Happy Father’s Day weekend!

Originally posted at www.carlsonsalon.blogspot.com

One of my favorite essays is Lisa Bloom’s “How to Talk to Little Girls.” In it, she describes the propensity for people to speak to little girls only about physical beauty (you’re so pretty! Isn’t that a cute dress?) at the expense of encouraging young girls’ intellectual development.

She describes the problem:

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

Women have made enormous progress over the last century. Yet, many women still do not perceive themselves as worthy enough to take the opportunities presented to them. This is a cultural problem that begins not only with how we talk to girls, but how we raise girls altogether.

When I think about this subject, I invariably reflect upon the way that I was brought up. I am blessed to have been raised with a healthy level of self-worth, and much of that is due to my father (who, incidentally, is my #1 blog reader).

In honor of Father’s Day, therefore, I want to reveal the AWESOME things my dad did to make me an independent, kick-ass-take-names-kind-of-woman:

1.) He encouraged me to do “boy stuff”

My dad and I never did the stereotypical things we associate with little girls. We played videogames. We played chess. And we played so many sports. And he never took easy it on me, just because I was a girl. We bought one of those pop-up basketball hoops and then proceeded to do daily drills so that I’d be the super-star MVP of the 3rd grade team. He painstakingly taught me the correct form in tennis, at a stage in my life when I was extremely uncoachable. And he ran me off the track during a very competitive go-kart race. Thought I forgot about that, Dad?  Don’t worry, I’ll get my revenge.

2.) …and develop my intellectual side

My dad also let me GEEK OUT as a kid. We regularly took 4-hour day-trips to Barnes and Noble (even though he is a self-professed “non-reader”). He listened attentively as I described the latest empire I was building in a computer game. We strategized over Splinter Cell. And when I decided to forgo sports in middle school for some decidedly uncool extracurriculars, he patiently accepted it (and attended all my forensics competitions!).

Whether sports or books or videogames, it never occurred to my dad that most girls are not encouraged to pursue the things that actually interest them if they conflict with accepted gender roles. To my dad, it did not matter how an activity was gendered, but whether or not it was cool. We did cool stuff. More girls need to do cool stuff.

3.) He taught me to make myself proud

In school, I was always an overachiever, a quality which became more pronounced as the grades progressed. My dad, however, never pressured me. Instead, he told me “I don’t care if you get a C or an A, all I care is that you do your best.” This has always stuck with me, and it drove me to intrinsically value my own achievement.

4.) …and respected me

My dad has always respected my ideas and talked to me like an equal. Even as a kid, we talked about world events and politics, and he sincerely asked my opinions on the issues. When I was 14, he urged me to write to Bill O’Reilly to express my outrage at the latest falsehood presented on his show. I was skeptical that my voice would be heard, but my dad was insistent that my opinion was valuable–regardless of age or gender.

5.) …and supported me

My dad always believed I could do anything I put my mind to–giving me the confidence to take steps even when the ground was shaky.

As I grew up, he also intuitively knew when I needed to chill out. As a diabetic kid, he broke me out of school-jail early to play in the arcade before doctor appointments. Understanding the pressure I put on myself in high school, he let me take “mental health” days. And when I spent too much time locked away with my books, he made me go to the movies with my friends.

6.) …and told me to be my self

If there was one lesson I heard ad nauseum growing up, it was this. Why do you care what other people think? Be yourself. Generally, this was heard after my dad had done something that left me feeling I would die of embarrassment (dancing in public, talking to teachers, etc.).

While not appreciative growing up, this is the best lesson I have ever learned. Because, provided you are not harming anyone else, you should live your life! Who cares if you’re different? Who cares if other people disagree with you?

For example, I spent my vacation reading a book about Xena: Warrior Princess and wearing this outfit.  But my dad was chill with it, cuz I was just doin’ me.

Unfortunately, too many girls today are taught to be quiet, pretty, accommodating, loving (at the expense of self-love), pleasant (at the expense of questioning), and docile. I want to live in a world where girls are encouraged to play, get dirty, kick ass, show off, and express themselves. I want a world where girls grow up to be strong, confident, active, beautiful, flawed, intelligent, complete human beings.

And it begins with how we raise young girls.

It may not have been my dad’s intention to raise an ardent, outspoken feminist. However, by treating me as a human being, and not “just a girl,” he pushed me to go beyond what society expected for me. And I couldn’t be happier about it.

So, thanks, Dad!!

And Happy Father’s Day to all parents out there!

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