The hashtag “me too” serves as a reminder that the women’s rights movement still has some way to go, and we can all play a role.
While I am delighted that my generation has experienced a broader remit of occupations they were allowed or encouraged to apply to than our mothers, it begs the question, what attributes should we be encouraging in young girls to break the glass ceiling, end gender bias, and redefine what it means to be a woman.
Go Girl – Essential skills for Young Women
Personal strengths – Identifying and celebrating what strengths you have, regularly, is investigated and encouraged. Believing you can face challenges is extremely important. Celebrating overcoming difficulties is particularly important. Young girls often to have an abundance of confidence, but by the time girls are 16-17 this confidence is harder to find. That loss of confidence can be undone.
Believe you CAN– As women we have a responsibility to expose our female teens to all kinds of achieving women so that they can better appreciate that women’s careers are being redefined, daily and hopefully, forever.
Teaching self-acceptance and healthy thinking patterns – Self acceptance is not only recognizing your strengths, it is accepting that you will make mistakes, you will experience failure, and that this is part of life. We need to teach girls to avoid thinking traps such as comparing, personalizing, labeling themselves negatively and catastrophizing. By adulthood many of us are limited by negative thinking patterns – building habitual thinking patterns that challenge these negative thoughts helps to raise teens who accept their mistakes, avoid self-punishing behaviours, and get themselves ready for the next big challenge.
Negotiating with confidence – We can teach girls confidence to negotiate in life, for job promotions, and for salaries. This starts from learning and using negotiation skills as early as the teen years. Negotiating for independence, pocket money, activities, and also performing chores as part of those negotiations, teaches girls that they can determine their future through their efforts, and that they have the right to challenge what is a fair wage for fair work.
You are not your body – You are not defined by your body, and loving your body will help you have a fuller life. We need to teach girls that women come in all shapes and sizes, and none is better or worse than another. You are not your “fat thighs” or your “boring hair”. Speaking negatively about your body and yourself can be challenged, and need not be part of your self-talk dialogue. You are more than your body, your healthy body gets you from A to B, and if you look after your body, it will look after you.
Relationships and boundaries – The teen years can include episodes of being bullied, feeling unpopular, wanting to be unique (while being just like everyone else), and wanting to please others for a multitude of reasons. We need to teach our teen girls to reflect on the decisions they make in friendships and if those decisions are to their benefit or cost in the long run. If teens fear being cut off from a group, we can teach them ways to stand their ground, be themselves, and be comfortable with the consequences. Having a broad range of friendships helps protects girls from this vulnerability.
Cyber security – With the proliferation of the internet, young children have access to a wealth of sites, information sources, and social media channels. A teenager can receive a thorough education (and mis-education) simply from spending a few hours a day on YouTube. Recently I discovered that our 15-year old girl had been talking to people overseas on the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) website forums! Some of the people were adults. She had sincere difficulty understanding why her parents responded to this with such horror. To her it seemed very innocent. We reiterated our cyber safety rules in the house: Mum and Dad have access to your online profiles and may check them, you can use your computer only in public areas of the house, never share personal information about yourself, and never agree to meet in real life (without adult supervision). This is a large topic and deserves a blog all of its own.
Physical safety – I believe that all girls should be prepared to protect themselves physically. This preparation may simply involve them being able to respond to unwanted physical attention in a manner beyond embarrassment. Helping girls become comfortable responding to negative attention may seem like shifting the blame for abuse onto them. This is quite the opposite. We want girls to know that they have the right to protect themselves, to be prepared to respond to a perceived threat, and, particularly, not to freeze in fear.
We rise, and fall together. Don’t harass other girls. – For example: girls who wear big hoop earrings or short skirts are not “hoes” or “sluts”. When girls degrade other girls in these superficial ways, they bring us all down. When we defend all girls, we all rise together. We need to stop this gender depreciating madness.
The Safety Card – I am a keen proponent of the safety card – setting up a “what if” system to help teens imagine themselves in difficult situations and then determine an acceptable response. A safety card helps teens negotiate highly charged situations when they feel calm, helping prepare them for situations that may feel more out of control. For example, if you feel very depressed and even suicidal, what can you do? If you found a friend was self-harming by cutting what could you do? If you found one of your friends had drunk too much alcohol at a concert, what could you do? Talking to teens when they are calm in hypothetical situations helps to acknowledge two important aspects of life in Hong Kong. First, as adults we know that these behaviours do occur, we are not lecturing but helping them negotiate a potential situation. Second, we are enabling them when they are calm to set out set of steps that they can follow if they ever find themselves in difficult situations.
At RED DOOR we believe not only that Girls can do anything, but that they should be able to do everything. Go Girls!
If you would like more information on RED DOOR programmes for girls please contact Angela on Angela@reddoor.hk