Sugar, Spice and Everything Nice
Everywhere I turn, I’m hearing that 2018 is the year of the woman. Last year’s high profile sexual harassment and abuse allegations is an unshakeable reminder that we live in a sexist society that still sees women as “less than”. I don’t question why this is so, I’m challenged by how we can collectively turn that tide.
I recently heard a woman commentator question why it took the women so long to come forward with their stories of abuse. The other women responded that women are taught to not rock the boat and be nice. Immediately the nursery rhyme that “girls are made of sugar, spice, and everything nice” came to mind. Girls, from a very young age, are socialized to be sweet and quiet. This results in a silencing, censoring of ourselves.
I always felt the expectation to be nice and agreeable. I would hear people say things like, “girls don’t say that” or “girls don’t act that way”. I got it from all sides-from American values as well as from my Latinx cultural values. There was a pretty clear line between what was acceptable and expected from boys as compared to girls. We had to be sugar, spice and everything nice.
I’m writing a series of children’s chapter books with a strong, determined Latina as the protagonist. I began writing the books because I want to add new voices, girl-led voices, to the literary narratives created for girls. Too often I see the ways in which stories of princesses and ‘nice girls’ dominate what kids read and how they behave. It’s a narrow viewpoint that doesn’t allow girls to take more risks, play hard, and speak up. It’s time for our girls to speak up.
I’m glad we are having this long overdue conversation about women and girls. But talk is not enough. As a parent that is raising two feminist sons, I know our actions have immense power. Here are a few ways I approach raising confident, feminist children:
Encourage them to listen to their intuition, to speak up when something doesn’t feel right, and to stand up for their beliefs. I tell my kids that their voice is power.
Engage in deep, meaningful, age-relevant conversations. My kids have always been a part of dialogues on current events and important issues. They have been given the liberty to ask questions, disagree, and build their own ideology. I don’t shy away from talking to them about sexism, racism, homophobia. We often learn together through discussion.
Challenge our cultural cues. I provided my kids with a wide variety of books, toys, and tools to expand the way they see themselves and each other. When my son wanted dolls, he got them. When he wanted to paint his fingernails, I did it. I introduced them to a lot of diverse books. I made sure his pediatricians were women, so he would grow up using she/her pronouns when he thought of doctors (most of us are used to he/him). Small things like that challenged how he saw the world.
Have all kinds of friendships. My children are lucky to be raised in a diverse community. From very little, it was great to have them be friends with girls.
Share all the housework. I grew up where the boys took out the trash and the girls washed dishes and ironed. My son’s wash dishes and do their laundry. There are no “girls” and “boys” chores.
I also really love Caroline Paul’s Ted Talk on raising brave girls.
What are your approaches?