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Happy International Women’s Day!

Today’s blog post is special because it is connected with over two-hundred other bloggers all blogging about women and girls through Gender Across Borders Third Annual Blog for International Women’s Day. Check out their website for other blogs and for a live blog on “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures.”

The question I am addressing:

How can we as a culture and members of the global community involve, educate, and inspire girls in a positive way?

This is a huge question. I give 12 ways to work toward involving, educating, and inspiring girls, but first, in order to seriously make change for girls, there are two things we must do:

1. We must see the system set up around girls and around women and that it oppresses us. We have to continuously deconstruct the programming of the world. What I mean when I say that is that the world is set up in a way that pushes women down and this begins very early, with girls, even baby girls.

We can point to infanticide that goes on in China and India or to female genital mutilation that happens to girls in Africa, but we can also see the oppression of girls happen in the United States with extremely high statistics of child abuse against girls. It is also visible in the toys and clothes available for children. Pink, which we have been programmed to see as sweet, yummy, silly, cute, and playful are the colors of toys and clothes meant for girls. Boys trucks and trains are not pink. They are blue, red, green, yellow; assertive colors. They even make pink trains for girls. Why can’t girls have blue trains? Because we are teaching them gender roles from the moment they pop out of the womb. Girls play with dolls and houses. Girls wear pink. Boys do play with more active toys like cars and trains. Boys wear blue. On top of the gender roles we are teaching them, just by our society’s association with color, that girls are cute and boys are assertive. Some pinks are so light they can barely be seen. It’s a metaphor.

2. Second we must examine ourselves. I have outlined twelve ways to support girls in being strong and in loving themselves. All of them involve communication. In order to communicate with girls, we must know what we feel, think, and believe. As you read my twelve points for supporting girls, consider whether you are prepared to talk about these issues with girls in a positive way and that won’t make girls feel they must take care of you (especially around experiences of sexual abuse or violence) or that they end up feeling bad about all the girl/woman hating in the world today. This is about empowering girls, but women who do that most effectively will be empowered themselves.

This list is not a checklist. It is a list of points to be continually addressed throughout girls lives. You don’t ever complete any of them, though all of them need to be addressed.

We of course must ask the following questions:

-What age are the girls?
-To what degree do we know them? Are they family, friends, girls we work with in a school, through a non-profit? Who are the girls parents?
-What opportunities are there for the girls to speak up, make decisions, engage in leadership roles?

These are questions we must ask ourselves to apply this list to more specific groups or individual girls we know. The list is 12 guidelines for the global community of what we must address and there is no particular order in which they should be addressed, except for the first one. The first one is to be addressed first and to be addressed continuously, over and over again, never to be dropped. It is the most important, the one that all others are hinged upon.

12 Ways to Inspire, Educate and Involve Girls

1. At every opportunity we must teach girls their worth. We must emphasize the qualities of girls that stand out; qualities not associate with their looks. This is the worth of each individual girl and also that girls in general are valuable and great. Encourage any opportunities for leadership and to allow girls to take action on the ideas they have will help foster this self- worth building.

2. Teach girls that they have a voice and that they can use it. We have to explain how sometimes others will want to silence us, but that though there may be consequences for what we say, no one can silence us. This is important for speaking out about injustice, abuse, and for saying what you want, even if it’s to ask for a particular ice cream flavor, or to say you want the blue train rather than the pink one.

3. We must teach girls about other women who have made strides for women and in the world in general. We must teach them about the women of the present and the past who have fought and continue to fight for women. These examples of women must include women of different cultures, races, nationalities, levels of education, religions, abilities, sexual orientations, and socio-economic class. All of these differences must be up for discussion and can be addressed as frameworks of culture and identity with questions about how they can help women succeed and also hold them back

4. There must be discussion about pop culture. There is no way to keep pop culture away completely, so to acknowledge it’s there and talk about it is super important. Talk about how girls and women are seen in the media, even in cartoons. How are the girls portrayed in cartoons? Are they tattle tales? Are they tag alongs? Are they main characters? If so, what do they do? Talk about the good as well as the more disturbing things out there. What about other television programs and commercials and even the news? What are the songs on the radio singing about? What do girls see and hear and how can we frame it to break down some of the harmful girl hating messages that the media puts out there? Discuss how movie stars dress, everyone else does. Talk about how what women do and how we think and how we feel is more important than what we wear. Girls and women can like clothes and fashion, but it’s a two dimensional view of women and girls to only look at the clothes they wear. Who are they beyond that? Talk about how the media still addresses how some of the worlds most awesome women dress, even if they are doing amazing other things that have no connection with their outfit.

5. Talk about what is sexy and about sex. Talk about self-respect. Explore girls cultural expectations around sex, being sexy and dress. Talk about presentation of self. How do you present to the world. What is important to girls about their looks and how do they want to be seen? Talk about how the media makes it seem like women should show off their bodies and this is how to be sexy and how they are encouraged to have sex but also says girls are sluts when they do have sex. Discuss slut shaming and how it can make girls feel bad about themselves and make them be quiet. Explore ways girls make decisions for their bodies around sex and ways sex is pushed on girls. Talk about sexting and expectations of girls to participate in sexting and posting naked pictures of themselves on the internet. And of course, talk about internet safety for girls. What have girls seen their friends do? What do other kids talk about?

6. Teach girls that girls are fun to be friends with. Help them address day-to-day problems with communication and ways to encourage other girls to get along. Talk to them about how oftentimes people say that girls can’t get along and don’t work well together. Help them understand this is not true and give them examples of women working well together. Explore what messages girls culture gives about how they should relate to other girls. Encourage girls to work with other girls on projects and to be friends with other girls and to stick up for girls. Encourage girls to be friends with girls who are different than them and talk about those differences with them. What do they think about those differences? How do they enhance the friendship or affect it? If girls are speaking badly of other girls, calling them sluts or other derogatory names, talk with girls about how that hurts all girls and women and help them figure out ways to not participate and to have the strength to encourage other girls from girl-hating.

7. Teach girls to believe other girls. Most girls don’t lie. How can girls trust other girls and if they are concerned a girl is lying, can they talk to an adult they trust to figure it out? Encourage unity among girls and help girls understand all women and girls are stronger when we are united. We need to be able to know we can trust other girls to help us in difficult moments. It happens often that one girl won’t believe another girl when they have been raped if the perpetrator is someone both girls know. Encourage girls to believe and support other girls and also to reach out and stick up for girls when they know someone might hurt another girl.

8. Get girls involved in groups for girls, like the Girl Scouts, sports groups, or school groups where they can be leaders and work with other girls. In what ways does a girl’s culture encourage or discourage girls to work together?

9. Talk with girls about social justice, equality, and respect. Explore issues of oppression of all kinds, including around gender, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, different abilities, body types, culture, nationality, and language. What are girls seeing and hearing in their environments? Discuss stereotypes and how they are hurtful. Explore ways girls can work for equality. Do they have ideas about social justice for the worlds in which they live?

10. Talk about language. Talk about words they have used to refer to women. Cats- catfights, catty. Dogs- bitches. Cows- overweight. What words and phrases have girls heard to describe girls and women? Talk about the “bad” words. Do they have questions about any of the bad words or their meanings? If they don’t have questions, what words do they hear and what do they think they mean? How are they used?

11. Talk about body image. This includes: body size, healthy eating, weight issues, fat shaming. Discuss what society says women should look like and how are bodies are real not airbrushed. Help them to understand that bodies depicted in magazines are telling us all that those are perfect bodies and everyone should want to look like that, but that’s not reality and not even healthy for women. Look through magazines, cut them up, examine the messages we all get through images of women. What do those magazines say about how women should be? Explore when do girls feel good in their bodies, about their bodies. What parts of their bodies do they secretly hate and how can they change that? Help them understand the culture encourages them to hate their bodies and we have to fight that to feel the best about ourselves that we can.

12. Talk about violence. Help girls understand that because women and girls are sometimes not seen as powerful as they are, there is a lot of violence against them. Sexual violence, physical violence, violence with words and psychological violence. Explain each of them to girls. Help them understand that if any of these happen to them, they should tell someone who will listen. Explain to them that anyone hurting them is not their fault, but the perpetrator may try to make them believe it is. Talk about consenting to sex and age differences between people. Discuss rape and sexual abuse and talking to someone trustworthy who can make it stop if it is happening.

We have all been taught to talk AT kids. This is about communicating with them. Listen to them. Ask them questions. What questions do they have for you? For the world? Is there someone famous they would ask a question about life if they could? What would they ask? Give them equal play in the conversations. They know what their worlds are like, what they like, and what they think and feel for themselves. Model for them what it is to be respectful and inclusive of others.

Talk to girls frankly but don’t talk down to them. Check in with them to make sure they understand. Sometimes girls will nod their heads like they get it, when really they don’t. So, see what they think about what you’re talking about. This isn’t a comprehension test, it’s a conversation. Despite what you’ve heard, know that girls are smart. Treat them that way. Also know that while they are smart, they are young and don’t know “everything” yet. Make sure they get what you’re talking about.

What other ideas do you have? How can we reach girls and support them to be as strong as they can?

Girls are awesome! And they turn into awesome women. Believe in them.

Happy International Women’s- Girls’ Day!

Come back tomorrow for the National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day blog through Rock The Red Pump. Every 9.5 minutes, someone in the US will be infected with HIV.

In Solidarity, Liza Wolff-Francis