By Zeina Habib ICF ACC Coach
In her book Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, philosopher Kate Mann talks about 2 types of humans in the world; human givers and human beings.
In her view, human givers exist to give their humanity to human beings.
Women being the human givers, in the way our world has been functioning for centuries, are supposed to shape their lives around men’s lives. Their sole existence is to please, serve and love men no matter the consequences to their being.
I want you to pause here for a minute and read that first part again, and this time ask yourself, is that how I want girls to live ?
I know my answer to that question, I am not nor do I want girls to be solely human givers. I am my own independent person and my goal as a writer and coach is to help as many women and girls achieve that.
But how do we do that? How do we raise independent, assertive and caring girls?
There is no straightforward simple answer to that question but rather multiple concepts I believe parents can live by to support their girls in their journey and I’d like to share a few with you in the hope that this will help you in your role as parents.
In their book Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily and Amelia Nagozski discuss how finding meaning in life contributes to healing from the “human giver” syndrome. It ensures girls know their role in this world is bigger than being a caretaker. They are here for more than serving; they can dream big, have career aspirations, shape an independent life, change the world, and be mothers and wives.
So how do we as parents support our girls to find their identity and create meaning?
We encourage them to read, travel and self reflect . We pick books and movies that support growth rather than fairytale love; for example Frozen instead of Cinderella. We highlight the importance of education in their development and encourage them to volunteer and engage in social activities. We help them pursue their dreams and watch the magic happen.
In her book We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamande Ngozi Adiche writes,
“We use the word respect for something a woman shows a man but often not something a man shows a woman”
Women are taught they need to respect men while most men are taught respecting women is optional and conditional. Women’s boundaries are considered flexible and can be crossed whenever a man deems it convenient while men’s boundaries are set in stone.
The system is rigged and some women pay for it by being abused and we need our girls to know this is not OK. They have a right to set their own physical and emotional boundaries, just like men do, and we should raise them with that idea in mind.
We should give them a say in who they let into their space and allow them not to be affectionate to every adult they know. We also need to make them aware that no one is allowed to touch their bodies without their consent and explain to them what harassment is.
Saying NO is their right and it is not a source of shame.
We should also help them define their emotional boundaries.
This one is a bit trickier since it requires parents to work closely with their kids and help them identify their emotions, thoughts and personalities. In doing so, they understand themselves better and know what is acceptable and what is not acceptable to them in their relationships.
A really good resource to rely on for emotional exploration and boundaries is the “ The Whole Brain Child ” by Dr Dan Siegel.
Improving Self Confidence
In her podcast unlocking us, Brene Brown talks about the difference between how male students and female students assess their performance in her class. Apparently most of her female students tend to underestimate the grade they deserved while the males tend to overestimate it.
This confirms the trend shown in many studies; women tend to be less confident than men. They are more likely to underestimate their capabilities and question their decisions. They tend to be less assertive and don’t always speak up.
And this impacts the kind of life the lead.
So, our role here is to encourage assertiveness and decision making from an early age. We should also make sure we praise our girls when they deserve it so they know their strengths and work on developing them.
There are many small things we can start with early on. We can have our 5 year old pick her own outfit or our 10 year old decide what type of hobby they want to sign up for, teaching them slowly how to make decisions for themselves.
We should also make it a habit to listen when they say no to us instead of shutting them out. Having a conversation about differences in opinion and parental boundaries is important for a child not to feel dismissed.
Another thing we should practice is admitting when we are wrong and apologizing when needed. When parents refuse to admit when they are wrong, their children question themselves and their realities. This is even worse when parents refuse to apologize for their mistakes.
They are missing the opportunity to teach their kids that people make mistakes and that does not make them bad decision makers or bad people.
Educating Girls about Patriarchy and Diversity
We live in a world where inequality towards women, BIPOC, LGBTQ+ communities and many other marginalized populations is very common.
Those inequalities are at the basis of our legal systems and our social standards and some parents work hard to protect their kids from having to experience them or knowing about them. While this is done from a place of love, hiding the status quo from our girls will cause harm.
Young girls need to know their legal rights and the society’s harsh judgment and expectations, to be prepared to handle them and fight against them.
Not to mention that eventually, they will hear about them from friends or the media and both can sometimes twist the facts while we can make sure they hear the right story. I know that this conversation may be difficult but it’s a must and I say that out of experience.
Being born in Lebanon, I’ve had first hand experience with patriarchy, a concept I didn’t fully understand. No one told me as a woman working in construction, I will probably be dismissed by men and I will have to raise my voice to be heard. No one told me men would dismiss my ambition for being a leader simply because I am a woman. I figured that out the hard way and saw many women around me struggle with their worth because of that. This is why talking about it is very important; it reduces the struggle, the assumptions and the shame all of which have a detrimental effect on mental health and ego.
Living What You Preach
Kids are constantly absorbing everything we say and do, they will see the world through our eyes and it is important we live by the values we want them to integrate . If I want my daughter to have meaning in life or to have clear boundaries, I need to be mindful of what kind of meaning my life is creating and what kind of boundaries I am setting.
If I don’t want her to tolerate abuse, I should not accept abusive relationships; if I want her to listen to her inner voice instead of societal standards I have to make sure I stay true to myself and make my own decisions.
As Glennon Doyle puts it her book Untamed,
“I unbecame a mother slowly dying in her children’s name and became a responsible mother: one who shows her children how to be fully alive[….] My children do not need me to save them. My children need to watch me save myself”.
We cannot expect our girls to be assertive, independent and alive if we don’t show them the way forward. They don’t need us to be “human givers” and let go of our humanity for their sake; they need us to demonstrate courage and resilience.
There are many things we can do as parents to ensure our girls are fulfilled and I know most parents wish they can do all of them but just remember you are not expected to be perfect. You just need to show up, be brave and real so your girls have someone to lean on and rely on when they need to be reminded of their place and worth in this world.
In the end, we want our girls to exist in an ever expanding world that can fit all people; not in a world that requires them to give up their humanity and shrink themselves so others feel “respected”.