If she can witness the political process at home she will more comfortable asking questions to prepare for her future responsibility.
8. Staying Alert And Safe. Maybe you have never had a teacher make racy remarks about your figure or had an employer put his hands on you. But just because it hasn’t happened to you, don’t mean it doesn’t happen. Rules and laws don’t keep your daughters safe; healthy boundaries and assertiveness help her avoid confusing and intimidating situations. Make sure she understands her body belongs to her and talk to her about how to steer clear of danger. Have a “safe” word that only you and she know, so she can communicate with you in public settings if she feels uncomfortable.
9. Supporting Sisterhood. Never disrespect a sister is a good policy at home and when you are apart. This means girls and women should stick together. In any situation where a girl is being picked on, singled out, or mistreated, prep your daughter to stick up for the other girl, rather than ignore the situation. Girls may be called out if they dare to defend a girl who is a target and social instincts often make girls hesitant about asserting themselves. If your daughter struggles with assertiveness, consider martial arts or assertiveness training and she will become a role model rather than the next victim.
10. Trusting Herself. You may not always agree with her desire for green hair, a triple-pierced earlobe, or raucous music. But if you assume she’s always making a mistake, then you are setting her up to second guess herself for the rest of her life. This morning, my daughter insisted on wearing Chuck Taylors with a maxi skirt for a choir performance. I suggested boots. She said they wouldn’t look good. I said, try them and see. Once I saw them, I said, “You are right. Your idea looks better.” Teaching her to trust herself means accepting you are not always going to be right. But as long as the doors to communication stay open, your mother-daughter relationship will always be in great shape.
Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina Katz is not a perfect mother. But she has accepted the mission to talk to her daughter about tricky topics before she turns eighteen—no matter how uncomfortable it is to broach any subject.