Girls are often told they can be whoever they want to be, but we rarely specify what things girls should be able to do despite messages to the contrary. But it's worth spelling them out, because the forces that keep women and girls in a box are powerful and merit an equally powerful response. Plus, on top of telling girls they can do whatever they put their minds to, it's also worth stating that they can — and should — do these things without fear or shame.
Whether we realize it or not, we receive a lot of sexist messages when we're growing up. According to a Common Sense Media study, the majority of girls have been on a diet by age 10, suggesting that they've internalized the idea that women must be thin to be beautiful — and must be beautiful to be loved. On top of that, a University of Illinois study found that at age six, girls become less likely to attribute intelligence to girls and more likely to attribute it to boys. These attitudes only grow as time goes on. That's why it's extra important to let girls know they are just as valuable and capable as their male peers.
Here are some things we should teach our daughters — and all girls, for that matter — to do proudly and unapologetically.
1. Express Intelligence
Even at a young age, girls get taught to "dumb themselves down" so that they won't appear threatening, as well as so boys will like them. Instead, they should know that the people worth their time will view their intelligence as an asset.
2. Take Up Space
Girls are also taught to be small, physically and metaphorically, to avoid coming off intimidating. This can lead them to feel the need to constantly apologize, sit and stand in non-imposing ways, and even restrict their diets. Unfortunately, these are the same behaviors that lead people to take them less seriously as adults. We should teach girls to demand attention, whether it pleases people or not, because they deserve it.
3. Play With "Boys'" Toys (If They Want)
Just as boys should be able to play with dolls and stuffed animals, girls should be allowed to play with cars and sports equipment. By getting kids a variety of toys, we not only show them they can be who they want, but also give them the chance to exercise different parts of their minds and bodies. Toys don't need to be gendered to be worthwhile.
4. Wear "Boys'" Clothes (If They Want)
Another way to empower kids to express themselves is to let them wear whatever they want, whether that be dresses or sneakers or both.
5. Get Dirty
Part of the fun of being a kid is playing outside, which will inevitably lead to a little dirt. Telling girls this isn't "ladylike" to get dirty while playing, though, pressures them to be less active, adventurous, and self-confident. A number of studies have found that women who play sports attain more education and career success as adults, so we should definitely not be keeping them inside.
6. Be Friends With Boys
Some girls might be afraid that if they befriend boys, people will think they're dating. But friendship knows no gender, and segregating kids ends up furthering gender stereotypes and inequalities.
7. Love Themselves
People, especially women, often start off confident but learn to undermine themselves later out of fear that they're being arrogant. But as long as you don't think you're better than anyone else, there's nothing wrong with thinking highly of yourself.