Raising Strong Girls and Compassionate Boys

I like to consider myself a strong woman. But too often, I find myself saying something like "Oh, I can't do that" or apologizing for expressing my feelings and advocating for what I want.  These cultural norms are enforced over and over until they sneak into our minds and jump out when you least expect it.  We start assigning these roles to children before they are even born, so it takes a conscious effort to challenge and change them.  But where to begin? 

I spoke with Rikki, a mom who works to empower women everyday.  Having two young sons herself, she works hard on challenging stereotypes, assumptions, and established ideas around gender roles in her home as well as at work.  

Here's what she has to say about building strength, resolve, and self-confidence for your daughter and encouraging compassion, sensitivity, and humility for your son.  

Tell us a bit about your work to empower women. What inspired you to do this?

I have been very fortunate to have wonderful mentors in my life who have encouraged me, and helped me to understand that advocating for myself, especially as a woman in a field that is typically male dominated, is very important. I have tried to do that same thing for other young women, in negotiating salaries, navigating challenging transitions, and exploring new careers.

Women are much better at advocating or negotiating for others than they are for themselves, so I encourage them to think about these decisions as if they were doing it for another person and that helps them to understand their own value and self worth.  

Rikki's family at the DC Women's March.

Rikki's family at the DC Women's March.

What are some common hurdles you see in women's attitudes, mannerisms, and behaviors?

I try to be careful not to stereotype, or assume that all women have the same challenges or hurdles to overcome. That said, there are patterns that I see, such as women doubting their own capabilities and underestimating their value to an organization, or team. Women tend to look at a list of job requirements and say, of these 10, I can do 6 well, so I probably shouldn't try for this job, whereas men look at that and say 6, out of 10 - I have got this!

I also think that women are afraid to come across too strong, so they will hold back on what they ask for, or frame it in a way that makes it seem like a question, not something that is required, or recommended.   

What do you think we should be telling our young girls (and boys) to help break these patterns?

I am thrilled to see the work that organizations such as A Mighty Girl are doing to bring exploration and STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) to girls.

Girls are just as smart, passionate, headstrong, and innovative as boys are, but if they are told over and over that they are pretty princesses, and not scientists, and artists, and athletes, they don't see themselves that way.

There has been a lot of work done to change this conversation, but more can be done to help give young girls a voice and the confidence to use it, and to teach boys that girls are just as strong, smart, and capable as they are.  

Rikki's two sons, age 2 and 6 near their home in Washington DC

Rikki's two sons, age 2 and 6 near their home in Washington DC

How are you challenging these cultural beliefs with your two sons? 

As one of two sisters, we were taught from a very young age, that anything a boy could do, we could do better. This helped me to believe in myself and try new things (and sometimes fail) but failing further developed my confidence.

We are trying to teach our boys that through hard work and practice they too can achieve their goals, but that they are not any better or more deserving than anyone else. I want them to know that girls can be strong, and smart, and hardworking and successful too.

My boys and I have many discussions about what girls and boys are like, what they can do, and who they can be, and we try to challenge them to think beyond gender stereotypes. 

You can learn more about Rikki's work on her Linked In page, or email her here.

Leanne Leanne Gray, M.Ed is the owner of The Prepared Environment, which supports families in creating an ideal environment for their children at home. She has over fifteen years experience working with children in both public, private, and Montessori schools, and is AMI primary trained. She particularly loves to hear from you!  You can always contact her for personalized support and answers to your questions.