Thursday, 3 October 2013

a girl

Letter to my daughters

To my darling daughters, it is funny how you are both so different, and yet both beautiful, and smart and funny.  I am really glad that the two of you are in my life.

I know you drive each other to distraction sometimes, but I also see the love you have for each other.  Our siblings will end up being in our lives for longer than our parents, or anyone else, so it's great that you've got such a good relationship already.

We are lucky enough to live in a country where our lives aren't at risk, and where we can have a really good quality of life.  I refuse to decry the Western World.  It has its problems but we can overcome them.

Maya Angelou, a wise black American woman writer, wrote a book called 'Letter to my Daughter'.  She's a great writer, and you should read her stuff when you get better at reading.  In that book she says:
"You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud. Do not complain. Make every effort to change things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution.
"Never whine. Whining lets a brute know that a victim is in the neighborhood."
She is right.  We should not whine, and we should not complain unless we are willing to do something about it.  

Our society is emerging from a very sexist phase, and there's a bit of a backlash going on.  There's a lot of things that are accepted as normal, which do not have to be.  There are a lot of things that suggest that girls are somehow lesser than boys, and women are somehow lesser than men.  It is always worth calling these out, because if we leave them unchallenged, then the people doing it think it's OK, and, what's more, people like us, who are affected by it, will think it's OK too.  Will think it's normal.

I imagine that there will still be plenty of sexism to go 'round when you are grown ups, because the more we challenge, the more we notice, so I hope you will call it when you see it, and help make the world better.  By the way, this goes for other things too, like homophobia, racism, and prejudices of all kinds.

I'm not saying that you will make friends by speaking the truth, although you might.  Indeed people might be scared, and avoid you.  Maya Angelou had this to say on that topic (again from her Letter to my Daughter)
"But think of it this way, if people avoid you, you will have more time to meditate and do fine research on a cure for whatever truly afflicts you."
Bringing things out into the light is a good way to start people thinking, but always be ready to put your thinking caps on and work out how we could do things better.  I always find it's easiest to do that with other people.  Talking of bringing things into the light, here are some examples of ideas we should be challenging.

1. Girls should be pretty

Lots of girls are pretty, but that is not their function in life.  Girls do not need to dress in any particular way.  They do not need to wear dresses, although they can, but it's absolutely fine to wear jeans and a T-shirt or a ballgown if that's what rocks your boat.

As you get older, more and more people will give you their opinion of how you look.  It is none of their business.  There's a rather marvellous video on You Tube here of a young person talking about this (but you'd better not watch it yet because it's very rude).  This is what they have to say about people's opinions on what you look like:
You think I'm ugly?.. What am I, your wallpaper?.. I don't remember signing up for that!
Lots of music video's, adverts, and all sorts of things make it look like women and girls are just there to be looked at.  That is ridiculous.  It ignores the fact that men and boys can look very good too, and it ignores the fact that women are people.

For now I will not be buying you sexy Halloween costumes, high heeled shoes (which are bad for everybody's feet, but especially for yours, which are growing), or lots of toys which suggest that you are only fit for looking pretty.

Until Lelli Kelly stop saying that young girls should be wearing makeup, and come up with a more appropriate toy/gift, I won't be buying their shoes.  Sorry.

On the plus side, you are never short of stuff to play with because you've got great imaginations.

2. Girls and boys should play with different toys

As you know, this is not true, even if the toy shops are laid out as if it is.  It is still galling though when you get a great toy and it says on it that it's for boys.  It makes you think you shouldn't play with it.  There's a great organisation called Pink Stinks, which is working hard to challenge the pinkification of toys - toys are for kids.  Not just for boys, and indeed, not just for girls.

When you get older, there's more fun and games.  Some subjects at school are seen as being boys subjects.  The worst thing about this is that they're some of the most interesting subjects you can do, and they'll help you get well paid work.  Apart from peeing up walls, there is no subject that is a boys subject.  You can do Art, you can do History, you can do Maths, you can do Physics.  You can even do Sports Science.  What you need, for all those subjects is an enquiring mind.  Go for it.

Older still and you've got the challenge of some jobs being for women, and some for men.  I have one of you say that you might be a nurse, because women are nurses and men are doctors.  This idea has been around for a while, but I don't know why it still is.  Doctors are increasingly women.  There are also plenty of male nurses.  Your Great Grandad was one.  Personally I would rather you were a doctor, because it's more intellectually stimulating, and the pay is better, but if you want to be a nurse, you go for it.

3. You should get a proper job
Me at work with you.  I love this job.

There used to be an idea that it was a waste of time to educate girls, because when they grew up they would just look after the people in their family, and not put their education to use.

Now that people are willing to educate girls, that worry still nags, and there is a lot of pressure put on women to put their education to use, and work outside of the home, for money.

I believe that we all spend our lives learning, because we are all curious.  I think it's best to get a really good education, not for what you've filled your head with (although that's likely to come in handy), but so you know lots of good ways to learn.

Whatever you do you will be learning, so direct some of that energy somewhere useful.  This might be a job, but it might not.  You might get paid, but you might not (although, that said, you'll need to get money somehow).

It is patriarchal thinking which sets paid outside work over unpaid work at home.  Thinking, which we need to challenge.  Neither is intrinisically better.  I hope you will find someone to share your life with, with whom you can balance how you manage home and getting paid.

I'm sure that there are lots of other things I could say, but I think you'll figure it out.  I love you girls, and I hope I'll be there for you long after you don't feel you need me.

Lots of love


Posts in this series

This post is from a series inspired by Fat Mum Slim's post on 50 things to blog about.  You can find the rest of them here.