On raising girls…

Today is #InternationalDayOfTheGirl. In the last few weeks, a lot of attention has been focused on sexual assault and sexual harassment. I saw the video from Plan International UK below in my feed. It shook me to the core… 

With everything happening and the spotlight shining on how women and girls need to protect themselves, I thought it would be a good time to look at how we parent our girls and how we need to adjust and fight for them in these times. Raising two daughters myself, I know the fear of sending my babies out into the world, a world that may not be safe. So what do we do?

What are we dealing with here? 

Sexual harassment and behaviors that fall under this category include:

  • inappropriate touching
  • invasion of privacy
  • sexual jokes
  • lewd or obscene comments or gestures
  • exposing body parts
  • showing graphic images
  • unwelcome sexual emails
  • text messages, or phone calls
  • sexual bribery
  • coercion and overt requests for sex
  • sexual favouritism
  • being offered a benefit for a sexual favour
  • being denied a promotion or pay rise because you didn’t cooperate 
  • sexual assault: being forced to perform oral sex on a man in a position of power, a man in power forcing himself on the woman either orally, vaginally, or anally, being drugged and rendered unconscious or incapable of defending oneself. 

What’s changed? 

Have things always been this bad and we’re just now seeing it? One year ago, allegations against Harvey Weinstein prompted a worldwide witnessing of sexual harassment and assault stories on social media, and the #MeToo movement sparked a cultural reckoning.

Bill Cosby is in jail. Accused men, from Les Moonves to Al Franken, have been ousted from their positions of power. Allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh have left an unprecedented number of Americans opposing his confirmation.

It’s not reported here as frequently. One reason for that is the libel laws in the UK. 

When someone sues, they don’t have to prove the story is wrong. The publisher – for example, the newspaper or website – has to prove their story is right. Whilst in the States, the onus of proof is the opposite. So let’s say a man is accused in a paper of sexual misconduct. If that man sues the newspaper, the paper has to PROVE that it happened. This means, before publishing, the media needs a water-tight case. To accuse someone of sexual misconduct, they would normally need proof (such as a recording) or a witness prepared to testify in court.

In the US, the burden is on the plaintiff – the person alleging that he or she has been defamed – to prove the statement is false. So – compared to the UK – the burden of proof is flipped. Americans are less likely to sue, so US media are more likely to break the story.

But it still happens here… a LOT more than you might think or expect… especially to young girls. 

And in the workplace according to the Guardian…

report conducted jointly by the TUC and Everyday Sexism found that 52% of women had experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, nearly a quarter had been touched without invitation, and a fifth had experienced a sexual advance. An earlier study by the law firm Slater and Gordon found that 60% of women had experienced inappropriate behaviour and nearly half of respondents had been warned to expect problematic behaviour from a particular person when they arrived.

What can we do?

Create an environment of empowerment.

  1. Make your home a sanctuary where girls and women can speak up.
  2. Focus on the value of her voice, not the outcome of using it.
  3. Encourage the men and boys in your life to value female voices.
  4. Teach your entire family about gender bias, and practice talking back to it together. 

This is also where we teach our daughters and sons about the power of being a girl. About all the advances and strengths women have. About the Nobel Peace Prize winners and how they’ve worked against sexual assault…

Two leaders of the struggle against sexual violence in war have won this year’s Nobel peace prize. Denis Mukwege, a doctor in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has spent decades caring for victims of sexual assault in his homeland. Yazidi activist Nadia Murad has used her own story of enslavement and rape by Islamic State to draw attention to human rights abuses.

And how women support women…

And about how even Jody Whittaker is Doctor Who and how cool it is that there is a female Doctor!

Girls’ voices are non-negotiable. When we create an environment that nurtures girls instead of being complicit in a  silencing culture, we get closer to the day when being “bossy” is no longer a bad word.

I love that we’re celebrating girls in the UK in a different way. 

I love that we’re teaching our girls to speak up. To raise girls who use their voices, who ask for what they need, and who say how they feel. It seems like it’s a confusing time to be a girl: yes, we may have opened doors for girls but we still expect them to creep through sweetly, and silently. If they don’t, we put labels on them.

Telling them to just ‘be quiet’ isn’t an option anymore, it’s not enough to “allow” them to have strong opinions. We have to teach them to express them… let’s talk about this on Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram!