My daughter is beautiful. She’s strong-willed, creative, funny and kind. I want the best in this world for her, and I don’t want her to have to fight her way through life or ever feel unsafe in a place that she deserves to be (such as a university campus). I want every door she might choose to walk through to be open to her, and I want her worth to be known to both herself and everyone she encounters in life. Most of all, I want her to be happy.
My son is charming and social and is that person who just draws people to him like gravity when he walks in to the room. I want all the same things for him, but I also don’t worry as much about it. Being a guy, a lot of these things just come easier. As long as I raise him to keep his confidence and drive, people will know his worth before he ever opens his mouth. He is far less likely to fear for his safety walking through a dark campus at night or to feel like he has to fight for a salary.
It was International Women’s Day earlier this week, and as the empowering messages of hope and change flooded my newsfeed for the day, I couldn’t help but wonder what things will be like for my children as they grow.
I honestly don’t think a lot about women’s issues. I’ve personally never experienced sexual or physical violence. I’ve never felt like I was discriminated against based on my gender, nor have I been paid less than my male counterparts (to my knowledge). Instead of focusing on the number of female role models available, I’ve always just focused on how many wonderful ones there are.
But, there are a lot of statistics that make my stomach turn.
One in three women worldwide experience sexual or physical violence, mostly from an intimate partner. Sit on that for just a moment – 1 in 3. While I realize that number isn’t an even spread across the board, I still can’t help but look at all the little girls currently having a playdate in my house and think that by this statistic, two of them are going to endure such hardships. It hurts my heart.
On average, statistics show that women get paid 17 per cent less than men. This pay gap affects women from all backgrounds, ages and levels of education, and typically grows with age. My daughter, who is already showing tendencies towards being success-driven, may have to struggle with defining her worth in a world that is literally telling her she is worth less at every job interview she goes to.
If she’s looking for female role models that aren’t musicians or actors, the pool is small (though, growing). As of August 2015 only 22 per cent of all national legislators and members of parliament were female (via the UN). The USA could possibly elect their first female President this year, though, and that would be something to buzz about.
In other parts of the world, women are denied education. They are sold in to marriage to settle debts. They are denied healthcare or made to live their lives in such a way that they’re not an inconvenience or temptation to men. Their rapes and murders are shrugged off. Their lives are made inconsequential.
So what can we do?
I work with both my kids on this, not focusing on the issues themselves. I don’t want my daughter to live in fear or with the belief she’s at a disadvantage. I don’t want my son to think this is normal behavior.
We don’t worry about typical gender roles in our house. We laugh about how a lot of them are generalizations because they’re generally true, but we don’t push anything. My daughter? She loves Batman, gaming and boxing and ignores her dress-up closet. It’s all good. She’s learning that she can be whoever she wants to be, and that’s okay. My honest belief is that the key to feminism is the ability to choose for yourself. I want my daughter to be able to choose to be a mom, a superhero, a CEO, a movie star, a welder, a chef, a doctor, a pilot, an artist, a teacher or whatever she wants to be without a second thought if she belongs there.
We also work hard on modeling. In our house, the load is shared. Everyone does chores and no one job is for a girl or a boy. Dad does dishes and mom shovels snow. Dad folds laundry and mom grocery shops. Or vice versa. We run our home as partners to show our kids that their future partners should always be respected and treated as equals.
We also work hard to show our love. We teach both our kids what is now known as “chivalry”, because really, it’s just kindness. Our kids both know to hold doors for other. To speak politely. To listen to others. To give. To compliment. Furthermore, our daughter will be taught to accept it gratefully because I want her to know she is worthy. She is worthy of love and appreciation, and should be able to accept that without shame. The more worthy she feels, the more she can conquer the world.
We don’t want to raise someone who feels like a victim. She won’t be told she faces extra challenges because she’s a girl, she’ll be told she is powerful because she’s a girl. We want to raise someone who believes they will change the world. A woman who will ask for exactly what she wants, including the salary she deserves. A woman who can take their kindness and grace, and fan that flame in to an unstoppable fire.
Because, who run the world?
Brianne Zwambag is a full-time boo-boo healer, snack artist, janitor, referee, master storyteller and child stylist in Fort St. John, B.C. who sometimes gets a chance to sit down and write about life, mommyhood and the issues that surround it.