By Christina Katz
March 8 was International Women's Day, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. In recent years, it's become clear that the advancement of women's rights can recede if we are not persistent, insistent, and assertive in championing them. One of the ways we remain a country of empowered women is by passing on what we have learned from experience to our girls. So why not take the opportunity to have some important and inspiring conversations with your daughters? Here are some talking points to get your started.
1. Expect equality. Equality is not only for women and girls; it's for every member of a healthy society. So talk to your daughter about parity and fairness. Ask her if she has gotten the impression that opportunities that should be available to her are not. Ask if she thinks the same opportunities that are available to her are accessible to others. Challenge her to think.
2. Treasure your body. Talk to your daughter about her body. Does she love it? Does she hate it? Does she wish it were different? How are you modeling self-love and self-care for your body? Work together to create more body awareness and acceptance in your family.
3. Be period positive. Ask your daughter how she feels about being female. Does she need help managing her menstrual cycles and moods? Talk to her about what has been helpful for you. If there are consistent challenges or discomforts, seek assistance through traditional or alternative medicines until they are resolved.
4. Live your values. One of our most important roles as parents is helping our children think for themselves. Talk to your daughters about their values as they grow. Really listen and ask thoughtful questions to help them understand how they think. Respect their beliefs and choices.
5. Speak up and be heard. If you are always speaking on your child's behalf, she is not going to learn to speak up for herself. So, next time she needs to straighten something out with a friend, teacher, or coach, why not talk to her about it and then let her do it herself? Ask how she did afterwards and offer support.
6. Dress to express, not seduce. Girls may seek to express themselves and their burgeoning sexuality through their clothing, but that doesn't mean that they have to flash their assets all the time as if they were up for auction. Explain to your daughter that she will be more likely to draw quality attention if she can keep her assets off continual display. Teach her to walk tall and proud as someone who knows she is worth more than her physical appearance.
7. Never miss a chance to vote. In 1920, the 19th Amendment granted women in the US the right to vote. Talk to your daughter about knowing and voting her own conscience. Let her catch you debating choices and selecting wisely. If she can witness the political process at home, she will be more comfortable asking questions to prepare for her future responsibility.
8. Stay alert and safe. Maybe you have never had a teacher make racy remarks about your figure or had an employer put his hands on you, but it happens. Rules and laws don't keep your daughters safe; healthy boundaries and assertiveness do. Make sure she understands her body belongs to her, and talk to her about how to steer clear of danger. Have a "safe" word that only you and she know, so she can communicate with you in public settings if she feels uncomfortable. If your daughter struggles with assertiveness, consider martial arts or assertiveness training so she will become a role model rather than the next victim. [North Coast Aikikai in Mentor offers self-defense classes for females of all ages. Call them at 440-622-6485.]
9. Support sisterhood. "Never disrespect a sister" is a good policy. In any situation where a girl is being picked on, singled out, or mistreated, prep your daughter to stick up for the other girl, rather than ignore the situation. Social instincts may discourage her from speaking out, but teach her to be brave and do it anyway.
10. Trust yourself. You may not always agree with her desire for green hair, a triple-pierced earlobe, or raucous music. But if you assume she's always making a mistake, then you are setting her up to second guess herself for the rest of her life.
My daughter recently insisted on wearing Converse® Chuck Taylor shoes with a maxi skirt for a choir performance. I suggested boots. She said they wouldn't look good. I said, try them and see. Once I saw them, I said, "You are right. Your idea looks better." Teaching her to trust herself means accepting you are not always going to be right. But as long as the doors to communication stay open, your mother-daughter relationship will always be in great shape.
Author, journalist, and writing coach Christina Katz is not a perfect mother. But she has accepted the mission to talk to her daughter about tricky topics before her girl turns 18 — no matter how uncomfortable it is to broach any subject.