What I am about to tell you is going to be hard to hear. And you can bail out now and avoid the reality that she cannot, or you can hang in and face the truths she will be forced to face growing up female in our current world.
Growing Up Female According to Science
Here are just a few of the harsh realities gender research has revealed:
Your daughter is going to have to smile and be nice, to figure out the exact formula for being likable if she ever wants to succeed. Once she does, she will be seen as less likable.
Your daughter is going to be blamed for being too passive. She’s going to be punished for being too aggressive.
Your daughter is going to underfeed herself. She is going to spend unimaginable amounts of money to paint her face, nails, and hair; to de-hair her body. She might stick needles in her face or take a scalpel to her body.
Your daughter is going to be punished more harshly for making mistakes. She will pay the largest price for her errors if she dares to pursue a career in a male-dominated field.
Your daughter is going to be paid less for doing the same work. She will pay significantly more for products simply because they are “for women.”
Your daughter will shoulder the majority of domestic and childcare responsibilities even if she works outside her home, even if she is the primary breadwinner in her home.
When your daughter speaks up in a male-dominated group, she will be interrupted. Her input will be dismissed. She will stop speaking up in groups.
Your daughter will have a 1 in 3 chance of being sexually abused by the time she reaches 18. She will have a 1 in 4 chance of being sexually assaulted or raped as an adult. 1 in 2 if she joins the military. She probably won’t tell you. She probably won’t tell anyone. If she does, she’ll likely not be believed.
Let’s take a moment to check in here. Does a part of you want to turn away? To dismiss or rationalize these well-researched facts? There’s a reason they say ignorance is bliss.
But your daughter needs you. She can’t change this without you.
It may be tempting to say, “Not my daughter! I’ll teach her to defend herself! I’ll teach her to speak up! I’ll teach her to say no and set boundaries!” And there’s nothing wrong with doing that. But you can’t do just that.
Demanding a seat at the table doesn’t mean she will be given a voice. Speaking up doesn’t mean she will be heard. Demanding to be heard doesn’t mean her input will be considered. Learning self-defense doesn’t mean she won’t be raped.
Unless we all agree these are systemic issues that deserve to be fixed. Trust me, it will be worth it. All the research shows that the world becomes a dramatically better place—not just for women and girls, but for men and boys too—when girls and women are treated equally.
Girls and Women Are Fierce According to Science
Here’s what I mean:
The financial performance of your company will dramatically improve when women like your daughter join the leadership team.
Your daughter and her female colleagues will bring new and unique skills to professional boards that will become more effective because of their diversity of voices.
Your daughter’s life will improve as more women enter the political arena. If she runs for office, she will improve the lives of women and mothers. When the lives of women and mothers improve, so do the lives of men, fathers, and boys.
Group decisions involving your daughter will lead to improvements in environmental, political, and corporate arenas.
If your daughter becomes an emergency room physician, her patients will be less likely to die or be readmitted to the hospital.
Your daughter will be less likely to die of a heart attack if she is treated by a female cardiologist.
Your daughter will be less likely to be assaulted if she lives in a world with greater gender equality.
Where to Start
It feels like a big problem. Believe me, I get it. But you know what they say: a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Here are some small but powerful steps you can take for your daughter. And maybe, just maybe, if enough dads get on board, your granddaughters will be utterly shocked when they hear about the gender bias of the olden days.
- Do half at home. When your spouse is brave enough to point out that she is shouldering more, get curious instead of defensive. Don’t split household chores based on traditional gender roles (girls and women can mow lawns too).
- Volunteer at your daughter’s school. Ask to be put on the class email. I recently received an email from my son’s kindergarten teacher. Of 26 recipients, only 2 were dads. Children need to see more men and dads being equally involved in “kid stuff.”
- Do not, under any circumstances, comment on your daughter’s body. Your daughter is more than her body or her looks. Do comment on her competence, strength, courage, work ethic, persistence, assertiveness, or any of her other badass qualities.
- When you notice your wife paid three times more for her razors that are exactly the same as yours, only hers are pink and say “for women,” post about the ridiculousness of this “pink tax” on social media and tag the businesses that did it.
- In group settings, listen more and talk less. Invite women to contribute and don’t automatically shoot down their ideas. Men and women bring different but equally important viewpoints to the table.
- Find qualified women to be your physicians, mechanics, financial planners, florists, accountants, and dentists—seek them out.
- Vote for qualified women. *Be aware of bias in how you determine whether someone is “qualified” (e.g., a female candidate being ‘unlikable’ or ‘too aggressive’). You don’t have to like all female candidates, you just have to hold them to the same standards as men.
- Invite female speakers to your group events; recruit them for important positions in your professional organizations (e.g., board membership, promotions, vacant positions).
- Point out bias when you see it. My dad said recently, “How the hell can Obama afford a $15M home?” I texted him an article saying, “Michelle Obama wrote the biggest selling memoir of all time with an advance of $15M, so maybe she is how they afford their Hawaii home.” He got it.
- Teach boys to respect girls and women as powerful equals. Teach them to be allies. Teach them to get consent. Teach them to value women for who they are, what they do, and how they do it—not for how they look. The most powerful way to teach this is to model it. They will do what you do, not what you say to do.
Most of all, believe us. And give a damn when we tell you we’ve been discriminated against, harassed, assaulted, raped, or otherwise victimized. Fight like hell when it happens.
All the research shows that the world improves in innumerable ways—for women and girls and for men and boys—when men and women are treated equally. Your daughter needs you to be an active part of the fight.