February 22, 2016

Feminism at Stake: The One Question we Shouldn’t be Asking our Girls.

I'm brave

I was raised by a fearful mother.

An overriding memory I hold of my childhood is the voice of my mother screaming, “No, don’t!” or “Be careful! Or this and that will happen.”

There are many things I’ve avoided since because I was scared something bad would happen.

When I ask my mother now why she was this protective, she tells me that I was a feeble, wan child who consistently got sick. She adds that I had too many accidents which made her even more protective. In other words, she was scared to lose me.

But are falling sick and facing accidents any normal child would face viable reasons to raise girls on fear?

I don’t believe they are.

Fear stayed within me until I consciously decided to get rid of it. Although she is still somewhat protective, I stop her in her tracks when she expresses doubts about my actions.

It seems I am not the only one who was raised on fear conditioning.

One particular study revealed how parents communicate to their sons differently than girls when it comes to taking risks.

Boys and girls were asked to go down a playground fire pole taking into consideration that both sexes had the same physical abilities to complete the task. This study shows that parents gave the boys more directives about the task completion and basically pressured them to complete it without any assistance. On the other hand, they provided the girls with more explanation on the performance and actually physically assisted them.

Cautioning girls is clearly a societal issue that we are facing these days. Caroline Paul, author of the forthcoming book, The Gutsy Girl: Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, explains in her recent article in the New York Times how her strength was insulted and doubted.

Caroline was one of the first women in the San Francisco Fire Department. Having crawled down countless smoky ways for dozens of years, people never questioned how she was physically capable of doing the job. Instead, they consistently asked her, “Aren’t you scared?”

I lost count of how many times I have heard this question during and after my trip to India six months ago.

I backpacked solo in India for three months. I walked with a backpack that weighed 21 kilograms knowing that I only weigh 46. I crossed states alone, I camped alone, and I dealt with mild injuries by myself. I did things many men would count to ten before doing.

Like Caroline Paul, I was never asked about the ability I had to do this by myself. Many women today are taking risks which I pay my deepest respect for and they, too, are being asked whether “they were scared” or not.

Having been there, I can say that being overly-protective of girls amount to teaching them how to be scared. And, sadly, fear is a trait that remains with us in adulthood, not to mention the psychological effects that surface as we grow up.

My trip to India (along with many other things I am doing today) was a psychological justification to myself—and perhaps to my own parents too. At the age of 27 I still have the need to prove to myself that I am capable of doing everything and that I am not that girl who was raised to be scared.

It took me years to abolish the worrisome thoughts that were unwillingly established in my mind. And I am most certain that other little girls who are being cautioned today will one day grow up determined to win the battle against fear. But the sad truth is, some of us don’t.

Many women struggle with being socially timid or indecisive because of fear and doubt ingrained in them from a young age. They spend their lives struggling to claim and justify their existence, handing their power over to men.

Real equality all starts with how we are raising our children. What we are teaching them today affects the person they will become tomorrow. Both boys and girls should be raised to be courageous. Instead of warning them against the world out there, why not teach them about the women who made history with their capabilities?

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927.

Robyn Davidson trekked 1,700 miles across the Australian outback with only four camels and a dog.

Queen Elizabeth I ruled England for almost 45 years without a king.

Coco Channel was the first woman to change the world of fashion forever.

Frida Kahlo had a leg amputated, went through 3 miscarriages, lived with a cheating husband and endured more than 30 operations throughout her lifetime.

Joan of Arc, the Patron Saint of France, led the French to victory at Orleans.

Jane Austen was the most popular female author at a time when women writers weren’t publicly known.

There are countless of other women whose names are still being mentioned. Why not raise our girls to become like them? Why raise them on fear and doubt?

By doing so we are only underestimating their power—women’s power. Girls should know that it’s okay and perfectly acceptable to take risks because it is often only through taking risks that we can achieve extraordinary things.

I understand the fear that mothers project through their daughters. It comes from a place of love and concern. However, mothers should take into consideration their daughter’s future state of mind, societal position and capabilities.

The after-effects of an upbringing of fear aren’t pleasant and so, we should be careful about the messages we are sending our children.

Female empowerment starts with the mothers of the world: it’s in your hands. We trust you.


Relephant read:

Strong is the New Pretty. {36 Powerful Images Celebrating what it is to Be a Girl}


Author: Elyane Youssef

Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

Image: Steven Depolo/ Flickr

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