How To Teach Your Daughter Her Voice Matters

by Dina Leygerman

Prior to having my daughter, I honestly I didn't pay too much attention to how women were treated in our society. A few reasons were at play: my naïveté and age, family structure, complacency, normalization of gender roles, lack of strong female role models, and probably my focus on other things like boys and education. Now that I'm a mother to a girl, though, and now that I realize women are often literally and figuratively hushed whenever they try to speak up and out, I seek out ways to teach my daughter that her voice matters. My obligation and responsibility to my daughter is to not only teach her to be a good human being, but to also make sure she knows women are just as strong and just as powerful and just as capable and just as worthwhile, as men.

Anyone who believes women are treated equal to men in our society is either unfortunately misguided or has led a very privileged life. While many women may believe they are equal, probably because they have never felt otherwise, they fail to acknowledge other women who haven't had or experienced the same opportunities for equality. The idea that everyone has the same opportunities in our society is, at best, faulty. For example, just recently and during an intelligence hearing, Senator Kamala Harris (a woman of color) was nearly silenced during her line of questioning by a fellow Senator for not "being courteous enough." While her mannerism and decorum were on par with those of her male counterparts, she was the only one who was cutoff mid-sentence. That kind of blatant misogyny is not only prevalent, but is actually accepted by our society as "normal."

I will never stand silent or accept such blatant disregard for women's voices and opinions. No matter what you want to believe, I think we can all agree we want to raise strong women; women who know they are in charge of their ideas, of their bodies, and of their own unique and personal decisions. While we are fighting an uphill battle in our patriarchal society, the fight must not and cannot stop until our daughters are truly equal in every sense of the word. Here are just a few ways you can contribute to that fight:

Stand Up For Yourself Around Your Daughter

We parent by modeling behaviors, so if I'm ever in a situation where I am being mistreated, I'm standing up for myself loudly and proudly. Few things are more disheartening and heartbreaking for a young girl than watching her mother be mistreated. To the best of our ability, we must make sure our daughters do not witness their mothers be told to be quiet or be told to step down. We should casually retell anecdotes about times when we felt wronged and how we reacted and resolved the situation. We should lead by example and stand our ground.

Do Not Allow "Mansplaining"

In case you are not familiar with the concept of mansplaining, I'll explain. "Mansplaining" is a relatively new term describing the act of a man explaining a concept to a woman in a condescending and patronizing way. For example, recently a random man on the internet mansplained to me that "feminism is the root cause of broken marriages and failed relationships." Thanks dude, that makes so much sense. How could my tiny female brain comprehend such "flawless" logic without such a thorough mansplanation.

While the term is, of course, controversial (because, you know, men are just "trying to help"), it's a perfectly accurate way to describe a man telling a woman how she should feel or act, especially when she already has earned knowledge of the subject said man apparently knows more about because, you know, he's a man. Therefore, we should refuse to allow any boy or man to tell our daughters how she should behave or how she should think. Personally, I will not stand for it, and will make sure my daughter doesn't either.

Stand Up For Others

Standing up for others automatically gives one a voice. When we use our voice to help others, our voice becomes louder and significantly more influential. Teaching our daughters to defend those who may not be able to defend themselves, or to stand up in times of injustice, will influence them in a monumental way. Once they learn to stand up for others, they will also learn that their voice holds power.

Get Involved

Getting involved in the community and in our world is a major step towards developing a healthy view of oneself. Volunteering and exposing oneself to the way others live encourage personal growth and foster confidence. Since believing in the power of your voice and self-esteem are often conjoined, we should foster a love for helping others. We can also include our daughters in political movements, marches for human rights, and everyday issues.

Promote Passion & Knowledge

By encouraging our daughters to be passionate about issues or hobbies, we cultivate interest in ideas and concepts beyond their regular scope. When we are fervent for knowledge, our voices aren't just heard but have meaning. It's easy to scream out nonsense and think what you have to say matters, but in truth, unless your words are ingrained in fact and credibility, they lack meaning and impact. We should encourage our daughters to learn and constantly improve upon whatever interests them. This will build confidence, which, in return, will empower their voices.

Teach Her About Strong Women In History & The History Of Women's Rights

Let's be honest, most of our history classes gloss over powerful women and their contributions to our society. We are briefly taught about Rosa Parks, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Queen Victoria, but many of us can probably count on one hand how much we know about these women. According to the way our history is taught, men are responsible for everything, both good and bad.

Teach your daughters about the struggles women faced before and after they were allowed to vote. Discuss the importance of fighting for your rights. Talk about the suffragettes, the fight for the right to vote, for the right to work, and for the right to have control over our own bodies. Tell your daughter everything, the good and the bad, and make sure she knows how far women have come, so she doesn't take anything for granted.

Encourage Her Own Opinions & Choices

When our kids are born, we start making choices for them. It's our responsibility as parents to nurture, protect, and nourish our kids. Once they are old enough to form and express their opinions and preferences, though, we must step back and allow them to develop in their own way. The first time my daughter told me she didn't like the shirt I bought for her, I'll admit I was a little disappointed. Then I started taking her shopping with me so she can pick out her own clothes. Yes, while I carefully guide her towards choices that aren't completely horrendous, I also encourage her to develop her own sense of fashion and style. Without much of my help, she does well on her own. Sure, sometimes she wants to wear shorts in the dead of winter and I must put my foot down, but 99 percent of the time she dresses as she pleases.

Besides being in charge of their fashion choices, we could encourage our daughters to form their own opinions on everything else. Try answering their questions with, "Well, what do you think?" We shouldn't tell our daughters what to think, but instead teach them how to think. Fostering critical thinking gives our daughters the courage to form strong beliefs and opinions and makes it easier for them to be confident in their choices.

Teach Her About Consent

Whether we like it or not, we must teach our young daughters only they are in charge of their bodies, because as "obvious" as that may seem, we all know that isn't the case. So, I make sure to ask for physical affection. I ask for hugs and kisses and if I can lie down in bed with her. I once pinched her butt because it is so damn cute and she got annoyed with me. I apologized and said I would never behave in such a way again and without her permission. She smiled and thanked me.

It's also important to teach our daughters that at any time, a "yes" can turn into a "no." For example, when my daughter is playing with her brother and is tickling him, he eventually no longer wants to be tickled. I make sure to remind her that it's completely fine for someone to change his or her mind in the middle of doing something he or she was into just a few minutes ago. These simple, benign, everyday lessons are what teach our daughters that consent is important.

Teach Her The Power Of Strong Rhetoric

Consider teaching your daughters the art of rhetoric. Rhetorical devices and knowing your audience, purpose, and subject matter are imperative to form cohesive arguments and prose. Teach your daughters how to appeal to people's emotions, logic, and how to prove her credibility as an individual. The greatest speakers of our time, and of past generations, are all well-versed in rhetoric, which is why their words remain in our lives indefinitely. In order for your daughter to not only have a voice, but to also have a voice that is influential, she should be able to express herself with poise and strength.

Encourage Participation In Discussions & Pay Attention

Every night we have family dinner, and every night we have conversations about our day, the news, and whatever else is on our minds. We make sure to involve our daughter and encourage her to offer her opinion and insight. She really enjoys being part of the conversation and that allows her to feel like her opinions matter. So we should always stimulate family discussions and we should also pay attention to what our daughters are saying. Everyday conversations are full of miniature teaching moments we can use to show our daughters their voices matter.

Challenge Her & Question Her

Present scenarios and anecdotes and ask your daughter how she would handle each situation you conjure up. Challenge her answers and encourage her to think through other ways to approach the given circumstance. Come up with solutions together and decide when it is appropriate for a girl to speak up for someone or something. (Hint: always.) Furthermore, remind her that there are numerous ways to be heard.

Make Sure She Feels Heard

Put down your cell phone, log off Facebook and Twitter, stop scrolling through Instagram, and actually listen to what your daughter has to say. We have so much competing for our attention that we often forget that our priorities lie with our children. So, when your daughter is speaking to or around you, stop doing whatever it is you are doing and listen.

Expose Her To Today's Powerful Women

In today's world, little girls have so many amazing female role models to choose from, but unfortunately, social media, mainstream media, and pop culture focus on just select few. Our culture doesn't focus on women like Melinda Gates, Taraji P. Henson, Jedidah Isler, Arianna Huffington, Sheryl Sandberg, Chelsea Clinton, Toni Morrison, Ava Duvernay, Sheila Ochugboju Kaka, Ellen Page, Elizabeth Warren, and so on.

So it becomes our job to teach our daughters about incredible women who make a difference on a daily basis. Women who face challenges to be heard, women who are hushed and silenced, and women who are breaking through glass ceilings are the women our daughters should know about. And since our society refuses to put these women into the mainstream limelight they deserve, we should do it at home.

Believe In Her & Cultivate Her Confidence

Most importantly, believe in your daughter and make sure she believes in herself. I can't sit here and tell you it's easy to do any of what I've already suggested, because none of this is easy. Like I said, we are fighting in a society that disregards women, and building confidence in our kids is probably one of the most difficult things we can accomplish as parents. We can tell our daughters their voice matters, but words are often lost in the wind and easily dismissed. We can tell our daughters they are strong and powerful, but unless they understand those concepts, our words mean nothing.

So what we can do is live by example. We can show them our voice matters and that we believe in ourselves. We can be opinionated and vocal and empower our daughters with our actions and not just with our words. We can involve them in STEM programs, in martial arts, in team sports, and in male dominated activities. We can build their confidence by being on their side, by listening to them, and by creating opportunities for them to use their voice. None of this is easy, but all of it is worth it.