Thursday Thoughts: Teaching our Girls to be Gutsy

girls on beach

Earlier this week, my mom forwarded me this opinion article from the NY times, ‘Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute To Be Scared?’. The author, Caroline Paul, is a San Francisco firefighter, and she writes about how we condition our girls to be scared, while boys are encouraged to be brave and resilient. It’s a topic I haven’t stopped thinking about since.

Reading through the article, I must admit that I felt a sense of affirmation of my relaxed parenting style. Like my own mother, I have adopted a rather hands-off approach when it comes to my children’s adventuring and playing, within reason, of course. In general, I’m more likely to encourage my girls and boys to be adventurous than to caution them to be careful. I have always felt that you have to let kids explore independently and find their own limits so that they can learn for themselves when to exercise caution. Michael, however, is much more safety-conscious so perhaps that allows me to be the more relaxed parent. It’s funny how our role in parenting is influenced by our partner, and sometimes we have to adjust our parenting strategies to ensure you’re a balance team. (This is perhaps an interesting discussion for another time…!)

Anyway, what I find especially interesting about Caroline’s article is the fact that we, as parents, are often guilty of parenting our children differently based on their gender, and that these differences have a direct effect on how boys and girls view themselves and their capabilities as they grow older. For example, we are much more likely to compliment little girls on their appearance than boys — a topic covered in this article on ‘how to talk to little girls’. In most cases, I think we do these things without even being aware of it. We have been brought up with the same biases.

Caroline’s article is another reminder not to put our children into gender boxes — we should encourage both girls AND boys to be emotionally sensitive (see this previous post), we should encourage both boys AND girls to be brave, and we should stop praising girls for what they look like and should instead celebrate their interests, skills, hobbies, etc.

This parenting job is not easy, right?!  Please share your thoughts.

Courtney x


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Comments (24)

Ellie Marquette
February 25, 2016

Such an interesting topic – thank you for sharing Courtney! May I ask where Ivy’s cover-up is from? Many thanks and enjoy your travels! E x


Ellie Marquette
February 25, 2016

sorry – Marlow’s cover-up x


Sophie
February 25, 2016

speaking of not focusing too much on girls’ look and clothing 🙂


Yahnay
February 25, 2016

As a mother of two girls I notice it all the time. I have read a similar article and totally agree, but I still find myself commenting on how cute a little girls dress looks etc. I think its just out of habit (a bad habit I know). It just goes to show how conditioned we can be. My girls have also started saying ‘careful’ lots more in their conversations lately, so again I must over use the word. It is funny how even though I agree with a more relaxed gender neutral parenting style, I have to be conscious to parent that way.


Anna
February 25, 2016

I’ve just finished reading this book which I found enotmously helpful in raising daughters (my first is due in 10 weeks!) http://www.amazon.com/The-Princess-Problem-Guiding-Princess-Obsessed/dp/1402294034


Nina
February 25, 2016

I’m happy I had a childhood as adventurous and wild as can be. Though I was shy and was told to speak up so that I could be understood ALL THE TIME – but I was rambunctious anyways. Top of the trees, fullspeed roller skating downhill and and and… And though I managed to fracture my arms 6 times my parents had been super cool about it and simply held me in the waiting room at the hospital… Now I am constantly being told I am the perfect “boys mama” which makes me wonder every time I hear that! My reply is always the same – I wouldn’t do it any other way if the boys were girls! Thanks for topics like this!! X


SHOW ALL COMMENTS
February 25, 2016

People always compliment me that my two year old is quite resilient i.e if she falls over we barely get any crying and she will pick herself up in the most part. However although people say this is because I don’t fuss I also think this is in her nature.

She brought in her toy snake to ballet class the other day and the teacher acted so scared and girly – Annie was confused and I had to explain that some people didn’t like snakes but actually it was okay to like them. (He uncle has a pet snake and i think that’s why she isn’t scared!) Its hard not to let other people’s neuroses rub off on your child! x


Dina
February 25, 2016

I was raised by a single working parent, My mother wasn’t even there to tell me to be careful – and I loved it. That influences my parenting. At age 8 and 9 my girls go to the park on their own (in a 12 million city), I occasionally send them shopping and they go to school on their own. They are the only ones in their entire school who are allowed to do these things… We have to be brave in order to make our children feel confident, able and trustworthy.

I think our cultural ideal of beauty also goes against girls feeling and being strong. Having a strong body certainly helps feeling strong. However, that takes muscles and if you have lots of muscles, you don’t look like an anorexic anymore. Therefore you are no longer considered beautiful. I was keenly aware of that as an athletic teenager. Once I became less athletic and extremely thin reactions to me changed noticeably.


February 25, 2016

Yes, I read that NYTimes article too and found it very encouraging. Actually, I was going to send it to you – ha! The quote at the end was so good – to recognize the fear within, but move ahead anyway. Incidentally, it’s my girls and not my boys that have been the ones who’ve gotten stitches 😉. I think you do an excellent job of letting your children explore the world around them. You guide them without hovering. It’s one of the reasons I admire you so much! xoxo


Courtney in London
February 26, 2016

Thank you, Annie, for your sweet comment. I love that you also read that article and nearly sent it to me. Of course you did! 🙂 Sweet mama you are. x


February 25, 2016

With two girls, and another on the way, this topic hits close to home and is so very important to me (and my husband). We really make a conscious effort to let our girls explore without hovering and to encourage them to take risks / get out of their comfort zone. I am also mindful of how I handle things in front of them … spiders/lizards that creep into the house, my own fears, time spent in the mirror, etc. They look to me as their role model so it is important that I set an example for the type of women I hope they become (it’s also a great reminder for me! It’s funny how your children teach you so much too) We define beauty in our home as: smart, brave, and kind. It’s an amazing journey helping them navigate this space — I wouldn’t trade it for the world! 🙂


February 25, 2016

No easy job at all! And this mom of yours–every time you mention her, I love her more! x


Courtney in London
February 26, 2016

Hi Aja,
You’re so cute! I did learn a lot from that mom of mine. 🙂 xx


Helena
February 25, 2016

But at the same time, Babyccino is SUCH a gendered space. Only yesterday I considered commenting on Esther’s post, where she casually dropped in “the dads made a fire while the mums made bread with the children”.

That depresses me, for myself and my daughter.


Emma
February 25, 2016

So true! Not forgetting most of the photos posted on here and IG is of the girls. We all know how ‘cute’ and saleable girls clothing is right? Of course it generates the typical responses you’d expect too. I don’t mean this in a bad way but it is interesting to note.


Courtney in London
February 26, 2016

Hi Helena and Emma,
Thanks for your comment. We do try really hard to present a very balanced number of boys and girls products and clothing-related posts. Our weekly Top Ten selections are always balanced, with just as many boys themes as there are girls themes (and often non-gender-specific themes too). I did just take a peek at our IG feed, and indeed there are more ‘girlie’ images featured, so we’ll try to be a bit more balanced there. But please note that we do TRY to be balanced here with what we feature. x


Lynn
February 26, 2016

Oooh, this is such an interesting topic! Thank you for this post. And I have to admit, I used to follow Courtney’s instagram (a year or so ago?) and would cringe at all the posts/comments that used to refer to her daughter as “sweet Ivy” or “poor Ivy”. I always wanted to write in “I’m sure she is very sweet but I bet she’s brave and strong too!”


Harlow
February 26, 2016

I couldn’t help but comment! 🙂 Some people on the comments are suggesting that more “girly” words like “sweet”, being used for a girl, is not always the best choice as they are most likely a lot more than just that. However, I really don’t think it matters what word you use!? So what if sometimes “sweet” and “pretty” are used for a girl, or “boisterous” for a boy? It’s a word! I purely think using any word to best describe your child at that moment is fine! And if they are being partially sweet that day, then feel free to say so!?


Lisa
February 26, 2016

Courtney fascinating post as always. I love how conscious and thoughtful you are. On the comment about girls making bread and boys building a fire, I am 100% positive if the dad’s preferred to make the bread and Esther the fire that’s what would have happened. In my family my husband is the cook. I hate it. Also regarding the girls clothing comments, it’s just a fact that girls clothing more varied with dresses, skirts etc, and even though I love choosing boys clothes I don’t think it makes me a sexist that I can’t resist a liberty print dress. And also the mom who cringed at the sweet ivy comments, are you joking? My son is the sweetest most sensitive soul and we refer to him as sweet xxxxx. Perhaps it just ‘so happens’ that ivy is the sweet one totally unrelated to gender. I can’t stand people who try to say ‘oh you can’t say that’ perhaps, just perhaps, she is sweet and it’s her personality just like Marlow. appears to be feisty and wilder . We are conscious parents and try to let our children be who they want, but the fact is I have one boy and three girls and my son just so happens to love sticks and cars and planes, he never picks up the dolls or plays In the play kitchen even though it’s there for all my children. I bought my daughter a train set trying to not inflict princesses and tack on her and she played with it maybe twice. You can be conscious and do all the things for a fair and even chance in life but sometimes they gravitate their own way . I for one make a point of talking casually about women who are strong and creative but also men. Thanks for giving me something to think about!!!!


Danielle
February 26, 2016

Feminism should be about open-minded choice. Of course it’s always good to be refreshed by articles like this and in turn it will open our awareness in how we speak to our children. I don’t think it’s wise to chastise a girl for preferring pink dresses either. It’s never easy to raise children perfectly, I personally try to keep them in a place where they are challenged but not pushed by fear. Regardless of gender. They are their own person.


Lisa
February 26, 2016

Danielle agree totally !!


Caroline Paul
February 28, 2016

Thank you for writing so insightfully about my oped in the NY Times. I especially appreciated the links to the other articles that pertain to similar issues. You have an engaged readership that thinks about these things with an open mind. Bravo! My book, The Gutsy Girl, Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, comes out Tuesday and approaches the same issues as the op-ed but talks to girls not adults, which is a whole different way to go about it, and I am seeing the conversation will continue. This piece and the elegant responses offer lots of food for thought. Thank you.


Katie Coleman
March 14, 2016

My mother was inspirational in the way she brought me up. Her beliefs and views on equality in all measures were evident from day one of my childhood. Often the lectures from others were harsh and only proved to her that gender equality was a long way from where it should be. Most of my childhood things were educational, you wouldn’t have found Barbie’s or makeup sets amongst my toys. My grandma honestly found it very disturbing that as a little girl I didn’t have a doll to play with. For my fifth birthday she came to my mum and said “I’ve brought Katie a doll!” She had brought me a beautiful black boy doll thinking that my mother may just allow that. She did, and boy did I love him. I named him Jack and my boys play with him now. I grew up in a household where my mother (who owns a big training company) went to work each day and my dad stayed at home to care for me. 30 years ago that was a big deal and one that was frowned upon. I grew up thinking I could do or be anything I wanted. Much to my mothers despair my greatest goal in life was to try to be an amazing mother. 3 boys – 0 girls in our tribe. All are being raised in the same way, with the same language being used and the same opportunities being had. I honestly believe if I had a girl I would consciously veer away from anything (language in particular) that would damage her self-belief in thinking she couldn’t achieve anything or more than her brothers could. That being said…I don’t think there is always a choice. My eldest is not sensitive at all but is not very adventurous, is very careful and not so brave and lets just say, seems to have a very low pain threshold. Our middle child is loud, cheeky, very adventurous, a complete dare devil, brave to the point of inducing a parent heart attack and has an incredibly high pain threshold and yet he is VERY sensitive and absorbs more than you think he does. Our youngest child doesn’t like to get messy, picks me flowers and draws me pictures, at three years old is surprisingly self aware of his looks and often asks if he looks handsome and tells me I look pretty. My point is every child is different and I’m sure young girls from the same family are equally as different as my boys. I am sure some are adventurous and brave and others prefer to be more ‘girly’. BUT why should adventurous and brave not mean ‘girly’! Courtney I think from what I read and see on instagram Ivy and Marlow are quiet different like that too. I think it shows what an amazing parenting job you are doing to allow them to be who they are as individuals regardless of their gender! 🙂 x


Emily Ashworth
April 6, 2017

So true! My daughter is only two but I’m already trying to be aware of what I praise her for. Her current favourite picture book is a brilliant one by Yasmine Ismail called ‘I’m a Girl’, which shows that girls can be sweet and sour, brave and strong, play with cars and dolls and be noisy when they want – without being mistaken for a boy! It’s a great message and one I’m keen to instill in my daughter from this early age. x


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